Last weekend, I went to watch my nephew play a baseball game. His team got whipped, losing by 10 runs. After the game, we were talking and he told me that he expected his team to play for the championship. I told him that was the wrong attitude. His team may have won the previous game, but when you lose big, as they did that day, don't ignore it. Don't talk about how good you are or will be. Fix the problems and admit you just got your butt kicked.
I learned those lessons from the 2011 and 2012 Philadelphia Eagles.
Set the ridiculous “Dream Team” stuff aside from 2011, there was still too much overconfidence from the players last year. Quarterback Michael Vick was talking about a dynasty. He complained about his ranking on the NFL Network's list of the top 100 players. There were a lot of personal goals and big talk. The season ended up as a complete disaster.
This time around, it seems as if the players really get the situation. I love some of the quotes that we're hearing out of the Eagles this spring. Defensive end Vinny Curry recently told a group of reporters that he is doing everything in his power to get on the field. Last year, he was inactive for most of the season, largely affected by the fact he was a rookie and then-defensive line coach Jim Washburn preferred playing veteran Darryl Tapp. Now, both Washburn and Tapp are gone. Curry isn't a rookie anymore. He should play. As Curry put it, if he is inactive this year, that's on him. He doesn't want to go through that again, so he is working relentlessly to get ready.
Quarterback Nick Foles was a rookie last year and ended up starting six games. He showed enough that it would be easy for him to think he should start this year. But the Eagles went and drafted Matt Barkley. They restructured Vick's deal. They added Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne. Foles hasn't complained for a second. All he wants is a chance to win the job. Some quarterbacks can be prima donnas. Young quarterbacks can be very sensitive to competition. Not Foles. He's saying all the right things. More importantly, he's playing well and has a legitimate shot to win the starting job.
Brandon Graham and Trent Cole were told they would be adding linebacker duties and have to learn how to drop back into coverage. Neither guy has complained for a second. Graham is down to 260 pounds and is on the way to 255. Cole has lost weight and adjusted his body and conditioning. He's now better suited to running and playing in space. There are a few other NFL teams that have guys as end/linebacker tweeners and the players are showing up to OTAs and minicamps heavy. Graham and Cole aren't fighting the change. They're trying to win starting jobs.
Look at right tackle. Dennis Kelly knows the Eagles drafted Lane Johnson to play that spot. Kelly isn't pouting about it. He's trying to play well enough to make Johnson have to earn the spot if he does get it. Kelly wants to show the coaches that if he isn't starting, he should be the top backup lineman. In theory, he can play anywhere but center.
Jason Peters doesn't have to worry about his job or playing time. He's focused on winning. Peters wasn't even on the field for last year's 4-12 disaster. He is still telling the media that 4-12 can't happen again. Peters isn't making promises or bragging, he just doesn't want to go through a miserable season. Peters rehabbed from his injury and is ready to go. He is as focused as he's ever been. That's great new for Eagles fans, but bad news for the people who line up across from him.
Left guard Evan Mathis has been dealing with an ankle this spring. That kept him out of action, with the expectation that he would return for training camp and be good to go. Mathis was on the field Tuesday. When he spoke to the media afterward, he admitted that he hated standing on the sidelines and just watching his teammates in previous practices. There was no pressure on Mathis to hurry back. His job wasn't on the line. Mathis simply wanted to get back on the field and to be with his teammates. You love to hear players say things like that and then to put actions behind those words. The line was a mess last year. Mathis knows that every rep the starters take together, the better off that group will be. Continuity and chemistry are essential when it comes to the offensive line.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.
Don't pay attention to where players line up and how they get mixed in. Chip Kelly has told us that time and again. Still, you can't help but look at certain groupings and wonder if that is a message, good or bad. DeSean Jackson wasn't working with the starters recently. He went and talked to Kelly. Coach explained the situation and everything is now fine. Jackson is part of a new offense and he's got some new responsibilities. It is up to him to adjust. Jackson was back on the field with the starters on Tuesday so he's headed in the right direction.
The encouraging aspect of that situation is that Jackson handled it the right way. He didn't go complain to the media. He didn't rip into the new coach and make things awkward. Jackson just went and met with Coach Kelly. Far too often in life people turn mole hills into mountains. Jackson didn't do that. He handled things well and showed the right attitude.
Rookie receiver Ifeanyi Momah has gotten some reps with the starters. He doesn't make a big deal of it. Momah just says it worked out that way due to the rotations. He's not getting cocky about being on the field. Nor should he. Momah isn't a lock to make the team. He must first focus on accomplishing that. He can then worry about getting some playing time.
I saw LeSean McCoy on the NFL Network recently. He was ranked 45th on their list of top 100 players. He was much higher in last year's rankings. They asked him about the ranking and he didn't complain, acknowledging the team's bad 2012 season and the games he missed due to the concussion.
When you lose, stay humble and focus on doing what it takes to fix the problems. Going 4-12 was a huge piece of humble pie for a lot of people. Nobody wants to go through that again. That certainly had a major impact on the mindset of many players.
Having a new coaching staff certainly does help with a lot of this as well. Things had grown stale. There was a need for change. That change brought fresh ideas and new energy. Players get fired up. Sometimes this is a temporary thing. Other times, it can last for years. Jim Harbaugh has done great things for the Niners. The energy and attitude around that organization is just tremendous.
If the Eagles players get a taste of success on the field, I think they'll continue to believe in Kelly's program and new ideas. If the team struggles, that will test the situation and show us how good a coach Kelly truly is. For now, the attitude is great. The players are saying the right things and, more importantly, doing the right things.
Davis Providing Reason For Optimism
Slowly, but surely I've become more comfortable with Bill Davis as the defensive coordinator. I was a little surprised when the Eagles hired him because Davis didn't have an ideal track record. He has grown on me the more that I've listened to him and read about him.
Dave Spadaro did a very good interview with Davis recently. Spadaro got him to open up a bit and share some information. The most interesting nugget to me was Davis talking about the defense's primary focus. It isn't third-down defense. It isn't points allowed. Davis wants takeaways. Go get the ball back for the offense.
This is right out of Buddy Ryan's playbook. Although Buddy actually made takeaways his second priority. The first was scoring. You have to get the ball before you can score, but logic wasn't always Buddy's strength. He wanted his defense to play with such attitude and aggression that they weren't just thinking about the ball, they wanted to go score.
Davis does a good job of explaining his ideas. I can certainly see where Kelly was so impressed with him during the interview. I'm looking forward to seeing his defense in action.