There are only 10 days (!) until the Philadelphia Eagles report to the NovaCare Complex for 2015 training camp. Here are 10 random thoughts to pass the time.
1) I've said this a billion times this offseason but I'll say it again: the run game is so critical to Philadelphia's overall success. Last year the team got away from the run game. Offensive line injuries certainly contributed to the struggles, but Chip Kelly obviously felt like LeSean McCoy was an issue as well. Per Pro Football Focus, McCoy finished with a career low in yards per attempt after first contact. He also finished 15th out of 18 running backs (minimum 50% snaps) in "Elusive Rating," which boils down a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers. I was recently watching some Eagles tape from the second Cowboys game last season and I couldn't help but notice how slow McCoy looked. He just didn't look like vintage McCoy at all.
The NFL may be a passing league, but an elite run game can be incredibly rewarding. Just look at how successful the Cowboys were in 2014. Dallas was able to hide their defense and open up their passing game thanks to their top-notch rushing ability. Physical running backs might be more important than ever as well. Look at the running backs from recent playoff teams: DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Hill, C.J. Anderson. Now the Eagles have two physical runners of their own in Murray and Mathews. If the Eagles can get back to having an elite run game, it could have a huge positive domino effect on the rest of the team.
2) Sam Bradford! Still pretty weird to think the Eagles are really counting on this guy to some extent to be their franchise quarterback. The injury concerns couldn't be any more obvious. Despite this, there is some reason to be optimistic about Bradford. We've seen Chip Kelly get the most out of his quarterbacks. If Nick Foles can go 27-2 and Mark Sanchez can become the franchise's all-time leader in completion percentage, I don't see why Bradford can't be successful if he stays on the field. In the admittedly small sample size I watched Bradford during the spring, he mostly impressed. The talent is there. He has a quick release. He showed laser accuracy. He throws the ball with great velocity. Bradford might not be able to completely carry the Eagles by himself, but paired with a strong running game I think there's a lot of potential for success.
3) The offensive line has been a main concern for many, and for good reason. The Eagles haven't drafted a player since 2013. With that said, I don't think it's time to panic. I think last year's offensive line situation still has some people worried. It seems unlikely the Eagles could be that unlucky with injuries again, but who knows. As far as the talent level goes, the good news for the Eagles is that they're set at arguably the most important positions: both tackle spots and center. The guards are definitely question marks. Some combination of Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, and John Moffitt could be passable but it's unlikely to be great. Earlier, I talked about the importance of the run game to the Eagles. It goes without saying that the running backs will need good blocking as well.
4) Zach Ertz is going to finally make the leap this year, right? Brent Celek is still around, so that's a potential roadblock, but he had a great spring. Eagles quarterbacks loved throwing to him, especially Sam Bradford. In fact, Ertz just might be Bradford's favorite target. It's early, but that's something to keep an eye on. Last offseason, it was apparent how much Mark Sanchez loved throwing to Jordan Matthews and how that carried over into the regular season. The Bradford-to-Ertz connection could be lethal.
5) Walter Thurmond might be a surprisingly decent option at safety. He has good coverage skills. The bigger concern is about his health. And if Thurmond does go down, there's just nothing behind him. Earl Wolff has some talent but he has health issues of his own. The Eagles really need both Thurmond and Malcolm Jenkins to stay healthy. If one goes down, things could get really rough.
6) Here's what I wrote about Brandon Graham at this time last year: "Everyone seemed to accept he would be traded this offseason. But he hasn't. So now what? Well... I don't know. Perhaps the Eagles want to give him more of a chance at being a 3-4 OLB this season? Or maybe they just like the depth he provides." ... Now Graham figures to be a key starter on the defense. He's arguably the team's best pass rusher. His career path has been strange. His pass rushing stats have looked good in limited playing time but now it's up to him to prove he belongs as a full-time starter.
7) Speaking of Graham and how things can change in a year ... what does the future hold for Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin, and Vinny Curry? All three players have been involved in trade rumors since the beginning of the Chip Kelly era. All three players will be free agents after this season. They're all very talented players, but they might not be long for the roster. Who do you think ends up sticking around?
8) I'm not sure how much immediate impact the rookies from the 2015 NFL Draft class will have. Nelson Agholor will play but he Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, and Riley Cooper are arguably ahead of him on the depth chart. Eric Rowe might be able to win the starting corner job opposite of Byron Maxwell but Nolan Carroll has the lead. Jordan Hicks is stuck behind a lot of talent at inside linebacker. JaCorey Shepherd could be the backup nickel corner. Randall Evans and Brian Mihalik are likely fighting for roster spots and could land on the practice squad.
9) I've seen people say the Eagles can't rely on their special teams unit to score as often as it did last year. That's probably true. Still, there's reason to believe the Eagles will still have a very good ST unit. The loss of James Casey hurts, but Trey Burton is ready to step up. Seyi Ajirotutu is an upgrade on Brad Smith. Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman are still around. Chris Prosinski was a very underrated addition to the special teams unit last season. Donnie Jones is still a good directional punter. Cody Parkey could benefit from being able to rest this offseason after not really being able to do the same thing last year. Darren Sproles and Josh Huff are weapons when it comes to returning punts and kicks, respectively. Nelson Agholor could also be in the mix there. It's still a very good group.
10) The Eagles are the most exciting team in football. I wrote about that in the Eagles Almanac this year. I'm interested to watch them now more than ever. There were so many major changes this offseason. It'll be really interesting to see how it plays out, for better or worse. By comparison, last year was so much less intriguing. The 2014 team was largely a mirror of the 2013 team. There's a lot of fresh blood on the 2015 squad. This season should be very interesting.