Eagles Wake-Up Call: The Second-Year Leap

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Today’s question comes from reader Steve, via e-mail.

I remember hearing that Chip Kelly doesn’t like to play rookies, and aside from Jordan Matthews, Beau Allen and Cody Parkey, this seemed to be the case for the most part last year. It seems as though the media and the fans pretty much dismiss these second-year players as busts and give them little or no chance of developing. I think Josh Huff, Trey Burton, Ed Reynolds, Taylor Hart, Travis Long and Jaylen Watkins have the chance to develop into good players. Am I being overly optimistic about these players having a chance to develop into starter-types?

Let’s tackle the first part of the question, Steve.

I wouldn’t say that Kelly doesn’t like to play rookies. He’s been pretty consistent with his belief in running a meritocracy. The players who give the Eagles the best chance to win will get on the field. It doesn’t matter if they’re rookies, veterans or whatever. I believe Kelly 100 percent when he says he believes this is the only way to govern a team and manage playing time.

What I think you’re referring to is Kelly’s opinion of the draft process and the difficulty in managing expectations for rookies. Last year, for example, he knew from the day they drafted Matthews that he was going to play Matthews only in the slot.

“The biggest thing we do is once we get rookies in there, it’s, ‘Hey, you’re playing one spot. Let’s not put a lot on your plate,’ ” Kelly said. “It’s no different than Zach Ertz. His package was expanded [more] in Year 2 than it was in Year 1, just because when they first get in there, it’s a totally different world for them. Once they get comfortable there, you start to see them move around and play a lot of different spots.”

So the general philosophy is to ease guys in, but this is still a process that can vary depending on the player. In 2013, Lane Johnson was a 16-game starter, and the coaching staff eventually decided that Bennie Logan deserved to start. Bottom line: If rookies are good enough, they’ll play.

It’s true that fans and reporters sometimes jump to conclusions labeling players busts after their rookie seasons. Many young guys need time to adjust to the professional level – the speed, the lifestyle, the training, etc. Johnson, Logan and Ertz were all definitely better players in Year 2 than in Year 1. At the same time, it’d be foolish to completely throw rookie-year performances out the window.

As for the players you mentioned specifically, let’s go one-by-one.

Huff – I think he’s a lead candidate to make the leap. If he can stay healthy, he figures to see more playing time. As T-Mac brilliantly chronicled, Huff had plenty of ups and downs in Year 1. But given his skill set, he should be able to capitalize on more opportunities in 2015 and be a contributor.

Burton – With James Casey gone, he should see a few more snaps on offense, but I still think Burton’s main role will be special teams. We’ll see how he looks in the spring and summer, but even if Burton just continues on his current path, that’s very nice production from an undrafted rookie.

Reynolds – I would temper expectations here. He got a late start last offseason because of the NCAA graduation rule, but remember, when the Eagles cut down to 53 last summer, they released Reynolds, and that was without a lot of safety depth on the roster. Maybe he progresses, but anything the Eagles get from Reynolds is a bonus.

Hart – He was inactive for all 16 games as a rookie. The Eagles’ second-team defensive line was not a strength, and Hart could not beat out Brandon Bair. That’s not a good thing. I wouldn’t expect a major leap, but the hope from the team is that he gets stronger and earns a rotational role in 2015. If that doesn’t happen, it’s unlikely he’s on the roster.

Long – He was going to make the team out of camp, but suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. There’s no doubt the coaches like Long, and if he recovers well, he’ll have a chance to earn a backup OLB spot.

Watkins – He’s one of the more intriguing guys you mentioned. We’ll see what the Eagles do in the draft, but chances are there’s going to be a pretty open competition at both cornerback and safety this summer. Meanwhile, if the Eagles end up dealing Brandon Boykin, the slot CB spot will be up for grabs also. Watkins is a very good athlete who’s in position to earn some playing time.


Draft buzz: Could UCLA QB Brett Hundley be on the Eagles’ radar?

Eagles weekend reading: “We don’t self-promote [sports science] like some people do.”

“[Nick Foles] wasn’t as mobile as Chip would’ve liked.” Huff on Kelly’s offseason moves.

An updated look at the Eagles’ pre-draft visits.

Why I don’t think Alabama safety Landon Collins will be an Eagles target in the first round.

“What does it mean for me? I’m not too sure.” Mychal Kendricks on his future.


Jeff McLane of the Inquirer takes a look at Kelly’s moves, including the Miles Austin signing:

The latest head-scratcher was a one-year contract to wide receiver Miles Austin that is potentially worth as much as $2.3 million. While that is small change compared with the Maxwell and Murray deals, it is a contract that doesn’t make fiscal sense this late into free agency.

Who was the Eagles’ competition? Austin, who has missed 15 games to injury over the last four seasons, said last week that he had no other visits lined up. And it was clear the Browns, who signed him to a one-year deal, $2 million deal last May, had no intention of bringing him back.

Somehow, the Eagles gave the soon-to-be-31-year-old a raise after he caught just 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 2014.

Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz on Florida State CB P.J. Williams:

He’s already got a suspended license. Then he drives drunk. Then he tries the old “Do you know who I am? I just want to go home” trick.

Does this sound like a Chip Kelly guy? I’m kinda leaning a bit toward no.

There is no way he goes in the 1st round to any team. Someone will take a chance on him, probably in the 3rd round. There just aren’t enough good cover corners. Some team will be willing to roll the dice. If you had a veteran secondary that could help the young guy, that might be the best situation. Clearly the Eagles don’t fit that description.


Draft, draft and more draft. Does that work for everyone?