From Cedric Thornton’s progress to DeSean Jackson’s optimism to Alex Henery’s confidence, here are three Eagles leftovers.
1. Cedric Thornton was one of the Eagles’ most pleasant surprises during the 2013 season. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent to play for Jim Washburn in 2012, Thornton thrived pretty much immediately in the Eagles’ new 3-4 scheme. At 6-4, 309, he looked like a natural two-gapping against the run and constantly getting to the football.
Eagles coaches track what they call “contacts at the ball.” As far as I could tell, that term was synonymous with “tackles.” Thornton led all Eagles defensive linemen with 78 (including five for loss).
But the area where the 25-year-old wants to improve going forward is his pass-rush.
“I definitely wasn’t satisfied,” Thornton said. “I only had one sack. Defensive linemen, they are rated off of sacks. I got a lot of tackles, but mostly they were effort plays. I definitely want more sacks, so I’m not satisfied. I’ve definitely got a lot to improve and definitely looking forward to this offseason to get better and just looking for next season.”
Thornton had one sack and eight hurries on the season. In the Eagles’ sub-package, he rushed as an interior lineman. In base, he most often lined up at defensive end, but also saw some action at nose tackle.
The Eagles will likely add some new players to their defensive line rotation in the offseason. But it will be a big surprise if Thornton is not one of the three starters going into the 2014 season. He showed great consistency all season long and proved he has a high ceiling.
2. In between answering questions about his contract last week, DeSean Jackson was asked how close he thinks the Eagles are to being serious Super Bowl contenders.
“I think we’re very close,” Jackson said. “I said before the season we were a top-five team in this league. That’s just an unfortunate ending to our season. I felt that game should have ended different, but that’s neither here nor there. Next year the league will have something interesting to watch with us. So, second year under Chip Kelly, he’ll have a feel for the NFL, and I think everybody here has a feel for his system. So we should be alright.”
Football Outsiders recently released its weighted DVOA rankings. The premise is to measure which teams are playing the best in recent weeks. Granted, the Eagles didn’t play last week, but they were ranked fourth. Among the top-five teams, the Birds are the only squad no longer in the postseason.
The offense seems pretty close to Super Bowl-caliber, if you ask me. The Eagles need to make decisions at wide receiver. They have to figure out if they’re happy with their running back depth. And they may want to look at their offensive line (specifically Todd Herremans and the backup spots). But you can certainly make the case that they’re close there.
The defense needs several new pieces (pass-rusher and safety are the two that jump out). And let’s not forget special teams. It wasn’t just Alex Henery. This group underperformed in various aspects (aside from Donnie Jones) all season long.
It’s always dangerous to think you’re close. But depending on what happens in free agency and the draft this offseason, the Eagles could be in position to make some real noise in 2014.
3. Let’s get back to special teams. I asked Henery if he is confident he’ll be back next season.
“You always feel confident,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t worry about losing your job. It’s like if you’re worrying about losing your job. It’s one of those things where you can’t dread on something you have no control over. So it’s just one of those things that I’ll work on getting better over the offseason and coming back more technical and strong and go from there.”
Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders published an article in the New York Times back in 2006 arguing that field-goal accuracy will fluctuate from year to year for NFL kickers, but kickoff numbers stay consistent.
Henery ranked 21st in kickoffs (62.7 yards) in 2013, although the intentionally short ones against the Vikings must be taken into account. But in 2012, Henery was 23rd (63.3). And in 2011, he was 18th (65.0).
If the Eagles look to add a kicker through free agency, keep an eye on Seattle’s Steven Hauschka. He has ranked in the top-10 in average kickoff distance for three straight years and obviously has experience kicking in bad weather.