In the hallways of the NovaCare Complex there are boxes packed and offices prepared to be moved and, with training camp just two-plus weeks away, all of the scripts and plans in place for the practices at Lehigh University. It is the calm-before-the-storm time, and with that brings some idle musings and the usual questions about what might be ahead for the Eagles ...
One topic that will never go away is the offense, and the look of the scheme, and what kind of changes will be made with Kevin Kolb at quarterback. And maybe you and I won't necessarily notice the changes in the X's and O's, and maybe there won't be anything discernable as Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg refine the playbook.
But there is an element missing, and borrowing on a theme from the Comments section of On The Inside (thanks, guys!) I'd like to talk about the idea of the "mobile" quarterback and the approach a defense takes in its pass rush knowing that if a lane is there, a "running" quarterback will take off and go.
At one point in his career, of course, Donovan McNabb took off and went. He had 86 carries and 629 yards in 2000, 82 carries and 482 yards in 2001 and in the early 2000s was a threat to go at almost any time. His approach changed over the years, and the truth is that by the latter years as an Eagle, McNabb was only going to run when he absolutely had a four-lane highway in front of him. There were too many weapons, and McNabb kept his head up and threw to his receivers and they made plays down the field.
McNabb, however, has always been very strong in the pocket. His ability to shrug off defenders and keep a play going allowed the Eagles to make many, many big gains. How much does that part of the game change with Kolb in now?
There will be a difference. Kolb is going to be more prone to quick drops and rhythm passes. He can move in the pocket very, very well, so to suggest that he isn't "mobile" is not an accurate characterization of his game. And if Kolb has a chance to run, he is athletic enough to do so. He won't try to make any defenders miss in the open field, necessarily, but Kolb is a competitive guy, a tough player and someone who understands the value of running out of bounds and sliding.
Furthermore, it's my opinion that defenses stopped game planning for McNabb's running game years and years ago. There were no "mush rushes" that we saw early in his time here, and no teams employed a spy on McNabb for most of the last decade. McNabb played within the structure of the offense, and that is what Kolb will do.
So do the Eagles lose something by not having McNabb's mobility? No, they shouldn't. If the Eagles want to inject some doubt in the defense, they will use Michael Vick and take advantage of his open-field skills. The suspicion here is that the Eagles will turn to Vick a bit more than they did last year, and that his better conditioning and sharper skills after being in the system for a full year will enable him to be a much-improved player.
Truth is, I think the Eagles will have more unpredictability at the quarterback position with Kolb and Vick, rather than what they had last year. Kolb brings some different skills to the table. You might see the Eagles run different motion, more motion, and the red zone package should be quite a bit different with Kolb in the game.
No longer will the Eagles be known as a team with a "running quarterback" in the pocket, and perhaps they haven't been known that way for many seasons. Kolb will take off and go, though, so keep an eye on those ground statistics and see if there is any difference -- plus or minus -- this season.
**TOPIC 2: DEFENSIVE LINE
How much better will the Eagles' big-game pass rush be with the additions of Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim? It remains to be seen. Maybe the scheme changes a bit with so much speed coming off the line of scrimmage. Maybe the Eagles rotate just a bit more and give Trent Cole some rest so he is more effective late in seasons. Cole registered at least 1/2 sack in each of the first six games of 2009, and then had sack numbers in just two of the final six (including the playoff loss in Dallas). Nobody plays harder and there is no question that he is an elite end, but the Eagles really seem interested in giving him a breather from time to time to make him better over the long haul.
Tapp is the one I think is going to surprise people. Graham and Te'o-Nesheim will improve as the year goes along, but I look for Tapp to make an instant impact. He may not start, and he may not star, but Tapp is going to prove to be one of the best pickups of this recent off-season.
**TOPIC 3: RIGHT CORNERBACK
How can you not wonder exactly how it is all going to play out here? Ellis Hobbs is in line to be the starter when training camp opens and he is excited at the prospect of winning the job and convincing the doubters that he can play the position and play it very well. But you know the deal. The regular season has great receivers one after another, starting with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and going from there.
Is it possible that Sean McDermott will move Asante Samuel and match up with the offense's "No. 1" receivers? The Eagles have done that sparingly in the past. It might not be a bad curveball to mix in now and again to keep the offense off-guard just a bit.
Then again, what matters is that Hobbs and rookie Trevard Lindley and Joselio Hanson and Co. step up to the challenge and ease any doubts. And it again goes back to the importance of having Dick Jauron as a coach working with the cornerbacks. They have as great a challenge as any position on this team in 2010.