For an hour on Wednesday, we had the opportunity to interview the Eagles' coordinators and position coaches to get some insight into the changes this offseason as well as the development of the players on the roster. Here are eight things we took away from the session ...
1. Shurmur Reunites With Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford enjoyed a brilliant rookie season under the guidance of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in 2010. The No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft threw for over 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns while earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
When the Eagles were presented with the opportunity to acquire Bradford in a trade this offseason, head coach Chip Kelly sought Shurmur's insight.
"He can function very well. He gets the ball out quickly. He's very smart. He prepares and trains like all the great ones do. He's an outstanding thrower to boot. Not to mention he's a terrific athlete," Shurmur said of Bradford.
"I can understand all of the health questions, but he's got a quiet confidence. He sees things extremely well. When he's talking to players, a couple of words are enough for a wise man. He's not an overly boisterous guy, but I tell you what, when he doesn't like what's going on everyone around him will feel it. That's part of his leadership style."
Shurmur admitted that he had his fingers crossed hoping that the deal would go through. It did when the new league year kicked off in March. Bradford has been in Philadelphia for nearly three months. The main focus for Bradford is rehabbing his left knee, which kept him out of action in 2014, but he has been a quick study in the film room and the meeting room learning the offense.
"He's a very smart player who works extremely hard. He's connected the dots already. He knows what we're doing," Shurmur said.
"He hasn't had any setbacks and he's able to improve in our offense. We feel very confident he'll be ready to go when it's time to play for real."
2. Staley Raves About DeMarco Murray
Running backs coach Duce Staley made no secret that he still thinks highly of departed Eagles running back LeSean McCoy during his media availability. But he also explained just what an ideal fit DeMarco Murray is for the Eagles' offense and for the Eagles' locker room.
"He's a perfect fit for us," Staley said. "He does exactly what we want to do, full-steam downhill, full steam ahead. That's what we're preaching every day. One, two, three, four yards and a cloud of dust, and all the backs that we have are able to do that."
But Staley already knew Murray was an outstanding running back. What he didn't know until getting Murray in the building was just how dedicated the league's reigning rushing champion is.
"His passion," Staley said, when asked what has surprised him about Murray. "His passion for the game. His leadership in the classroom, in the weight room, on the field is second to none, and he's driven by that. He's driven by not going out there and making mistakes, by showing others how he works. I'm just excited to have him."
3. Minter On Possibility Of Big Three On Field Together
Inside linebackers coach Rick Minter saw enough injuries at his position last season to know how quickly the best laid plans of roster builders can come to a halt. That's why he knows the trio of Pro Bowl caliber linebackers – DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso – should all see plenty of action. But there's still a curiosity about the roles they'll play. Could they all see the field at the same time?
"I would say in base defense it would be more of a challenge to do unless one of them truly assumed a role of an 'outside linebacker' role in case of emergency," Minter said. "So most likely it would come up in your sub-type packages of some sort, because we're not going to just change our complete structure.
"We're a 3-4 team. We're a nickel team. We're a dime team. The good news is it lessens the ability to have to get – because we have skills at the linebacker position – perhaps we can stay with my two guys on the field even more than we did last year. Last year, fortunately for us, through all of our injuries, we ended up relying on Nolan Carroll to come into my room and play a whole lot of reps, which really was good and Nolan did a great job at that. But if he's going to compete for a corner job then all of a sudden it allows my guys on the field a little bit longer to keep playing.
"It's not always easy to conjure up new things and you don't want to do it just for the sake of, but any way that we can get more players and more speed, more athleticism in any given situation then I think you have to give (defensive coordinator Bill Davis) the credit that he'll come up with something like that."
4. Davis Looking Forward To Competition In Secondary
In this offseason, the Eagles signed three veteran defensive backs in free agency and added another trio in the NFL Draft.
The overhaul was necessary.
The Eagles' pass defense ranked 31st in the league last season, allowing an average of 264.9 yards through the air per game. They also allowed the most explosive (20 yards or more) pass plays last season with 72.
One of those players signed as a free agent was Byron Maxwell, who will start at one of the cornerback spots. In the past, the corners have primarily stayed on one side at all times. With the plethora of top receivers that the Eagles will see in 2015, Davis is open to the idea of moving Maxwell around.
"Every day in practice, the corners switch (sides). They have the ability to do either one. We can move and match like we did a couple times last year. It's a week-by-week decision, but yes, we have that ability," Davis said.
Who will start opposite of Maxwell? Nolan Carroll has had the first opportunity in the Organized Team Activities.
"That's all competition. Nolan's having a great camp. Boyk's (Brandon Boykin) doing well. A lot of other guys, young guys, are getting up to speed. We're real excited about the competition in the secondary in all spots," Davis said.
Davis dismissed the notion that Boykin's height would preclude him from being in the competition to start. Listed at 5-10, Boykin is the shortest of all the cornerbacks.
"If you are good enough, you're big enough. If you're good enough, you're fast enough," Davis said. "Really, do we look for and bring in taller corners? Yeah, but it doesn't mean Boykin is at a disadvantage. I love Boyk. Boyk's one of my favorite players out there. He does a great job in the nickel. He's competing out there at corner. He's doing a great job. He's having a great offseason. And the best man will win out there. If he's the best man, he's got it."
5. Bicknell Got His Wish In Agholor
Heading into each NFL Draft, position coaches around the league are always hopeful that their teams will take someone from their respective groups in the first round.
This year, wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell's wish came true.
The Eagles selected USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor with the 20th overall pick in April, and though the rookie hasn't been in Philadelphia for very long, Bicknell has already seen a lot from his new playmaker.
"He's kind of everything I thought he was when I saw him this offseason," Bicknell said. "I went down and worked him out. I saw him at the Combine. I spent time with him interviewing and talking to him, and the best thing you want from a guy when he goes out on your field is that he's exactly what you thought he was, and he really is.
"He's a hard-working kid. He's got excellent quickness. He's got good speed. He's an aggressive kid. He fights for the ball - he does all of those things. He's a lot of what I thought he was going to be. It's obviously a rookie year, and some guys have done really well their rookie year, and some guys (don't). We'll take him at his pace the same way we did with Jordan (Matthews)."
6. Fipp: Extra Point Rule Change Won't Affect What We Do
In the 2014, the Eagles' special teams unit was the best in the NFL. They were also the most prolific special teams unit in league history, scoring a record seven touchdowns last season. But for special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, that's all part of the past. While it's something that the Eagles can hang their hat on, the special teams unit remains focused on the road ahead in 2015.
"Our focus is honestly just on the next play or in this case the next training session," Fipp said. "We're not worried about anything that happened a year ago. I know a lot of people are probably proud of that, but the bottom line is that our focus is forward and we're worried about the next snap, the next play, the next punt.
"We know that there are a lot of areas we need to improve in. We did some things at a high level but there are other things that aren't good enough."
Fipp also touched on the new extra point rule changes that were enacted this offseason. The line of scrimmage for extra points has been moved from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line, but according to Fipp, that won't change how the Eagles' specialists prepare for each point-after try.
"To me, it doesn't affect us and what we do," said Fipp. "The bottom line is that when coach says 'Go out there and kick it,' we have to go out there and make it. It's the same thing we do no matter where the ball is on the field. If the ball is on the 15 and he says kick, it's the same thing to us. For me, it really doesn't change anything."
With the new rule changes, the extra-point attempt will now be equivalent to roughly a 32-yard field goal attempt. In 2014, kicker Cody Parkey was 14 of 16 on kicks between 30-39 yards, a fact that leaves Fipp feeling confident entering this season.
"Obviously, you can go back and look at the percentages and the numbers, and we've hit those kicks at a high percentage, especially with Cody," Fipp said. "That being said, we're not going to take anything for granted. We still know that there's a lot that goes into every kick. … We'll see more misses on extra points than we've ever had. Statistically we have to. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens, but I'm not really worried about all of that."
7. Azzinaro Making Sure D-Line Isn't Complacent
Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro doesn't want his group to think it has arrived after an outstanding 2014 campaign. Defensive end Fletcher Cox earned second-team All-Pro honors. The Eagles ranked fifth in the league against the run on a yards per carry basis.
While there was plenty of change on the back end of the defense, the unit up front remained largely intact.
"When you're around a group of talented people, they have this philosophy of 'not yet.' There are many, many guys in our program who understand that I'm not there yet or where I want to be," Azzinaro said. "What you try to do every year is different. You try to invent your team or invent your position group every year."
Cox is one of many players along the D-line who has embraced the notion of "not yet."
"What I've seen from Fletcher Cox as the years have gone on, I've seen drastic improvement," Azzinaro said. "I've seen him become a technically sound football player. I've seen him be able to play the run as good as anybody."
8. McGovern Learned Coaches Need Sleep Too
Outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern was talking about Chip Kelly's penchant for questioning the standard way of doing things, in all facets of the organization. Asked to provide an example of something he's learned since joining Kelly's staff two years ago, McGovern replied with a missive on sleep. We already knew that Kelly was concerned with his players' sleep habits, but, apparently, that goes for coaches too.
"There are a lot of things I've learned," McGovern said. "It starts with everything, going to bed, going to sleep at night. You figure you take it for granted as a grown man. I watched my old man, he was a truck driver, I didn't see him for – I remember him waking me up in the middle of the night, giving me a kiss on the forehead and he left before I was awake and came home after I came to sleep. But I thought that was the way you did it and that was it. Chip said, 'Hey, you have to get your sleep at night.'
"Everybody - players, coaches - you have to get your sleep. Otherwise, you're not going to have your senses about you when you come in. You're not going to be at your best when you walk in the door. It was just something that, when you think about, it makes sense. Where you think you have to burn the candle at both ends, you have to be there all night when really you kind of run yourself into the ground. Really, it was interesting just to think about how, in the old days, everyone was told, 'Hey, you have to spend all hours here forever,' and you can't go home at night. You have to be able to get your sleep at night." !