The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 4-12. Missed the playoffs.
Which player is under the most pressure?
Chip Kelly is actually under the most pressure. Although the high-profile college coaches have had more success as of late, thanks to Jim Harbaugh, they still don’t have a long history of transitioning into the NFL very well. Forget his scheme for now, I am most eager to see how long his players will put up with his dictatorship, which mandates almost everything, including the type of post-workout smoothie that they are allowed to drink. These are grown adults, not college kids. Will his style wear thin on the players as the season unfolds? As we have seen with other heavy-handed coaches, the team is all smiles when they win, but when they lose is when the true colors start to show.
As for the scheme, Kelly has said he doesn’t have to run the same offense he ran at Oregon to be successful. His up-tempo style and read-option have always been integral components to his offense at every stop along his coaching career. Last season, his quarterback averaged nearly 60 rushing yards per game and that type of beating doesn’t bode well for a quarterback in the NFL. Just ask Michael Vick. The Eagles quarterback has completed a regular season of 16 games just once in his entire career, and hasn’t played in more than 13 games in the last four seasons.
What is the position battle to watch?
This isn’t just the most compelling position battle among the Eagles roster, but probably the best battle in all of the NFL right now.
Vick is competing with Nick Foles for the starting role and the Eagles shocked everyone when they drafted Matt Barkley. While Barkley is sure not going to win the starting job as a rookie, Vick and Foles are thought to be neck and neck as we enter the second week of the preseason. Vick got the start in Week 1, but Foles got an equal opportunity with the first-string offense and they will flip-flop starting games for the rest of preseason.
Kelly is going to take every opportunity to evaluate these two because the game tape from last year didn’t make it any easier to determine. They had almost identical statistics while sharing time last season, with the exact same touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 78.1 passer rating for Vick while Foles finished the season at 79.1.
Because of the Barkley addition, the team is almost guaranteed to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. It will be interesting to see if Foles can steal the starting role and if Vick will remain with the team or if they will eliminate the distraction altogether. That’s not to say that Vick will be a bad teammate, but the team will have to answer “who is going to be your starting quarterback” every week.
What is the team’s biggest obstacle?
The offense has stolen the headlines as fans await the unveiling of the high octane offense, but the defense should actually be the main focus. They are in the middle of a transition from the often criticized wide-9 scheme to the 3-4 front. There are questions that need to be answered at every level of the defense.
The Eagles had the fourth-worst scoring defense last season with a secondary that was almost painful to watch. The safeties were rarely in the right position and far too often lost deep contain on plays in which their only assignment was to defend the deepest route. The Eagles brought in Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips via free agency to win the starting jobs, and while both may be considered an upgrade over Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, this is still a shaky group from top to bottom.
Up front, the questions are also ever-present.
How will Trent Cole transition from a down lineman to a rush linebacker? Will Fletcher Cox — the best three-technique in the 2012 draft — have any impact after he is forced to play out of position as a five-technique defensive end in the three-man front? And as a whole, how is this defensive unit going to create some turnovers as they finish dead-last in takeaways last season?
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Lane Johnson, the Eagles’ first-round pick, is one of the most athletic offensive tackles I have ever evaluated. It was a brilliant pick, but their second-round pick is going to draw the most attention this season. After injuries have decimated the receiving corps, tight end Zach Ertz is going to get plenty of opportunities in the passing game. Ertz may not even enter the season No. 1 on the depth chart (behind Brent Celek), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up leading the team in receptions. Ertz is athletic enough to line up anywhere on the field and he can play a similar role that Dallas Clark played for Peyton Manning in the Colts’ spread attack. While DeSean Jackson stretches the field, the short to intermediate routes should open up nicely for Ertz in the middle of the field.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
The Eagles signed Connor Barwin away from the Houston Texans and he now becomes the resident expert on the 3-4 defense. Forget the 11.5 sacks he had in Houston last season. His true value comes from being the only player in the defensive meeting room that has recent experience playing in a three-man front. At the end of the day, football is football, but if you are unsure of your assignment, it is difficult to play at full speed because you are apprehensive in your movements. This is a bad defense that is going through a transition period in which almost every player will have to learn a new technique to fit into the scheme, and that is almost assuredly a bad mix of ingredients.