We are planning our coverage of draft weekend, and as usually happens around here, the planning is very, very open-ended. We have many ideas, so little time, and an incredible depth of interest in what is going to be a terrific weekend. So, as I begin my Random Thoughts, I am going to appeal to you fine fans: What do you want with our draft coverage?
I would appreciate some good ideas. We are here for Eagles fans to get as close to the team as possible, to have a daily Eagles experience. Our approach has been a popular one, but I also recognize what April 25-26 represents: For the first time since 1993, the Eagles have two first-round draft picks.
Now, a lot of things have changed since 1993. And, hopefully (oh, please!), the Eagles will handle the first round better now than they did then, when offensive lineman Lester Holmes and defensive tackle Leonard Renfro were the draft picks. Talk about a forgettable draft period for this franchise ...
Anyway, there was no Internet then, and there is now, of course. We know you are going to spend time on PhiladelphiaEagles.com that weekend, because we're live with *Eagles Live! *for large hours at a time on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
But I want more from that. More programming. More hours of live coverage, whether it is an slickly-produced highlights package from our Eagles Television Network from the 2008 season, spot interviews with key players and personnel within the Eagles organization, interactivitiy with the fans, fan input ... I want your ideas!
Please go to the Ask Dave Spadaro section of our Discussion Boards and start ONE THREAD and let me know what you want. I'll talk to you there ...
- Anything really happening at the NFL Annual Meetings? Not much, but I read with interest of the rule that changes the wedge on teams returning kickoffs. In the future, teams can use only two-man wedges, rather than the three- and four-man wedges previously used. I asked special teams coordinator Ted Daisher about the impact of the rule change.
"Why the change, is my reaction," said Daisher. "Usually there is something that happens that triggers the change -- the defensive back thing (see below), which I understand -- but this came out of the blue. I don't remember anybody getting hurt having a three- or four-man wedge. There are two styles of returns -- the three-man wedge, which we have done, which John Harbaugh did, which about half of the league does -- and then there is a group that uses a four-man wedge. I just don't understand the change, more than anything else.
"An entire league of special teams coaches is saying the same thing today and I guarantee you that nobody knows why we now have this rule."
The new rule says that no more than two men can come together to form a wedge on a kickoff return. Maybe the "slight" increase, as Daisher put it, of long kickoff returns last year impacted the league's thinking.
"Maybe people think the kickoff returns were too good, I don't know," said Daisher. "We will adjust, but it's a dramatic change in the way the league does kickoff returns. I haven't watched tape of every return in the league, but I haven't seen injuries."
To this point, two-man wedges have been used sparingly in the league, said Daisher. Now, there is a fundamental -- and profound -- change coming.
"It will revamp all schemes, for the most part, for kickoff returns," said Daisher. "Maybe they are trying to slow down kickoff returns. I don't have the answer."
- Another rule that was added enforces a penalty against a helpless wide receiver, which is going to be seen in different ways both offensive and defensive players. What is a helpless receiver? It is sometimes a difficult interpretation to make. We all saw L.J. Smith take a vicious hit last year from Lawyer Milloy in a game against Atlanta, and not only was Milloy not penalized, he also was not fined by the league after review of the after-the-play hit. It is, I predict, going to be a very difficult one to enforce and it will cause some controversy in 2009.
- How crucial do the draft classes from 2007 and 2008 look now? The Eagles traded out of the first round in both years and did not get immediate contribution from the first round, obviously, in the last two years. Now that you look at what the Eagles are and how the depth chart is constructed, players acquired during and around those two drafts are critical to success this season.
From 2007, the Eagles are counting on Victor Abiamiri to emerge as a very productive left defensive end and inside pass rusher in the nickel. They need Stewart Bradley to take another step forward after his excellent first season as a starting middle linebacker. They are relying on Brent Celek to be the starting tight end and to be a productive pass catcher, red-zone threat and improved in-line blocker. Another player from that draft weekend, Akeem Jordan (signed after the draft) is the starting WILL linebacker who must build on the promise he showed last season.
From April of 2008, the Eagles need DeSean Jackson to advance to the next level after he caught 62 passes and was a feared punt returner as a rookie. They want Trevor Laws to mature and challenge for more playing time at defensive tackle to deepen and improve a good three-man rotation. Quintin Demps, a fourth-round draft pick in 2008, is in line to win a job as a starting free safety after proving himself a dangerous kickoff return man and giving glimpses of his ability as a cover man in the defensive scheme. Defensive end Bryan Smith must find a way onto the field and give the Eagles more of a punch in their edge pass-rushing game. Cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu is expected to add depth and competition in the secondary, and offensive linemen Mike McGlynn, Mike Gibson and King Dunlap are all in the same positions. Even running back Lorenzo Booker, who did not contribute as the Eagles hoped he would in his first year here, is going to be expected to show he can assimilate into the system and help the offense with his quickness and his pass-catching skills.