This is the way it is throughout the roster: The Eagles need young players step up, whether that means Bennie Logan and Damion Square along the defensive line, or Earl Wolff at safety or Lane Johnson at right tackle or Zach Ertz at tight end or Nick Foles at quarterback.
Youth rules on this roster. And the Eagles are faced with the challenge of blending in the development of so many young players and going out and winning tough road games like the one in Oakland on Sunday to keep this team in the thick of things at the top of the NFC East.
Interesting times, indeed.
"I don't think about being a rookie," said Wolff. "I think about my assignments and going out and playing good football. Nobody looks at it like we're young. We're here to win games and do our jobs."
Think about where the Eagles are along the defensive line. They've got Logan and Square, both rookies. They have Fletcher Cox (year two) and Cedric Thornton (three seasons out of college) and Clifton Geathers (year three) and Vinny Curry (year two). These are very young players. And these are players around whom the Eagles are building.
There isn't any time to grow up in the NFL, though. Wolff is right. Nobody allows for concessions to the youth. They're all in the NFL and they're expected to win games.
Combine a young roster with a new coaching staff and you understand why there are going to be growing moments throughout the season. The Eagles are 3-5 and still feeling their way. There have been some awfully promising moments. There have been some darn frustrating ones, as well.
The second half of the season begins in Oakland, with the expectation that the Eagles and Raiders are going to play a very tight, physical game. There may not be a lot of scoring, as both of these defenses have stepped up their performances.
So head coach Chip Kelly has to find a way to win. He's got a second-year quarterback in Foles who must demonstrate some leadership in this spot. Foles has been asked all week about "bouncing back" from the game against Dallas, as if Foles hasn't had struggling game previously in his career.
The answers have all been positive and of the keep-working-hard nature, but we're not going to know until the heat of the moment how Foles has truly recovered. And with the thought that the offensive scheme will largely be the same as it was against Dallas, and in the games previously, Foles is going to shoulder a lot of responsibility. He's going to need to come out throwing the football with confidence and accuracy and decisiveness.
This is an important moment for Foles and for an offense that has been grounded these last couple of weeks. How does Kelly put his machine back on track, operating at a high efficiency? A couple of thoughts ...
- The offensive line, up and down of late, has to handle the speed of the Raiders off the edge. Johnson and Jason Peters have to be quick and certain and balanced as they protect Foles in the passing game. Oakland's run defense is outstanding, so the chess match is going to be fascinating to watch. LeSean McCoy spoke this week of how the defensive box seems so "cluttered," that defenses are committing to stopping the run and daring the Eagles to win with the throwing game. The Eagles counter by saying that execution is the issue. We will see on Sunday.
- Foles has a big spot here. No doubt about it. The locker room needs him to step up and lead the way to a victory. The Eagles are going to have to make some explosive plays in the passing game to put points on the board. DeSean Jackson? Yeah, find a way to get him the ball.
The keys to victory don't change, because football is a game of winning at the line of scrimmage and taking advantage of matchups and making adjustments. Quarterbacks and coaching. Quarterbacks and coaching. That's the NFL game.
The twist here is that the Eagles have a roster that averages 25.9 years of age. There are 21 of 52 players on the active roster who weren't here in 2012. There are nine rookies.
The blend is an interesting one, and it has enough components to account for the bumpy ride that is a 3-5 record at the midway point in the season.
"It's football. It's our jobs," said Johnson. "That rookie stuff doesn't mean anything now. We all know what to expect and we know we're accountable for being productive every day here."