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Questions About What's Next

Posted Feb 20, 2014

How do the Eagles really feel about this roster? We look at it and note Pro Bowl players and young talent on the rise, but that's not generally reality. Watching the game tape tells the tale ...

We've been talking about this for several weeks: How does the roster look now? How can it improve to the next level? It's a lively conversation, and it's helped pass the time.

But the real question is this: What does head coach Chip Kelly want to add to the roster? And: What have Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman determined as the top priorities for the free-agency period that begins on March 11 and then the NFL draft from May 8-10?

Questions ... we have a lot of them. Some on my mind as the general managers and head coaches in the NFL arrive at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis ...

  • The Eagles defense turned in a remarkable performance last year considering the coaching change, the new scheme, and a lot of new faces needing to learn about each other very quickly. Doing what the defense did in terms of holding offenses down on the scoreboard was very impressive in a lot of ways. But now the Eagles will try to get the defense to an entirely new level. Help is needed here, and you can point to just about every phase on the defense and spot a need for more. More pass-rush help. More of an impact in the secondary. Better play up front. The questions about the defense are this, then: What areas do Kelly and Roseman target? Where are the strengths in free agency? Is there an upgrade or two available in the draft? It's easy to say that the Eagles need this, that and something else. But actually finding the players is something entirely different, and it's very difficult.

  • How is the quarterback depth chart going to look heading into spring practices? Nick Foles is the starter. That much we know. Matt Barkley has a great opportunity to move up the ladder and improve his game and show he's got what it takes in this offense. G.J. Kinne will look to make the most of his opportunities to earn a place on the 53-man roster. What happens with Michael Vick? Does he sign elsewhere in free agency? Does he return as the No. 2 man on the depth chart? What plans do the Eagles have should Vick move on? Is there a veteran the Eagles have their eyes on to add some experience to the group? Would Kelly be OK with Foles, Barkley and another young quarterback?

  • Something that sticks in my mind after a fantastic regular season with the offense, and that's the lack of explosiveness in the playoff loss to New Orleans and the struggles in the running game. Why did DeSean Jackson have 10 catches total in the final three games of the year? What happened to the running game (LeSean McCoy 77 yards on 21 carries) in the Saints game? Was it just a one-game thing with the running game? Certainly, the offense made tremendous strides in 2013 learning a new offense with three quarterbacks seeing time, but the Eagles know they need to be more productive in big games like the one against New Orleans.

  • There are obviously questions about the wide receiver positions, given the potential trips into free agency by Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Do the Eagles retain either, or both? Are there more players the Eagles would like to add? You can envision the offense looking to play a high-tempo scheme and sending waves of wide receivers at exhausted defensive backs, so do the Eagles have enough depth on their roster at wide receiver?

  • Placekicker Alex Henery wasn't quite as accurate in his third NFL season -- he made 88.9 percent of his field goals as a rookie, 87.1 percent in year 2 and 82.1 percent in 2013 -- so how concerned are the Eagles? Henery kicked off well last year and he's got the mentality to bounce back and become one of the league's most consistent performers. We know, of course, that great placekickers aren't exactly falling off trees. So do the Eagles bring in competition, or do they intend to stay with Henery and work through the kinks in his stroke?

  • As for punter, the huge question is Donnie Jones, slated to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11. Does he return after a fine 2013 season?

  • Speaking of special teams, the Eagles would really benefit from having more big returns on kickoffs and punts. Brad Smith was pretty good in his limited time in the kickoff game, but the punt return game really didn't explode as hoped. Is this an area to target -- a return specialist -- at some point in free agency or the draft? Is it a blocking question or a returner question? Are the Eagles maybe not that much different from most teams?

  • In addition to the above questions, I always wonder what curve balls an offseason will bring. The Eagles don't let their intentions become public, so the sense of anticipation leading into free agency turns into full-blown excitement when the clock strikes to begin the personnel moves. There are usually moves that are totally unexpected. The Eagles have some room within the salary cap, now projected to be $130 million, so in what directions do they go?

We'll find out soon. The NFL Scouting Combine is upon us and we will, very slowly, get the answers to the questions we all have.

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