First year head coach Doug Pederson has an unenviable task as the Eagles begin training camp. He takes over a team only won 7 games last season, but only finished just 2 games behind the Redskins for the NFC East title. They spent a lot to move up to #2 in the NFL Draft to select future starting quarterback Carson Wentz, yet they traded for a young and established starting quarterback in Sam Bradford just one year earlier. So are they a team on the rebuild following the failed years of Chip Kelly? Or are the Eagles a team that can take that extra step this season and make the playoffs in what is arguably the most unpredictable and most competitive division in the NFL?
The 2016 season might look like a little of both.
The offensive line has been one of the strengths the last few seasons, and it will actually begin this season with even more depth than in previous years. The player to keep an eye on from that bunch is rookie Isaac Seumalo out of Oregon State. The third round pick is quick, strong, versatile, and the son of a coach, which usually translates into an easier transition at the next level.
Under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the defense is making the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 for the 2016 season. New free safety Rodney McLeod, who fits better into Schwarz’s scheme, gives the secondary a legitimate turnover machine. And all signs point to a healthy Nolan Carroll reclaiming his starting position at cornerback. But the biggest change for this unit will be the time they get to sit and rest on the sidelines. After four straight years of finishing dead last in opposition time of possession, the benefit of saying good bye to Chip Kelly’s fast break offense will pay big dividends.
Second-year wide receiver Nelson Agholor recently learned that he will not be charged for sexual assault stemming from an incident at a strip club on June 9. So while that should no longer be a distraction for the former 1st round pick going forward, his disappointing play a year ago might be. He must improve for the Eagles offense to improve. Philadelphia’s wide receivers is a group without a star, so the opening is there for Agholor, if the former USC Trojan can focus enough to take it.
Other questions to be answered on offense will involve Ryan Mathews, and how he will do as the unchallenged starter at running back. And of course the big million-dollar question, can Sam Bradford cut down on his interceptions and throw for more than 3500-yards for the fourth time in his career. We already know that Pederson favors keeping Wentz on the sideline for as long as possible this season. But as training camp progresses and we move into the season, could that change? And how will Philadelphia’s place in the NFC East standings effect that decision later in the year? Only time will tell.