Camp Dragstrip is about ready to commence in South Philadelphia, and the battle for the starting QB job is taking place amidst all the talk about practice playlists, high-tempo workout segments and protein shakes. It seems as if no one can ignore the drama about the issue, not the fans, the press or the combatants themselves. It has become something of a national obsession, too, with media around the country speculating about the outcome.
It will no doubt be an interesting battle under center, but Eagles fans who devote all of their time to learning the identity of the first-string triggerman will fail to follow other storylines that will have serious impacts on the season. Quarterback is, of course, an extremely important position, though whoever ends up starting will likely be below par. But the team’s other glaring deficiencies will be extremely responsible for what is very likely to be a difficult season for the Eagles, who shouldn’t be expected to turn last year’s 4-12 debacle into a highly successful 2013 campaign.
New coaches always bring excitement. So do sparkly new systems. Eagles fans are right to be enthused about Chip Kelly, but the next seven weeks will demonstrate that this team has plenty of weak spots and a long road to playoff contention. Don’t believe me? Well, consider the following:
Secondary Issues: Even though the Eagles added some free agents and improved themselves simply by jettisoning the unbelievably disappointing Nnamdi Asomugha, their defensive backfield is still going to be weak. And, if safety acquisitions Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung continue to have injury problems, the secondary could be downright awful again.
Chung is a battering ram against the run, but he’s missed 12 games over the past two seasons. Phillips’ knees are so cranky he missed a lot of spring action with the Birds, and the team protected itself against his frailty by guaranteeing not one cent of his contract.
Mr. Sconce, newly signed ($10.5 mil guaranteed) cornerback Cary Williams, showed first-rate dedication during the spring by missing OTAs and then launching a full-fledged defense of his actions. Let’s hope he doesn’t decide to eat lunch in his car during training camp. He’s a good corner, but he also seems like a selfish teenager who is a prime candidate to be a target of fans’ ire should he perform poorly early on.
(Not So) Handymen: The Eagles did little (Arrelious Benn is known more for his blocking than pass-catching) during the off-season that upgraded their wide receiver situation, which means they are counting on rap impresario DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and a collection of possession types — Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson — to get the ball downfield. None can be considered the type of security blanket that can help a struggling quarterback succeed. Without a Megatron on which to rely, the Birds have to hope their Hectotrons suffice. Unless Jackson becomes known for scoring TDs (he had two last year) again, rather than goofy off-field behavior, the Eagles have no reliable deep threat. Defenses won’t be unhappy about that one bit.
Don’t get too excited about the tight end situation, either. Brent Celek seems to be fading, Clay Harbor averaged a meager 7.4 yards per reception last year. James Casey is a backup-caliber player, and rookie Zach Ertz has potential but no NFL track record.
Speed Trap: Kelly’s offensive tempo has been the talk of the off-season, what with his high-speed practices and loud musical accompaniment. But the one thing that no one has paid too much attention to is what happens when the offense strings together a few three-and-outs that last a grand total of three minutes and 14 seconds of game time. That’s not going to do too much for a defense that was a punching bag all last year and surrendered 27.8 ppg.
Ask any defensive coach how he feels about supporting an offense designed to run plays at a fast pace, and he will use colorful language to describe his frustration. It’s great when the O is putting up 30 a game, but when the attack fizzles, and the tempo remains faster than a Bugatti, the defense comes under tremendous strain. This year’s group, which might have slightly better personnel than the beleaguered 2012 unit, is not built to be on the field for 35 minutes a game. A few weeks of that exposure, and the Birds could be headed for a three-win season.
Oh, and defensive coaches who are being honest aren’t too happy about practicing against offenses that don’t use fullbacks. It’s kind of hard to prepare for physical rivals when you’re playing flag football during workouts.
Fans should devote some time to the quarterback battle, if only to chart Vick’s complaining about his critics and Kelly’s unwillingness to declare a starter. But don’t forget to look at other parts of the roster to learn just how much work the Eagles have to do in order to return to competitiveness.
• I’m not going to say the Phillies dropped two of three to the fetid Mets just to make me look bad after my column last week declaring them contenders, but it’s kind of hard to mount a playoff push when your two top pitchers surrender a combined nine runs to a team with the 29th best batting average in baseball. This week brings trips to St. Louis and Detroit, a pair of division leaders capable of pushing the Phils well below .500. Again. Nice work, guys.
• Make that 17 tournaments and five-plus years since Tiger Woods’ last major win. He may be ranked number on in the world, but he lacks the stamina and makeup to play four rounds of championship golf on the biggest stages. His putting was the culprit Sunday, but it’s interesting to watch his composure break down when he hits bad shots. He’ll win another major at some point in the next couple years, but he won’t surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships.