A roster reconstructed in the shortened offseason required more time than usual to blend. There were so many news faces on the 53-man roster, so many new personalities, and a void in chemistry.
There were moments early in the season when the Eagles literally looked around at each other and waited for someone, begged for someone, to step forward and change a game in Philadelphia's favor.
Not until December, too late in the year as it turned out, did the Eagles mesh. And while it is true, as Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie said at his State-Of-The-Team press conference a few weeks ago, that placing too much emphasis on the four-game winning streak that ended 2011 is "fool's gold," something undeniably important happened: The Eagles became a team.
When there is talk of "carrying momentum" into 2012, the growth the team made in the locker room last year is at the top of the hope list. In fact, a team that was oddly young in many spots and lavishly experienced in other areas has a chance, depending on how much the roster turns over, to have an ideal blend of youth and experience in the season ahead.
There aren't many positions where you can imagine a rookie stepping in and starting. The offense is fairly set, with the exception of a position or two and a handful of free-agent questions. Defensively, some positions are going to be challenged, perhaps during a free-agency period during which the Eagles should be active.
With the relative continuity from last year's roster to the 2012 group, leadership should also be a strong suit. The free agents who joined the team in '11 are going to feel more ownership of the team in '12. The rookies will be young veterans.
It's going to be interesting to see who steps up. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins did his best last year to fill the vacuum and the team responded to his words. I think a young player like Jason Kelce is a natural to lead, and safety Nate Allen has all the qualities you look for in a defensive leader.
Who knows how much the Eagles lacked in leadership in an 8-8 season? The team started in a 1-4 hole and then couldn't sustain momentum after wins over Washington and Dallas. The Eagles sagged to 4-8, the weight of the NFL world on their backs, before it all came together.
By the end of the season the inter-team relationships were much improved. There was a sense of "team" throughout and the four convincing wins helped matters.
Then the Eagles packed up the locker room and headed into the offseason, at the very least knowing more about each other, the man next door, in the locker room.
This is a tangible that I believe very strongly in. Over the years, the best Eagles teams were the ones that had veterans showing young players the way of the world in the NFL. The veterans led by example, and by their words. I'm convinced, on the heels of the tough-to-digest 2011 season, that the Eagles found themselves and can use that as a springboard into 2012.
Of course, if the roster turns over significantly, the impact will be great. With a full offseason ahead and some time together in the conditioning program and during Organized Team Activities, the players can form a bond, and can strengthen the one they have.
No question the Eagles are going to make changes in the weeks ahead. How significant, nobody knows. They have to like the look of the roster, and they also have to understand that they need to be better in some critical areas.
The locker room, though, was a far different place at the end of the season than it was back in August and September, when all the new faces were learning about each other, about how the organization ran things and about a strange city they had only heard so much about.
Now, Philadelphia is home, and the Eagles have their way of doing things. There are no surprises ahead, which is why the Eagles, the players that is, should pick up where they left off in the chemistry department and could form a really strong and productive blend in a locker room that felt good about itself exiting after the season-ending win over Washington.