Without the pads and without, let's be honest, a full assembly of the 80-plus-man roster on board, it is very difficult to believe too much of what you see on the field during the rookies and selected veterans portion of the spring practices at the NovaCare Complex. But there is one thing that is very apparent with this team that Andy Reid and Howie Roseman have put together: There is an emphasis on speed, and the Eagles have as much of it as any team.
You know about the team's wide receivers, about how both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are huge down-the-field threats, and about how tight end Brent Celek is so athletic and powerful and capable of racking up the yards after the catch. LeSean McCoy is probably more quick than flat-out fast, but he showed last year the ability to take the ball the distance when the opportunity was there. Speed was not lacking on offense last year, and it certainly won't lack in 2010.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have a chance to be much faster. Brandon Graham and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim potentially add an element of speed to the defensive line, and Ernie Sims is definitely a speed linebacker. Stewart Bradley's return and Moise Fokou's improvement should give the linebackers a clear extra step from a year ago.
The secondary remains to be seen. There are unknowns there. Ellis Hobbs obviously has a lot of speed and he is absolutely a contender to win a starting cornerback job. Free safety is up in the air, but the Eagles really think they will improve there this season.
The defense needs to be faster and quicker and improved in its tackling to take a step forward in 2010. The group doesn't have a huge front seven, so it relies on a great scheme, excellent technique and quickness and teamwork to succeed. It is a concept used by most NFL teams in an era where a 260-pound defensive end is much more commonplace than a 290-pounder. Reggie Whites don't exist any longer.
And speed was clearly high on the list of priorities in free agency and the draft. The Eagles want speed players with high motors. That's what they have now, and when the practices are on and the defense works on the blitz drills, the speed is very evident.
How it all translates to when the team has the pads on and the contact is live is another question entirely, and we'll talk about that when the team goes to Lehigh for training camp. First impressions are, though, that this team has wheels and is going to need that speed to win.
* SPRING CAMP ROUND UP *
- I think there is going to be a real battle at defensive tackle for jobs. Seventh-round draft pick Jeff Owens is going to push Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon for a roster spot. Will any of those players challenge Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson for starting positions? I don't see it. Bunkley and Patterson are both good players, and they are attacking the off-season conditioning program. They look great.
- I'm going to really keep my eye on Marlin Jackson and Macho Harris this week and into next week when the full team arrives for OTAs. It's about to start making a big fuss about the spring depth chart, and those two players are ones to watch on defense.
- If you are technician of the game and love the nuances of things, you need to watch Juan Castillo work his offensive lineman. It is fascinatingly boring with the repetition of movement, the demand for precision, and the incredible intensity that Castillo brings to the job every day. I love it.
- Clay Harbor is an intriguing prospect at tight end. First of all, he runs very well and gets down the field. He seems to catch the ball consistently. Can he block? We'll find out in training camp, but I will tell you that Harbor is going to make a positive impression here. I just wonder if the Eagles will keep three tight ends.
- If Geoff Pope has another solid week like he did last week, he is going to have to start grabbing some attention. He covered well and closed on the football very well for two days at left cornerback last week.
- Clearly, the Eagles value Akeem Jordan, as they used a second-round tender on him. Then they acquired Sims and Jordan has kind of faded to the background. So what is his role going to be this year? Jordan figures to be a key part of Bobby April's special teams. Can he also rotate in at linebacker and play in some coverage spots?
- Durant Brooks needs to be more consistent if he plans on challenging Sav Rocca for the punting job. As April said at the post-draft camp, Rocca is the clear leader for the job right now.