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Some Young Eagles On Way Up

Posted Jan 29, 2014

Who is next in line? Who is the next Eagle to take that quantum leap from year one to year two, or from year two to season three, and become a standout player? The list of candidates is promising ...

We've seen it happen many times over the years. A young player has a taste in his rookie season and then, bam, becomes an impact in year two. It happened with Brian Westbrook. LeSean McCoy, too. Nick Foles, as we've just witnessed.

The greatest improvement in a player's career, goes the saying, comes between year one and year two. A full season of learning what the NFL is like, followed by an entire offseason of training, makes such a huge difference.

With that in mind, the Eagles have some young players on the rise. The drafts of 2012 and 2013 have provided a promising core of young players who have a chance to step up and accept huge roles. There are no guarantees, of course, but there are some strong candidates to follow a standout career arc. What must the following players do to take the next steps in their careers? Let's have a look ...

ZACH ERTZ, TE: A rookie season of 36 catches and four touchdowns is but a preview of what is to come for Zach Ertz. He runs terrific routes and is athletic enough to present matchup challenges for defenses. It's going to be interesting to see what the Eagles have in mind for Ertz in Year 2. Could he be more involved in the screen game? How much more can the Eagles move him around in the formation? Ertz has a lot of improving to do. He's going to get more strength and he will gain in how he sets up defenders and uses his frame. There is a lot of room for growth for Ertz, so to have such a strong first season bodes well for when he learns the nuances of the position and plays even faster than he did as a rookie.

BENNIE LOGAN, DT: Defensive linemen often take 2-3 years to gain a complete understanding of the game and the techniques needed at the line of scrimmage, so Bennie Logan has a real chance to build on a solid rookie season and take his game to a very high level. There is still an adjustment period for Logan to play the nose in this 3-4 front. He's got to work on every phase of his game, but there is no denying the talent that he has to get off the ball and beat the offensive lineman in front of him. How can Logan improve as an anchor inside? How does he use his hands? Does he need more weight? The Eagles like Logan a lot, and they need him to have a great offseason and come back an improved player for 2014.

MYCHAL KENDRICKS, LB: Mr. Takeaway was as improved as anyone on the Eagles defense as the year progressed. He led the league with 4 fumble recoveries and finished second on the team with a whopping 137 tackles, a career best. Kendricks added 4 quarterback sacks and a forced fumble and he seemed to play in the offense's backfield when he was most effective. Kendricks had some tough matchups in coverage against athletic tight ends, but he battled and was generally in good position. He just needs to continue to improve and to gain consistency and to stay healthy. Kendricks is a player on a defense that needs a couple of more like him.

EARL WOLFF, S: Just when it appeared that Earl Wolff was coming on strong as a rookie, he injured his knee and didn't play the final seven games of the season, including the playoff loss to New Orleans. What is the future for Wolff? A lot depends on how he handles the months ahead. He needs to improve his strength and make sure he can handle the physical demands of the long season. Obviously, he needs to be completely recovered from the knee injury. Wolff has to gain experience in coverage angles and in anticipation as the Eagles search for ways to improve a safety situation that is worth of some questions. Where does Wolff factor in? It's going to be one of the stories of the preseason.

LANE JOHNSON, OT: The fourth overall pick in the April draft was every bit as good as anticipated. Lane Johnson held down the right tackle position with authority. He was terrific. Now the question becomes: Can Johnson work his way toward being an elite tackle in the entire NFL? He's got to get physically stronger, so maybe he gains 5-6 pounds and some muscle. He will be better the second time around knowing the length of the NFL season and all of the demands, both mentally and physically. Johnson is a worker, a tenacious kid, and the sky is the limit for him.

FLETCHER COX, DT: Appreciate the move Fletcher Cox made from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 end in a year's time. He will have more production in 2014 knowing the scheme and the changes asked of his game. Cox may never be a huge sack producer, as that is not the nature of his position. But he moves pockets and he alters a quarterback's comfort zone.

BRYCE BROWN, RB: It was a very strange year for Bryce Brown, a year of adapting to the new offense and having only 75 carries as LeSean McCoy had a record-setting season for the Eagles. The NFL is all about having two running backs and challenging depth, so while McCoy is without question one of the game's best, the Eagles need to know they are just as powerful and explosive when he's not on the field. Is Brown the backup who could step in and carry an offense should McCoy not be available? This appears to be a great fit for Brown, a strong downhill runner who has power and speed. The Eagles had a very good situation in the backfield in 2013, but that doesn't mean the position won't be challenged moving forward.

MATT BARKLEY, QB: At least Matt Barkley had a taste of what a regular season is like in the NFL, even if he was thrown into two games in less-than-ideal circumstances. Barkley is a good worker, a smart kid, and he has skills to play the position. The Eagles have Nick Foles as their starter, and then they have questions. Michael Vick is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March. Does he return? Is Barkley ready to take the next step in his game? How much will a year in the system mean for Barkley as he gets his reps in the spring and summer leading into the 2014 regular season? 

VINNY CURRY, DE: His skill set would suggest that Vinny Curry is best suited as a 4-3 end, but he worked very hard and contributed in the team's 3-4 after a slow start. Curry adds energy and punch to the pass rush, and he's come a long way playing against the run. Curry is a great asset as he improves his game and plays the scheme. The Eagles need more pass-rush presence, and Curry is one of the most explosive defensive linemen on the roster. 

BRANDON BOYKIN, CB: What is the next step in the progression of Brandon Boykin? He's improved so much from year one to year two, and is one of the standout players in this defense. Boykin seems to be a great fit as the slot cornerback for the Eagles, and his anticipation and break on the ball make him a ball hawk who saved some wins for the Eagles in 2013. Don't expect him to move outside at cornerback. The Eagles like him too much in the slot. He has enough versatility to his game to be used as a blitzer if the Eagles wanted, and his return skills are very strong. Boykin isn't one to relax, either. He'll come back hungrier than ever in 2014.

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