By Dylan MacKinnon
We are a bit under 100 days until the Eagle’s season kicks off. There certainly feels to be some hype behind the Eagles this off-season. They had a busy off-season. First, they brought in Hasson Reddick to give them a true star Pass-Rusher. Later, they traded for AJ Brown, on the same night they drafted Jordan Davis. The next night they added Nakobe Dean who at one point was considered a potential top 10 pick. After the draft, they scooped up James Bradberry to be the CB2 behind Darius Slay. This Eagles roster has been turned around, and at least on paper is one that should be much improved from last year. But even with all those moves, there are some burning questions going into OTA’s.
1) Will Jalen Hurts take the next step?
Perhaps one of the most important questions, is will Jalen Hurts improve enough to be a true franchise QB. He impressed in flashes last season. But overall the results were lackluster. Yes, they made the playoffs, but that may have more to do with who they played late in the season, and less about his success. While he was incredibly impressive on the ground, he was graded out in the back third of QBS in nearly every stat. His accuracy was inconsistent, and he struggled to push the ball down the field. When he was called upon to beat another team with his arm, he usually came up short. Most notably in the playoffs vs the Bucs where he had what may have been his worst game as a pro.
But he would not be the first QB to struggle in his first full season as a Pro. Recently we saw Josh Allen at times look lost during his rookie season. Now, he is an MVP candidate. Not to say Hurts is similar to Allen. Allen was known even in college for having a cannon arm, a trait we have not seen from Hurts yet. But, it shows QBs can improve. And the one thing we know about Hurts is he will put the work in.
We will not know the answer to this question until he faces live defenders in a real game. If the Eagles are going to be true contenders they need more from Hurts. They have surrounded him with as good of a supporting cast on offense as any QB can ask for. It is on him to make use of it.
2) Is Jonathan Gannon a Good Defensive Coordinator?
There was significant hype for Gannon as a coordinator going into last year. Even people questioning the Nick Sirianni hire thought that Gannon was a great hire by the Eagles. But his first year did not go very well. The overall numbers may not be that bad, but those are bolstered by weak competition late in the season. As we saw in the playoffs, anytime this defense faced a good QB, they struggled. They let multiple QBs set career highs in completion rate. There were several games where the defense struggled to get a single stop. It was bad. Leaving us with many questions as to if Gannon is a good coordinator.
The question however was, is his scheme failing, or did he lack the talent to work with? At times it felt like his scheme was to allow anything under 10 yards because he played such soft coverage and such a soft pass rush. But maybe that is all he felt he could do with the players he had. That excuse is out the window. The Eagles added Dean and Kyzir White at LB, Davis at DT, Reddick as a pass rusher, and Bradberry. If the defense fails again, it will be because his scheme was not good enough. We will get to know this year if Gannon is actually a good coordinator.
3) What is going on at Safety?
Perhaps the one major position the Eagles got worse at. Last year they had Rodney Mcleod, Anthony Harris, and Marcus Epps as their primary Safeties. They lost Rodney McLeod in Free Agency. That leaves them with Harris, Epps, and then some guys who have next to no experience at Safety. Their other options are K’Von Wallace, who has mostly played special teams, and Reed Blankenship, who is an undrafted Free Agent. Blankenship has some promise, but it is tough to rely on a rookie undrafted free agent.
There is some hype around Marcus Epps. Coaches and teammates alike sing his praises saying people aren’t ready for how good he will be. For the Eagles’ sake, they better be right. Because otherwise, it may be ugly at Safety. The rest of the defense might be good enough to make up for it. But it will still hurt having a hole at safety if Harris and Epps don’t step up.
There is still some wiggle room for moves. The Eagles have even been connected to Jessie Bates who is currently in a contract dispute with the Bengals. If they made that type of move, it would immediately answer this question. But until they do that, or add a safety elsewhere, fans are going to be questioning if this safety room can hold up throughout the season.
4) Who is the Punter Going to Be?
The Eagles have yet to bring in any competition for Arryn Sippos. That is surprising given how poorly he played down the stretch last year. Sippos started the season strong but late in the season started shanking too many punts, and many assumed he would be replaced. They missed out on a run on Punters in the draft, and have yet to add any in free agency. It feels unlikely they will let Sippos keep the job with no competition, but as of now, that seems to be the case.
Punter may not be the biggest concern for most fans, but it can make a big difference. A great punt can shift field position and leave the offense in a good place the next drive. Whereas a bad one not only puts pressure on the defense, and may start the offense backed up the next drive even if the defense holds. It is too important to hand the job to someone who did nothing to earn it last season.
5) What Type of Coach is Nick Sirianni
Sirianni was mostly impressive in his first year. He helped the team outperform expectations. And he showed something it felt like we hadn’t seen from an Eagles coach in a long time. The willingness to adapt. Whether it was Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, or Doug Pederson, we are used to coaches who stick by their guns, whether it is working or not. But Sirianni adapted. He clearly wanted to run a pass-first offense and tried to do as much early on. But when it became clear that would not work, he flipped and ran the most run-heavy offense in the league.
His first year wasn’t perfect. He had some blunders. But overall he looked the part. Now the expectations are higher. The training wheels are off and he will have to do more than just not suck to be considered successful in year two. With the offense they have built, we will see if he really is an NFL-caliber play-caller or not.