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Instant Impact: Team Seeing Early Returns

Posted Nov 21, 2013

Over the course of the Eagles’ rise in the 2000s, the organization become well-known for its commitment to keeping the overall roster young, as well as a keen sense for when to sign players to long-term extensions and cut ties with veterans in the twilights of their careers.

The same commitment to building a youthful roster that can grow and flourish together has persisted even as the regime has changed. When the final 53-man roster cutdown was completed at the end of August, the Eagles boasted the NFL’s 10th-youngest team, with an average age of 25.74. Since then, after various birthdays and player acquisitions/releases that average age now stands at 26.0. All players were born either in the 1980s (41) or 1990s (12).

“We’re trying to accumulate good players here,” general manager Howie Roseman said, “and we’re trying to accumulate players who are young and could be on our team for a long period of time. We have 29 guys on our team that are 25 years old (or under), and when you look around the league, most of the (teams) have 22, 23.

“If we can get these guys together and get a core of players who can build together and our fans can keep wearing the names on the back of their jerseys and kind of build into this team, I think we’re going to have a product that we can be proud of.”

Thirty-four of the current players on the roster were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents by the Eagles. There are now 29 players on the active roster 25 years old or younger, but only eight players over 30 years old – two of whom, punter Donnie Jones and long snapper Jon Dorenbos, are specialists. Furthermore, the following position groups are comprised solely of players who are under 30 years of age: Running back, tight end, defensive line, cornerback and safety. Wide receiver and linebacker just miss the cut because of Jason Avant (30) and Trent Cole (31).

The average age of the roster is not simply window dressing, either, as a multitude of the youngest players occupy prominent roles that extend beyond traditional special teams duties. The 2013 rookie class itself is a perfect example.

On offense, tackle Lane Johnson has played 99.9 percent (750 of 751) of the total snaps, while tight end Zach Ertz has played 40.5 percent (304 of 751) and quarterback Matt Barkley has played 10.1 percent (76 of 751). On defense, safety Earl Wolff, the team’s fifth-round pick, leads the way with 60.0 percent (520 of 866) of total snaps played.

Defensive lineman Bennie Logan is next with 33.8 percent (293 of 866). Logan is coming off a tremendous three-game stretch as the team’s starting nose tackle. Undrafted free agent defensive lineman Damion Square and linebacker Jake Knott have played 9.8 percent (85/866) and 1.6 percent (14/866) of snaps, respectively.

The Eagles’ two most explosive weapons on offense, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, are seasoned NFL veterans, but both entered the league before turning 22. McCoy turned 25 in July, while Jackson turns 27 this month. They too are smack-dab in the middle of their primes and are players who can still serve as franchise building blocks moving forward.

The vision for building with youth is no more evident than along the defensive line, which has been cited by head coach Chip Kelly as perhaps the team’s strongest unit. Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry turned 25 in June, while Square will turn 25 in February. Fletcher Cox, Logan and Clifton Geathers turn 23, 24 and 26, respectively, this month. These are all players who are entering their prime years together, and, as a result, the defensive line should only continue its ascent.

It is not just the defensive line that will grow together. The entire defense itself is young, with only one regular starter, Cole, over 30.

“When we went into the season,” Roseman said, “we talked about the defense having to grow and to get used to a scheme change and a lot of young players, and they are doing a good job of getting better and growing as a unit.”

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