The Philadelphia Eagles came into the 2011 season with a lot a hype. They had just signed a plethora of pro bowl players on both offense and defense; they had depth at many key positions; and they just acquired a few high-profile figures for their coaching staff as well. Super Bowl buzz was in full effect and then… splat. Crafty journalists teased the ‘dream team’ moniker out of Vince Young and it took the Eagles most of the season to solidify themselves as a dominant team (especially in the fourth quarter). And it didn’t take very long Eagles were viewed (by the media and their own fans) as a complete bust. However, we shouldn’t be completely surprised by how Philly’s last season went. As it turns out, they had quite a few fairly valid ‘excuses’. Take the following for example:
1. Like every other team, they had no off-seasons. But this was especially problematic for the Eagles, given the number of new players (and new starters) they had on the team.
2. They had a new offensive line coach, and thus, a new offensive line scheme.
3. They had three new offensive lineman, two of which were rookies (without OTAs), and a fourth lineman (Herremans) was moved from left guard to right tackle (a fairly drastic transition, especially in a completely new scheme).
4. It was Michael Vick’s first year as the starting quarterback from the beginning of the year.
5. DeSean Jackson was dealing with contract issues (rather poorly).
6. Jeremy Maclin was just barely coming off a very severe health scare and wasn’t properly conditioned (and might not have been entirely right mentally, given what he had to go through over the summer).
7. They had a new defensive coordinator, and thus, an entirely new defensive scheme. Moreover, Castillo hadn’t ever coached defense.
8. They had a new defensive line coach, and thus, a new defensive line scheme (the 9, or “wide 9”).
9. They had two new starting defensive lineman (albeit great players, but nevertheless).
10. They had a rookie linebacker (eventually two rookie linebackers) trying to play in a new defensive system without OTAs or a proper off-season to learn.
11. They had two new cornerbacks who, although having pro bowl statuses, were asked to play a much different kind of role than they had either played before (Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot and Asomugha in the slot, zone, and so on).
12. Their best safety was still rehabbing from a bad knee injury from the previous year.
13. Their other safety (Jaiquawn Jarrett) was having trouble learning Castillo’s system, and so they had to put a second-year, seventh rounder in at starter.
14. And finally, though I am certain I’ve overlooked a few things, there was simply no chemistry (especially among the defensive players, but among coaches as well).
Sure, the Eagles knew all of this before the start of the season. But when you put all of this together you can see that it was just as much of a ‘rebuilding’ (though, probably more so an ‘establishing’) kind of year for the team. Could the Eagles still have went to the playoffs? Certainly. Without blowing fourth quarter leads they would have had one of the best records in the league. But my point is this: it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that it took the team until the latter part of the season to get things together.
That said, the 2012 season will bring about some potential worries (as a new season does for every team in the NFL). Can Demetress Bell fill the void left by Peters? Can the safeties step up (and step up a lot!)? Can the new linebacking corps build chemistry fast enough? Is there enough depth at key positions (QB, HB, S, CB, etc.)? Sure, some of these might be problematic for the team next season. But consider the following…
The Eagles will begin the 2012 seasons with:
1. An established offensive line coach (and scheme), in which they thrived towards the end of last year.
2. Four of the five offensive linemen from last season, all more established in their positions, and the only new lineman was pretty darn good for his last team.
3. All of the rookies (and second years) participating in OTAs.
4. Michael Vick having his first off-season as the Eagles’ unquestionable starting quarterback.
5. Jackson happy with a new contract.
6. Shady happy with a new contract.
7. Maclin being healthier than ever and coming off of a good year and off-season.
8. An established defensive line coach (and scheme).
9. An established defensive scheme.
10. The same four starting defensive linemen, plus more talented rookie depth.
11. Continuity in the safety position, with less pressure on the safeties (assuming Ryans and Kendricks do their jobs efficiently at the linebacker spots).
12. The best draft class the Eagles have had in years.
13. A leader in Ryans, something the lacked last year on the defense.
14. Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry.
15. Not to mention, a great cornerbacks/defensive backs coach in Todd Bowles.
All of this is to say that I am very excited for the upcoming 2012 season. I am not saying that it will happen, but I think there is real potential for the current team to not only win the Super Bowl, but to be the first team to do it while going 16-0 in the regular season (again, it probably won’t happen, but it’s the first time I’ve seen the potential for it with the Eagles). However, all of this comes with one big, giant caveat: 2012 IS THE YEAR OF NO EXCUSES! Whatever happens this upcoming season, whether glorious or pitiful, it’s on the Eagles organization (players, coaches, executives, etc.) and it is going to take a lot of work (as always) to be successful. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what happens.