The NFL’s preseason is usually used to find out who will make the team, but for the Philadelphia Eagles it will determine a lot more than that.
The Eagles will send out an almost entirely new coaching staff this season. Although this may be exciting, new coaching presents two different schemes.
Head coach Chip Kelly is bringing a new offense to the Eagles. Kelly, who coached at the University of Oregon before he took the helm in Philadelphia, is known for his high-paced and explosive spread offense, and he will try to instill this up-tempo scheme in the NFL.
The Eagles also have to worry about the NFL’s referees, as the officials are worried that they will not be able to keep up with Kelly’s offense. But this does not phase Kelly, who said he will go as fast as the refs allow him.
“If the speed limit is 65, even though I want to go 85, if there’s a cop out there, I’m not going 85,” Kelly said. “It’s a real simple concept.”
There are still many offensive questions for the Birds, who had an NFL-high 37 turnovers last season. The most public position battle is between quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles. Kelly announced Aug. 8 that Vick will start the preseason opener Aug. 9 against the New England Patriots and that Foles will start the next preseason game Aug. 15 against the Carolina Panthers.
“It was Mike’s day in the rotation; that was the easiest way for us to do it, and then we’ll make sure the rotation works out that Nick will get the start next week,” Kelly said. “The two of those guys, we feel like we’ve got it balanced out. We met with those guys this morning. They were great with it, so that’s kind of our plan going in.”
The Eagles also lost their 2012 leading receiver, Jeremy Maclin, to an ACL tear earlier in training camp. Because of this, they will be looking for a reliable No. 2 receiver behind DeSean Jackson. Jason Avant is the early favorite, but one of the top contenders is Riley Cooper, who just returned to training camp after a video of him saying a racial slur went viral.
Philadelphia is looking at a couple young rookies who will make some noise during the preseason. One of those young receivers is the 6-foot-7-inch athletic marvel Ifeanyi Momah. Tight end Zack Ertz, who was the team’s second pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, is another.
Many Eagles veterans are excited to get on the field and show off their new offense in their preseason debut. Reporters asked Jason Peters, a 10-year veteran and starting offensive tackle, to summarize the offense in one word.
“Fastball,” Peters said. “That’s all I can say — fastball. Come watch us on Sundays, and it’s going to be definitely different.”
The defense for the Eagles also struggled often last season. The Birds gave up 27.8 points per game, which tied them for third-worst in the league. Philadelphia intercepted only eight passes, which was second-worst in the league.
In order to improve, new defensive coordinator Billy Davis is bringing a brand-new scheme. Davis, who came from the Cleveland Browns last season, was also the defensive coordinator for both the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals in his career. He has been installing the 3-4 defense rather than the 4-3 that the Eagles ran for the last few seasons.
This new scheme aims to bring speed and confusion to offenses, something the Eagles lacked last season. The coaches may be new, but they all agree on one main thing: The staff is going to build the team with the best players, even if it does not fit the scheme perfectly.
“Like everything we’re doing, it’s got to be a personnel-driven deal,” Kelly said. “Let’s play to their strengths. We keep finding out every day when we get on the field what they do really well.”
This may be one of the most exciting preseasons the Eagles have had in many years. While most teams are looking at what players are going to be cut, the Eagles are looking for players who can contribute.