Head coach Chip Kelly said it many times during the 2013 season, that the players drive the league and dictate success on the field. It takes a lot more than talent, of course, as great coaching and a confluence of other factors coming together for a team to win games, but the baseline is talent.
Gotta have the players.
So I'm here at the Pro Bowl and even some big names and huge games missing in action, the practice fields are star studded. The athletic ability, even in these minimal-tension practices, is apparent.
And the Eagles have a great presence here with running back LeSean McCoy, quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and offensive guard Evan Mathis on the field. They are all outstanding players, and very deserving of being here.
The Eagles need more, of course. And they know it. That's why general manager Howie Roseman, in every comment made since the 2013 season ended, is very understanding that the goal is to challenge every facet of the roster and take nothing for granted.
While the players here enjoy the perks of a great season and league-recognition, Roseman and his scouting department and Kelly and his coaching staff are back in Philadelphia after spending the week in Mobile, Alabama grinding and gathering information on the Senior Bowl pool of players. It is an every-day process now, right through the draft. The Eagles will meet soon to map out their free-agency strategy ahead of the March period, and then the May draft will consume the days and nights.
The goal: Add more talent. Build up a roster that made some significant strides in 2012 and 2013, but that is still not where the Eagles want it to be.
"Another year of the guys learning what Chip wants and growing together, that's going to be huge for us," said McCoy after Friday's Pro Bowl practice. "I like what we're doing, the direction we're taking. It's going to be a big year."
Everyone believes that, and when you see the players here pick and prod and ask Eagles players questions about Kelly and his schemes and the way he runs his program, you understand that there is considerable discussion around the league about what the Eagles have going on.
Still, it's a huge year ahead. The Eagles have their coaching staff. They have a rising talent at quarterback in Foles. They have the league's best running back and a strong offensive line. They have playmakers.
But they still have a long, long way to go. And when you see the names on the fields here in practice, and the way that these athletes, even in non-contact practices that are in no way to be compared with the intensity of the regular season, explode in their movements, you know that the Eagles must not be content, not even a little bit, with the current roster.
The expectation here is for a lively offseason. What that means in terms of numbers of players added, or the way the Eagles conduct their business in free agency, isn't defined. Kelly and Roseman haven't had those conversations. That agenda is not yet in place.
Kelly knows it, though. He knows he has some talent here, and he knows he needs more. The players drive the success for every team, something very evident at this time of the year when you see which players and which teams play the longest in every season.
PRO BOWL NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- How many touches for McCoy on Sunday? I believe he will have considerably more than the two carries he had in the first Pro Bowl he played, after the 2011 season, and he could be involved in the screen game. Let's say 8-10, and we'll be holding our breath every time he has the football in his hands.
- Really good week for Foles. He's been gracious and accomodating with the fans and the media requests and is enjoying the experience. This is a great next step for Foles. He belongs with the best of the best after the 2013 season he had and he knows it. He wiill not let down once the Pro Bowl ends. Foles knows what is expected of him. "I'm going to work on every part of my game," he said. "I think I can improve in every area."
- Mathis is probably going to play both left guard and right guard in the game, and he will be physical if that's the kind of game being played. It's so fantastic to see a player who works as hard as Mathis works, and who just didn't find his complete NFL traction until he came to Philadelphia, gain the recognition he deserves. He's been terrific in his three Eagles seasons.
- Jackson wants to be heavily involved in the offense, wants to win the MVP Award and wants to win the game. There is some intensity here. How that manifests itself in the game remains to be seen, but the players are going to have some energy on the field, with Jackson leading the way.