Install an offense, pick a QB—tick, tock
Training camp in Philadelphia looked, well ... different. There were huddles and play calls and snap counts, audibles at the line, even coaches halting the action to correct mistakes. And while this would not be noteworthy at any other practice, at any level, for the Eagles it marked a drastic change from the past three camps, where Chip Kelly operated his unique system at a breakneck pace. "[The differences] are seen every day," says center Jason Kelce. "In the old system—not just in practice, but also in meetings—everything was set up to go as fast as possible. And it created a rushed feeling."
When that failed to pay off, Philadelphia fired Kelly, then purged all vestiges of the deposed leader. The team hired a replacement in Doug Pederson, who brought his quasi--West Coast offense from Kansas City. Things are slowed down in Pederson's O—there's some no-huddle, but it's used as a change of pace, not a way of life—and the quarterback bears much more responsibility. Play calls are verbose and the QB has the latitude to scan the D and adjust, none of which existed in Kelly's system.
Who'll be under center is another matter. Sam Bradford should get the nod in Week 1, but it's worth noting that early in camp he split snaps equally with free agent Chase Daniel (Chiefs) and No. 2 pick Carson Wentz (North Dakota State). Which, financially, makes sense: Each passer is among the top 27 highest-paid at the position in terms of guaranteed money.
If fans had their way, Philly would move on quickly to the 23-year-old Wentz, who Pederson said might not even be active on game days. Daniel, 29, may be the forgotten man of the trio, but he is the most familiar with the offense as a result of three seasons with Pederson in K.C. That means he's been given the awkward task of helping Bradford and Wentz learn the scheme. Not that he seems to mind. "Everyone is helping everyone," he says, "but it's going to take some time."
Right. Time. For a franchise with a notoriously impatient fan base, a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game in seven seasons, time may not be on anyone's side. Bradford did set team records for completions and completion percentage in 2015, and he looked strong in his final seven starts as he finally seemed to grasp Kelly's scheme—but what does that mean now? Pederson's will be the fourth system of Bradford's seven-year career.
If this is the one that fits—and it's clear that players are enamored with the freedom it affords them—then this offense could be potent. Third-year wideout Jordan Matthews has more receptions over his first two seasons (152) than any player in franchise history; receiver Nelson Agholor, the 2015 first-round pick, is primed to bounce back after a rookie season spent nursing a high left-ankle sprain; versatile back Darren Sproles should thrive in the pass-catching role Jamaal Charles played for Pederson with the Chiefs; and tight end Zach Ertz, who set an Eagles record with 30 catches over a three-game stretch at the end of last season, will be lining up all over the field. Unleashed, a thriving O could also help Jim Schwartz's revamped D (now a 4--3), which led the NFL in time spent on the field each of Kelly's three seasons, thanks to the coach's frenetic pace.
Ultimately, the questions with Bradford will be how quickly he can pick up Pederson's system and whether he can stay healthy: He has played a full 16 games once the past five years. If Plan A fails, Pederson will have to decide whether to try to salvage the season with Daniel or plan for the future with Wentz. The clock, as always, will be ticking.
TAKE THIS GUY AWAY AND THE DEFENSE CRUMBLES
In June, when the Eagles gave Fletcher Cox(left)a six-year, $102.6 million extension ($63.3 million guaranteed), pundits gasped—but Cox is worth every penny. Aside from J.J. Watt, no pure D-lineman is more explosive in his initial step after disengaging a block. And like Watt, Cox (who has outstanding quickness off the snap and a hearty reserve of brute strength) is tremendous at disengaging from blocks. For his first four seasons Cox played on an Eagles D that used myriad looks up front and at times left him with the thankless job of simply trying to hold ground against two blockers. New coordinator Jim Schwartz is changing that with a true 4--3 scheme and fewer fronts, which will put the 6'4", 310-pound Cox in all-out attack mode. The Eagles are good but not great at D-end. Normally that's not enough. But it can be when you have a D-tackle like Cox, who consistently penetrates or demands extra attention.
SI's 2016 Prediction: 7--9
2015 Record: 7--9
SEPT. 11 vs.CLE [PREDICTED WINNER]
SEPT. 19 atCHI
SEPT. 25 vs.PIT
OCT. 9 atDET
OCT. 16 atWAS [PREDICTED WINNER]
OCT. 23 vs.MIN
OCT. 30 atDAL
NOV. 6 atNYG
NOV. 13 vs.ATL [PREDICTED WINNER]
NOV. 20 atSEA
NOV. 28 vs.GB
DEC. 4 atCIN [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 11 vs.WAS [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 18 atBAL
DEC. 22 vs.NYG [PREDICTED WINNER]
JAN. 1 vs.DAL [PREDICTED WINNER]
= PREDICTED WINNER