The Philadelphia Eagles; a Defensive Overview for 2015
Just like that, it’s football season again! Bring on the fantasy football and beer ads because Eagles football is right around the corner. On Sunday August 16, The Philadelphia Eagles will take on The Indianapolis Colts at home on the Lincoln Financial Field. This is a highly anticipated matchup, despite it being the first preseason game for this Philadelphia team. There have been a tremendous amount of personnel changes on the defensive side of the ball which has affected this team greatly.
The Eagles have new faces in new places. With the offseason departures of what was believed to be franchise cornerstones, LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and Jeremy Maclin, this Eagles offense underwent a tremendous overhaul during the 2015 offseason. The notable replacements for these players are quarterback Sam Bradford, running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, and receivers Nelson Agholor and Miles Austin. There are mixed feelings about the offensive moves that player personnel director and head coach Chip Kelly made during this offseason, but most fans are very hopeful and believe that this reinforced defensive unit has done nothing but improve and will manufacture big plays in 2015.
Let’s start with the defensive backs. In the past 4 months, the Eagles defensive backfield has been somewhat of a carousel: here’s a quick run-down of the notable moves. By signing cornerback, Byron Maxwell, a former Super Bowl champion with the Seattle Seahawks, and arguably the most sought after cornerback in this past offseason, the Eagles immediately strengthened their third line of defense. The Birds also reinforced their defensive secondary by drafting three cornerbacks in the 2015 draft, releasing cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and also dealing cornerback Brandon Boykin across the state to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 2016 draft pick (Pittsburgh exchanges a 5th round pick to Philadelphia, but could become a 4th round pick due to Boykin’s playing time). They also acquired free agent cornerbacks Walter Thurmond III, E.J. Biggers, and released veteran safety Nate Allen, who many would agree underachieved during his time in Philadelphia.
Now you may exhale.
In regards to the secondary, you could refer to it as a complete overhaul minus one returning starter in safety Malcolm Jenkins, who will be entering his second year in midnight green and is already one of the veteran leaders of this young defense. Despite these drastic changes, the consensus is that this defensive backfield will be much improved from their dismal performance in 2014. Now let’s move on to the linebacker group.
(Pictured is newly acquired cornerback Byron Maxwell.)
Unlike the defensive secondary, the Eagles linebacker group did not undergo a complete overhaul, but instead simply added more talent. Considering Mychal Kendrick’s contract dissatisfaction and DeMeco Ryan’s age and injury history, Kelly felt the need to reinforce his linebacker core. Shocking the Eagles fan base and the rest of the league, Kelly dealt starting running back, LeSean McCoy, to the Buffalo Bills for young prospect and Oregon alumni, Kiko Alonso. Alonso overachieved as a rookie in 2013 by earning numerous accolades and assisted the Bills defense in becoming one of the better squads in the NFL.
Along with the addition of Alonso, the Eagles drafted linebacker Jordan Hicks out of the University of Texas. Hicks is a promising young talent at the middle linebacker spot who recorded 107 tackles for the Longhorns in 2014 and will look to rotate in during this coming season. The eagles also added free agent Brad Jones to the mix as well. Although the Eagles did release veteran Trent Cole, this departure opens up playing time for Brandon Graham, who had a productive season in 2014 and will likely get the most playing time in 2015 then he has ever had in his pro career. This leads me to the defensive line.
In regards to offseason moves, the Birds defensive line was rather boring. Although the defensive line was most likely the teams’ strongest and most successful group in 2014, they made little changes in the offseason. “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it,” is how you can look at this group and I believe it was the right move. With Fletcher Cox playing 80% of the Eagles defensive snaps and recording 70 tackles, Cox led the way for the Eagles D-line. Also with Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry and Brandon Bair seeing the majority of the snaps on the defensive line last year, a young but talented group will be putting their hands in the dirt for the Birds in 2015.
Some Eagles fans have questioned the moves that Kelly has made over this past offseason in regards to the offensive side of the ball. It is very rare that a team parts ways with their starting running back, quarterback and leading wide receiver all in one offseason. Although these talented players were replaced with other talented players who are believed to be better fits for Kelly’s system, the defensive side of the ball is one that can be looked at with more confidence for the 2015 season; and they should be one of the better defensive groups in the National Football League.