The Voice of the Eagles Merrill Reese is all in on this year's team and for good reason. The NFC East is up for the taking if you ask Reese, and the Eagles have positioned themselves to make a run.
For one, Reese knew it was no secret the Eagles struggled at receiver last season. He was thrilled at the offseason upgrades.
"What I like about this team is they took a weakness and turned it seemingly into a strength and I'm talking about the wide receiver position," Reese told Dave Spadaro on the Eagles Live podcast. "Last year, I think that most people would agree if you were evaluating talent you'd say they were a marginal group. This year they got the number one free agent available wide receiver in Alshon Jeffery who can be a force. They got a great speed receiver in Torrey Smith and then you add a Jordan Mathews into that slot and I think you have something very special."
Reese also remains high on third-year wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who may end up bolstering the depth for the Eagles at the receiver corps after struggling to find consistency during his first few seasons.
"Nelson's a great young man. He really is. He's a character guy, I like him a lot. I think he fought the ball last year. He seemed to have lost his confidence," Reese observed. "Towards the end of the season, you could see him relax a little more, start to make some plays. He's a talent and what happens this year remains to be seen. The talent is there if he can get the mental part of this game right, if he can go out there and continue to progress and play with a degree of confidence there's no reason why he can't play and play successfully in this league."
Another area in which the Eagles struggled with last season was coverage in the secondary, most specifically at cornerback. While there are still some question marks about depth at the position, Reese feels the team is remedying it by improving an already loaded defensive line.
"The number one area of concern that I think all of us would believe based on what we saw last year was the play of the cornerbacks. I think that is going to be helped with increased pressure from the defensive line," Reese explained. "That's where they went in the draft with Derek Barnett. He was a terrific college pass rusher and everybody in this organization believes they can translate that into success in the NFL. I think that Vinny Curry is going to have a much better season. I think he's fully healthy now. I think he can put pressure on whatever side they decide to use him at. They've beefed up the defensive line."
Andy Benoit offered scouting reports on who he thinks are the top 400 players in the NFL. Here are the Eagles who made the list...
With the additions of Barnett, Tim Jernigan, Chris Long and a healthier Curry, Reese thinks the front seven will make big plays all season and alleviate pressure from a talented, but young secondary.
"You have Rasul Douglas. I'm anxious to see how he does. I think that Jalen Mills is a guy who has the right mindset to be a corner. He has a short memory," said Reese, who complimented Mills for having a "gunfighter's mentality" that will only translate into future success at the position.
In the backfield, Eagles welcomed running back LeGarrette Blount who finished one rush shy of eclipsing the 300-mark last season. In Reese's eyes, Blount can be relied upon to handle a heavy workload after coming off a career season when he led the league in rushing touchdowns (18) and bulldozed his way to 1,161 rushing yards, good for eighth best in the league.
"Well, what he can do is make sure short yardage is almost automatic," Reese said of the 250-pound back. "I think it's a good offensive line, this offensive line will be a plus for this team. I think when you have a back like LeGarrette Blount, he will provide that tremendous power. I think (Eagles running backs coach) Duce Staley was a back who had some power too and bulk, but LeGarrette Blount is the definition of a power running back. He will mow people over and I think that you can make your team's third-and-one almost automatic. You don't have to resort to trickery or play-action where you can just say, 'Hey, it's third-and-short go get us the yard,' and that conversion rate is way up there better than 40 percent, I think you'll be a good team."
Above all, Reese believes the Eagles will have a much more experienced leader at the helm in quarterback Carson Wentz. He raved that the second-year signal-caller who had a standout rookie season.
"Then you have the second year of the very talented and exciting quarterback Carson Wentz, who did amazing things I think for a rookie last year, never lost his poise, and grew as the season went on. He had his obstacles that he had to fight his way through, but he did battle and he came out on an up note and came out healthy," Reese remarked. "He's going into his second year and he doesn't look like a second-year quarterback. He looks like a veteran."
Reese expects the Eagles to compete neck and neck with the other teams in the division. In the end, Reese is foreshadowing a playoff spot for the Eagles, which would be their first postseason appearance since 2013.
"Everyone will be tough, there are no givens in the NFC East. I think the Eagles can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other three and maybe in the end emerge as the best team in the NFC East," Reese said. "I believe this team is going to be playing beyond December 31."