Jordan Raanan offers us this preview of what areas of improvement to look for at the upcoming Eagles training camp.
Training camp begins in less than two weeks. Andy Reid already has every practice and drill scheduled to the minute.
The Eagles know exactly what they intend to work on while at Lehigh for the better part of a month. Reid and his staff have spent months dissecting and detailing the disaster that was the 2011 season. The fatal flaws were recognized. Solutions were discussed. Plans to fix the problems were hatched.
Now it's all about implementation. Last year, there was an abbreviated training camp. This year, there is time. Time to improve the areas that sunk the Eagles last season.
While some areas (like keeping Michael Vick healthy) they're just going to have to cross their fingers and pray for the best and some (protecting the football, cutting down on penalties) they're going to try and fix in the classroom, others are correctable and capable of improvement through practice. So here's what the Eagles will likely be stressing on the field during what I'm dubbing the Summer of Contention:
• Red Zone Offense - The Eagles haven't finished inside the Top 10 in red zone percentage since the magical 2004 Super Bowl season. Clearly it's a problem. Reid knows it. Marty Mornhinweg knows it. Vick knows it. The front office knows it. Even the clueless media knows it. In my opinion, the Eagles shouldn't run a play during training camp outside the 20-yard line. Scoring points are that important.
• Tackling - This speaks for itself. And this. Tackling can be improved through practice in live hitting sessions. Expect a lot of that this summer at Lehigh.
• Defensive Organization - The Eagles started last season with eight new starters (including Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the nickel cornerback) on defense. Only Mike Patterson, Trent Cole, Asante Samuel and Moise Fokou were back in the positions where they finished 2010. All these new pieces in new places didn't even factor in new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who had not coached defense in more than three decades. Short on time and experience, the Eagles' defense lacked any sort of continuity most of the season. They regularly looked lost and out of position or in the wrong scheme in key situations (see Casey Matthews vs. the Giants and Jacquawn Jarrett vs. the Cardinals as two of many possible examples) way too often. Last year, there were some reasonable explanations. There are no excuses this season. Castillo and his defense return their starting front four and three of their top four in the secondary. They had time to work together in minicamp and soon in training camp. They added veteran leader DeMeco Ryans at middle linebacker to make the defensive calls. And the Eagles have all summer to get on the same page. I wouldn't even be surprised to see Andy Reid (an offensive coach) more hands-on as the Eagles put a heavy emphasis on defense in training camp.
• Kickoff Returns - When Bobby April arrived in 2010 he came with an impressive resume and a genius name tag. And while the Eagles' coverage units have definitely shown improvements, the return games have been more than a bit of disappointment, none more so than the kick return game. Even with touchbacks on the rise, the Eagles ranked 28th last season and 22nd in 2010 on kickoff returns. Dion Lewis averaged 21.6 yards on 31 returns in 2011. That was the fifth-worst average for anyone with 10 or more returns last season. That's not good, and needs to improve. The lack of success puts an extra burden on the offense. And we found out last season that the offense needs some help. They can't win games by themselves. With one of the day's two practices at Lehigh now mandated to be without pads, there is plenty of time for the Eagles to work on special teams schemes. They should use it well.
Jordan Raanan has covered the NFL since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at @JordanRaanan or email him firstname.lastname@example.org.