Eagles

Eagles need to find coaches to lead their biggest weaknesses

Eagles need to find coaches to lead their biggest weaknesses

Coming out of the 2019 season, if you were to rank the Eagles’ positions of need, it would be really difficult at the top.

There’s 1 and 1a — in either order.

The Eagles were already looking at massive overhauls in their secondary and at the wide receiver position this offseason. And now they’ll need to find coaches to lead two position groups that have been as injury-plagued as they have been disappointing over the last two seasons.

These are going to be very important hires for the organization.

This is a fresh start and an opportunity to hire coaches who can help transform two areas of the team that desperately need it.

Or this could make it even harder.

Last week, we found out that the Eagles fired receivers coach Carson Walch along with offensive coordinator Mike Groh. And on Monday, the Detroit Lions hired defensive backs coach Cory Undlin to be their defensive coordinator. So one guy got fired, one got promoted, but both are gone. And now the Eagles need to replace them.

Whomever the Eagles hire for these positions will likely have a very different cast of players than the ones Undlin and Walch had in 2019. Think about all the uncertainty at receiver and in the secondary and how much these positions need to improve.

Secondary

• Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod are all set to be free agents. Malcolm Jenkins wants a new contract. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas couldn’t get on the field in the playoff game.

• Thanks to injuries, the Eagles used 21 different defensive backs in the last two seasons, including Josh Hawkins, Dexter McDougle and Tre Sullivan.

• In 2019, the Eagles had the NFL’s 19th-best pass defense. Since 2015, when Undlin took over as DBs coach, the Eagles have the 27th-ranked pass defense in NFL.

• In that same timespan, the Eagles have given up 53 pass plays of 40+ yards. Just five teams have given up more.  

•  And the Eagles haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl defensive back since 2003, according to Reuben Frank. That’s the longest drought in the NFL.

• Just take a look at their last decade drafting defensive backs:

2018: Avonte Maddox (4th)
2017: Sidney Jones (2nd)
2017: Rasul Douglas (3rd)
2016: Blake Countess (6th)
2016: Jalen Mills (7th)
2014: Eric Rowe (2nd)
2015: JaCorey Shepherd (6th)
2015: Randall Evans (6th)
2014: Jaylen Watkins (4th)
2014: Ed Reynolds (5th)
2013: Earl Wolff (5th)
2013: Jordan Poyer (7th)
2012: Brandon Boykin (4th)
2011: Jaiquawn Jarrett (2nd)
2011: Cutis Marsh (3rd)
2010: Nate Allen (2nd)
2010: Trevard Lindley (4th)
2010: Kurt Coleman (7th)

Wide receiver

• The Eagles’ next receivers coach will be their sixth in six seasons.

• Alshon Jeffery has a significant injury and significant guaranteed salary. DeSean Jackson is 33 and coming off a season that also ended with an IR trip. And Nelson Agholor is heading toward free agency and everyone pretty much knows he’s gone.

• Thanks to more injuries, the Eagles used 15 receivers in the last two years, including Markus Wheaton, Kamar Aiken, Deontay Burnett and Rob Davis.

• This season, Carson Wentz became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards without a receiver going over 500 yards receiving.

• And the Eagles haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl receiver since DeSean back in 2008.

• Here’s their decade of misery trying to find receivers in the draft:

2019: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (2nd)
2017: Mack Hollins (4th)
2017: Shelton Gibson (4th)
2015: Nelson Agholor (1st)
2014: Jordan Matthews (2nd)
2014: Josh Huff (3rd)
2012: Marvin McNutt (6th)
2010: Riley Cooper (5th)

Based on the history of the Eagles’ inability to find cornerbacks and receivers, maybe there shouldn’t be much hope that the front office is going to go out and find talented players at those two positions. But they’re going to try.

From there, it’ll be up to these new, important hires — whoever they are — to develop talent at two positions that desperately need it.

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Doug Pederson's ominous track record hiring coaches

Doug Pederson's ominous track record hiring coaches

The Eagles this year will have their fifth wide receivers coach in five years under Doug Pederson and their third defensive line coach in three years.

They’ll have their third offensive coordinator in four years and a new secondary coach as well. And there could be more changes on the way.

It’s a lot of turnover for a team that’s reached the playoffs each of the last three seasons and won a Super Bowl just two years ago.

And it tells you two things:

1) Doug Pederson won’t hesitate to jettison coaches he feels aren’t getting the job done,
2) And Doug's track record of hiring coaches is bad.

Let’s go back a few years. When Doug replaced Chip Kelly four years ago today, he kept seven of Kelly’s assistant coaches and brought in 11 assistants of his own. A year later he brought in Mike Groh.

Out of those seven original Chip assistants? Six are still here, all but Cory Undlin, just hired as Lions defensive coordinator.

Of the 11 guys he brought in? Only four are still here — all defensive coaches: Jim Schwartz, Dino Vasso, Ken Flajole, Tim Hauck.

All seven assistant coaches he’s fired — Eugene Chung, Carson Walch, Greg Lewis, Gunter Brewer, Chris Wilson, Phillip Daniels and Groh - are his own hires.

Of the 10 coaches from 2016 who are still here, six – more than half – are Chip Kelly holdovers.

So the pattern keeps repeating itself. He keeps Chip's guys and fires his own guys.

And with four coaching openings at the moment, that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Some of the most highly respected coaches on Pederson's staff - Jeff Stoutland, Duce Staley, Dave Fipp, Press Taylor - are guys he didn’t even bring in. Duce, of course, pre-dates Chip and coached under Andy Reid.

Both his original coordinators, Frank Reich and Schwartz, were very good hires. Beyond that? His track record is kind of ominous.

Coaching is just a fancy word for teaching. And we keep seeing the Eagles’ draft picks - Sidney Jones, J.J. Arega-Whiteside, Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, Donnel Pumphrey, Mack Hollins – failing to develop the way they should.

If you can’t develop young players, you have no shot.

So many of the players at the heart of the Eagles’ recent success – Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Zach Ertz, Nigel Bradham and Lane Johnson – will all be in their early 30s by opening day this fall and with most NFL players in that 30-to-33 range, you know you're going to get a gradual (or sometimes abrupt) decline.

So the challenge facing the Eagles isn’t just drafting talented players, it’s coaching them and developing them so they can become that next generation of Malcolms and Fletchers and Jasons. That next generation of guys who can lead this franchise to more deep playoff runs and maybe another championship.

That’s why it’s imperative that Pederson figures this coaching thing out.

We all remember what happened when Reid struggled to replace that brilliant initial staff he put together 20 years ago this month. As those guys left for head coaching jobs or coordinator positions – John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, Pat Shurmur, Steve Spagnuolo – he replaced them with long-forgotten, over-matched assistants.

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles were essentially a .500 team in Reid’s last eight years here (66-61-1), but a huge one was the inability of that second wave of coaches to develop the young players who had replaced the nucleus that made the 2000 through 2004 team such a powerhouse.

Pederson was there for that decline as part of Reid’s staff, so nobody understands better than him just how critical it is to find people who can teach promising young players how to become pros, how to take their game to the next level.

The challenge now is finding an offensive coordinator with fresh ideas and a vision for the future, a wide receivers coach who’ll stay more than a year, a secondary coach who can salvage Sidney Jones’ career and a defensive line coach who can make Barnett more than just an average pass rusher.

It’s easy to fire coaches. It’s a lot harder to find bright, motivated, capable replacements who can mold young players into big-time pros.

Pederson needs to prove he can do that.

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Eagles Stay or Go: Breaking down the three specialists

Eagles Stay or Go: Breaking down the three specialists

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp bring back Stay or Go with the 2020 version, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Today, we’ll look at their specialists: 

Jake Elliott

Roob: Elliott’s not going anywhere, but his late-season misses are a bit troubling. Elliott made his first 17 field goal attempts – only two longer than 43 yards – then missed four of his last nine (from 47, 49, 53 and 55 yards). They weren’t easy kicks, but league-wide in 2019 kickers were 54 percent from 53 to 55 yards. Elliott was 43 percent beyond 43 yards (3-for-7). The rest of the league was 66 percent beyond 43 yards. Elliott has been clutch, but his inconsistency is a tad concerning.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: In the regular season, Elliott was 22 of 26 and actually improved his career field goal percentage. And then in the playoffs, he made all all three of his field goal attempts in the loss to Seattle and is now 11-for-11 in his career in the playoffs. And the Eagles signed him to an extension during the season, so he's not going anywhere. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Elliott probably doesn't get enough appreciation from the fan base, but he isn't exactly elite, either. He's made a lot of huge, clutch kicks in three seasons, more than making up for the occasional game that's hinged on his misses. It's moot anyway, unless the 25-year-old suddenly becomes completely unreliable, because he just signed an extension. 

Verdict: Stays

Rick Lovato 

Roob: The dude can flat-out SNAP. Lovato made the Pro Bowl as a long snapper, joining Mike Bartrum and John Dorenbos as the Eagles’ third consecutive Pro Bowl long snapper. Hey, the Steelers have always had tremendous linebackers, the 49ers have a history of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the Rams always have big-time receivers. The Eagles have great long snappers.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Good season for the long snapper. First, he signed a four-year extension and then he was named to the Pro Bowl. In the first year players voted on long-snappers, Lovato got the nod, which must mean he’s pretty good. I’ll defer to those guys. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: What can you really say about Lovato? No, I'm asking. The best compliment you can probably pay a long snapper is admitting you don't really notice his work -- it implies things are running smoothly. Anyway, he too signed an extension, and at 27, he could be around for awhile. 

Verdict: Stays

Cameron Johnston 

Roob: Johnston had another big year, averaging 46.4 yards per punt with a net of 42.3, which is 2nd-best in franchise history (behind Johnston in 2018) and very good for an outdoor punter in the Northeast, where weather conditions are often challenging. Johnston is the Eagles’ career record holder in punting average (47.2) and net average (42.5). His net average would be 12th-highest in NFL history if he had more attempts.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: He’s the only guy of the three specialists who didn’t get a contract extension. That might be coming. For now, he’s an exclusive rights free agents, which basically means as long as the Eagles want him back, he’ll be back. As far as his play, this season Johnson was ninth in the NFL in average (46.4), eighth in net average (42.3) and 13th in punts inside the 20 (28). He’s pretty good. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Eagles fans may realize it, but Johnston is quietly one of the better punters in the league, even if it hasn't produced any trips to the Pro Bowl just yet. Not sure what the hold up is on getting a new deal done. He's an exclusive rights free agent, so he's not going anywhere or anything. Still, the team should just lock him up for the long haul already.

Verdict: Stays

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