The modern NFL is all about speed. Size is important. Strength is important. Speed is critical. The Eagles had that in mind in the offseason and made a conscious effort to get faster.
The biggest name here is DeSean Jackson. He remains one of the fastest players in the entire league. Cornerbacks who cover him one-on-one are taking a big chance. Defenses must gameplan for how to handle Jackson. He affects the game even when the ball doesn't come his way.
Torrey Smith was a good deep threat back in 2017. The team hoped Mike Wallace would handle that role last year, but he got hurt and the offense struggled at times because of that. Jackson is now back in Philadelphia and is a major upgrade. He is one of the greatest deep threats in league history.
Mack Hollins brought speed to the offense in his rookie year, but got hurt last season and missed all of 2018. He is back now and that gives the offense another vertical threat. Rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside runs well for a big receiver.
The running game also needed a boost in terms of speed and athleticism. Miles Sanders ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. That speed shows up in practice and games. When the Eagles get Sanders the ball in space, he will make plays. That was missing a year ago.
Corey Clement did play on Thursday and looked good. He was a valuable playmaker in 2017. Getting him back adds quality depth to the backfield and possibly the return game. Clement had the longest run of any Eagles running back on the season, despite missing five games. The offense is better when Clement is part of the backfield mix.
Speed is a big part of success along the defensive line. Daeshon Hall and Josh Sweat were on the roster last year, but this time around they should be part of the defensive line rotation. Hall and Sweat are big, tall, long pass rushers and they boast tremendous speed.
Hall has been terrific this summer. His speed shows up every week. There are the obvious plays when he just flies off the edge and gets back to the quarterback in the blink of an eye. I was really impressed with him on a zone blitz against Baltimore. Hall dropped into coverage and was on the tight end. The pass went to a wide receiver. Hall turned and flew out by the sideline to get in on the tackle. You don't see a lot of defensive ends show that kind of speed out in space.
The Eagles got faster at defensive tackle. That might sound hard to believe, but it is true. Malik Jackson moves really well for a big guy. There was a play last Thursday where the quarterback tried to buy time by getting out of the pocket. Jackson took off in pursuit and I was blown away. He ate up ground in a hurry and forced the ball to be thrown away. I'm only used to one Eagles big man being able to run like that, Fletcher Cox. Offenses are going to have their hands full with Jackson and Cox.
The player whose speed has stood out to me more than any other this summer is linebacker L.J. Fort. I've watched him play in the past. I knew a bit about him, but watching him play week after week is a different story.
Fort flies all over the field. There are times when it looks like he was shot out of a cannon. He covers a tremendous amount of ground. Speed can be a huge asset for a linebacker. The key is that the player must read plays well and stay under control. Fort has done both this summer.
Kamu Grugier-Hill was previously the one linebacker who could really run. The Eagles now have a pair of those guys. We don't know how Jim Schwartz is going to use his linebackers this year. He's still trying to get a feel for everyone. The Eagles are deeper and more talented at linebacker than they have been in recent years.
Zach Brown might be a veteran, but he's another linebacker with good speed, especially for his size. Grugier-Hill and Fort are lean. Brown has a thicker build. Throw in Nigel Bradham and Nathan Gerry and you can see where the Eagles feel good about their linebacking corps.
We have seen bits and pieces of the new speed in action. Players are getting mixed in here and there. I'm excited to see how this all comes together in the regular season.
McCown impresses in his first performance as an Eagle
The big story coming out of the Ravens game was the play of quarterback Josh McCown. He was in town for a few days and the next thing you know he's out there running the offense and making plays. That was crazy.
The only thing I can compare that to is the 2006 preseason.
A.J. Feeley was cut by the Chargers and signed by the Eagles on August 30. Feeley played most of the team's preseason finale against the Jets on September 1, just 48 hours later. Feeley had been gone for a couple of years, but still knew much of the playbook.
McCown was new to the Eagles, so his performance really caught me off guard. Doug Pederson handled the situation brilliantly. He had McCown pick out a handful of plays that he liked, and the team ran those plays.
Still, McCown made good protection adjustments and pre-snap reads. He threw the ball well, showing touch and accuracy. McCown took some hits and showed the ability to scramble. There are a few things to clean up, but you would never know he'd been away from football for more than six months.
The Eagles once again have a good group of quarterbacks. The Eagles are in great shape at the most important position in all of sports.