A year ago, general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly spent an offseason checking off a list of firsts. After Kelly was introduced, the two embarked on their first Senior Bowl together, then their first trip to the NFL Scouting Combine, all while preparing for their first NFL Draft and their first full year of roster building. A year later, as Roseman addressed the media at this year's Scouting Combine, the general manager reflected on the differences between this year and last year.
"One of the good things about last year was it was the unknown how some of our players who had never been in a 3-4 would fit," Roseman said. "We didn't have the answer to all those questions last year at this time. We had guesses, but we didn't know for sure. And so now you have a year's worth of film to watch and grade the players and see how they handled it, which gives us a much better handle on our own roster than maybe we had last year at this time. Then when you look at the evolution, I think that when we look at our front, for example, the young players on our front – we are really excited about that group of young players and how they took to the change in scheme. We understand that it was still their first year in the scheme, they have room to grow and continue to get better."
One of the unknowns last year, for instance, was how a player like Trent Cole would convert to a 3-4 defense.
"You talk about the difficulty for a lot of veterans to switch schemes when they've played in the league for so long and had success and the great part about Trent was that he wanted to work at it," Roseman said. "He wanted to be really good. He was determined. It's a hard transition when you've had your hand down your whole career and you have to play on your feet, you have to drop and play in space. Everyone knows he loves to rush the passer and he did a tremendous job, but obviously he's a guy that can do multiple things. He's able to put his hand down and just get after the quarterback like he's done through most of his career, and when you watch him in space, I think in the New Orleans game he had a pass defense, and I think you look at him continuing to get better."
Roseman touched on a variety of topics during his media session. Here's a rundown of what else he had to say …
On the next step for Nick Foles: "It's almost like when you're a rookie pitcher in baseball. You go through the league the first time, you go through the lineups the first time, and now people are going spend the offseason studying you and studying your weaknesses. The great park about Nick is he's got a tremendous work ethic, he's got a tremendous amount of will to get better and improve on things that are his weaknesses. I think he knows he has areas to improve on, too, and when you looked at him from year one to year two, a big thing for him was his footwork and being able to drive the ball down the field. I think we all saw tremendous growth in that area. I think we look for him to continue to improve. Obviously when you talk about these numbers, they're great numbers, so it's not necessarily only the numbers, but he's a young quarterback, he's 25 years old, he's in his second year in the league, and he's going to continue to develop and get better."
On competition at the quarterback position: "I know that's what we're about – we're about competition at every position, and I don't think it's a slight to anybody on our football team. Everyone needs to be pushed a little bit. I know that's a big part of how I act every day. I wake up in the morning and have that determination that we have to get better. We have to get better today, we have to get better in the offseason, and that's how (Chip Kelly) thinks too. It's not an indictment of anyone at a particular position because we do have some really good players who are going to be starters on our football team when you look at our depth chart, but that doesn't mean that they don't need to be pushed and continue to try to get better … Internally, we're trying to increase the competition at all positions, and we're talking about that. At every spot, let's increase the competition level and try to get everyone better. Let's try to make a good player great, let's try to make a great player historic."
On projecting defensive prospects into the Eagles' 3-4 defense: "We have a lot of discussion on guys who are making the transition. When you look at college football from five years ago, there are a lot more teams running 3-4 (defense) and multiple fronts, so that makes it a little easier than it was.
On what traits the Eagles look for on defense: "Well certainly you look for athletic ability, you look for guys who can play on their feet, who can move, play in space, who are strong enough to set the edge. And of course, you're always looking for pass rusher, guys who can win with multiple moves. And when you're also looking at guys making the transition, intelligence is a big factor, the ability to think on their feet and be multiple. That's what we're looking for in defensive players, and really throughout our football team. We're looking for smart players who are versatile."
On taking the best available player in the draft: "I think when you look at your team and you try to look out three to four years, it becomes increasingly difficult to see who's going to be on your team. I mean, this is such a fluid game. We talk about rosters turning over in a normal offseason 15 to 20 percent, and so to sit there and feel like you're really confident in what you're going to have as we go forward, it's hard. So, you don't want to force a position and you don't want to not take a position just because of what you have at the moment and I think, for us, when you look at the difficulty of getting good players in the draft, it becomes increasingly difficult when you narrow it down to a particular position that you have to get, not taking into account the strength of the draft. So when we go back and look at it, not only looking at us but looking at successful teams, you have to take the best player and you have to build your team for the long term and look at the draft as long-term decisions for your franchise and for your football team. That's how we want to build. We want to build something that lasts and have a core group of players going forward that are together and kind of in this together and that the names on the back of the jerseys will mean something, because obviously the name on the front of the jersey means something to all of us."
On Chip Kelly's help in the draft process: "I can walk into his office and mention a player I watched and he'll know the background, he'll know where he went to high school, he'll have recruiting stories about some of these guys. He knows some of these guys even better than some of us do as scouts because he spent time with them already. Some of these guys we haven't spent time with. I felt that last year when we were going through the process. I think he's incredibly smart and detail-oriented. So when he dives into the draft process and we give him the guys that we've narrowed it down to, it's very quick for him to have an opinion and formulate an opinion because he puts in the time to do the work."
On what he looks for at wide receiver: "Number one, you want them to be able to catch the football. That's always important for a wide receiver. It's funny, you go through draft meetings and you'll start talking about guys and you'll go 'Explosive, good route runner, inconsistent catching the football', and you go "Well, that's a receiver, you know?" They've got to be able to catch the football, (run) precise routes, run after the catch, be able to block, obviously we run the ball in Philadelphia. When you look at that, it's an inherent toughness to be able to do those things that help, because the determination of these receivers you see on tape and a lot of these guys in college, because they get the ball so much and they are big-time guys, they're not asked to do the dirty work. They're asked to do the things that are fun, and being able to put a cut-up on and watch them go down the field and make plays in the passing game, but for us it's well-rounded. The receiver position in Philadelphia is going to be a well-rounded guy who is able to do the little things as well as all of the things that we look for in a receiver.
On the decisions facing the team at wide receiver this offseason: "I think it is complicated because we have guys on our roster that we drafted and that we like as players and certainly fit into the chemistry of our football team and then we have some guys on our roster as well that have been on our team for a long time and we're trying to figure out the whole dynamics of it because you can only put a limited amount of resources at a particular position before it starts taking out from other places. And then, of course, you have to figure out the quality of the depth in the draft and the opportunities possibly in the draft to get good players and where the draft is strong. I think, for us, it's making sure that we're making these decisions in calm times because when you're negotiating contracts, you want to win. You want to get the player. I think it's natural. So we set prices for guys and really try to stick to those and have walk-away numbers. But at the same time, I think the market's going to determine a lot of those things and it's hard to figure out the market until you're in it."
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