Eagles Wake-Up Call: What We Learned This Spring
Given that the Eagles’ spring program wrapped up last week with the mandatory minicamp, now seems like a good time to take stock of what we’ve learned the past two months.
Below are three items worth taking a closer look at.
1. A lot is riding on Walter Thurmond.
The 27 year old made the transition from corner to safety in the spring and is the clear frontrunner to start alongside Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles need their safeties to cover man to man against tight ends and slot receivers; play center field in single-high looks; and provide run support. Thurmond has played as a nickel, so he has the first part down. It’s the other two areas where he’ll have to prove himself.
Thurmond was active during the spring and drew glowing reviews from the coaches. But the truth is the Eagles are in a position where they’re likely going to have to sink or swim with him regardless of how Thurmond progresses in August. Earl Wolff (knee) sat out all spring and seems more likely to get cut than to start at this point. Chris Prosinski and Chris Maragos are special teamers. Ed Reynolds and Jerome Couplin are unknowns. And Jaylen Watkins doesn’t seem to be getting a serious look.
That means a lot is riding on Thurmond (who has never played safety before) to successfully transition to safety and stay healthy. The Eagles’ defense could be a much improved unit if it can get average play from the safety spot opposite Jenkins and the No. 2 corner spot.
2. Chip Kelly has a locker room full of guys who have bought in, or…
Players are smart (afraid?) enough to know they better stay in line.
I was stunned during the Evan Mathis saga by how many players offered passionate defenses of the organization. Normally you’ll hear guys in that situation decline comment or speak in general terms with support for their teammate.
Not the case with Mathis. Players went out of their way to basically take the team’s side. Many made it quite clear that they’d be fine moving on without Mathis.
Perhaps the responses showed that Kelly has filled the roster with guys who are on the same page as him. Or maybe players like having steady paychecks and know their head coach is willing to dump pretty much anybody.
It’ll be interesting to see how many players change their tunes when/if they have a contract issue.
3. The offensive line is a big question mark.
It seems likely that the Eagles will go into Week 1 with Allen Barbre at left guard and either Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner or Dennis Kelly at right guard.
Barbre must be the greatest guy in the world because everyone in the building raves about him. Maybe he’ll do a good job, but forgive me for being a bit skeptical about the 31 year old stepping in and being as productive as Mathis. Barbre has started eight games in seven seasons and has a tall task in front of him.
Many have pointed out that Mathis didn’t blossom until he was 30. That’s fair evidence to suggest Barbre could be good. But it’s horrible evidence to suggest he will be good. In other words, Mathis was the exception.
The right guard spot is an even bigger question mark.
The Eagles seem focused on crushing teams with their run game. If DeMarco Murray and company have nowhere to go, the whole operation will stall.
In 2013, the Eagles offensive line helped carry them to the NFC East title. A major question going into this season is: How much can Jeff Stoutland get from the current group of players?
WHAT YOU MISSED
Robert Huber of Philadelphia Magazine went on a search for Chip Kelly. Here’s what he came away with.
What if Dez Bryant isn’t on the field Week 2 against the Eagles? NFC East roundup from Tucker.
“Kelly and Berish were introduced through the then-Eagles general manager, Howie Roseman, soon after Kelly relocated from Oregon.” Weekend reading on Chip’s rental dispute and more.
Will Darren Sproles be used more as a receiver this year? Tucker checks in on the veteran’s role.
Don’t forget to order your Eagles Almanac if you haven’t done so already.
And finally, it’s NBA draft week. Be sure to check out our special Sixers Draftland section with Derek Bodner. Tons of good information over there to get you ready for Thursday.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
“He’s a great spokesman for the team,” Sanchez said. “He’s well-spoken, he’s prepared, he’s a great example of what Chip [Kelly] wants as an Eagles player – the mentality, the mind-set. He’s not afraid to put himself in an uncomfortable position and talk in front of the team, and he’s not shy about bringing up his opinion.”
On the field, Jenkins said he has more confidence and is more comfortable in his technique and understanding of how to play safety.
“I’m very confident,” Jenkins said. “And I also understand that it doesn’t exclude me. I’m just as dispensable as anyone else on the team. And I’m OK with that, as long as I know all the moves are in the team’s best interest.”
Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz offers some thoughts on Ryan Mathews:
There are a couple of things that jump out to me. First, Mathews is one physical runner. He doesn’t go down on first contact. Mathews can break multiple tackles on a single run.
The other thing that stands out is how square Mathews stays to the line of scrimmage. This term refers to when a RB keeps his shoulder pads parallel to the LOS. You want this because it means the RB is running north-south. That helps the runner to break tackles and also leads to more big plays. If there is a gap to hit, the RB gets to it and through it quickly. RBs that run parallel to the LOS (going E-W) are much easier to tackle. You can hit them in the side of the legs, where they have less power and balance.
Mathews isn’t just a power runner. He has enough speed to get out wide and turn the corner. That speed is one of the reasons that Kelly also wants to use him as a KOR.
No break for Birds 24/7. But you knew that already.