I thought they were a year away.
I thought with another offseason of good moves and a year of development for the young guys and some time to really learn Jonathan Gannon’s system, the Eagles could have a decent defense in 2022.
I may have been off by a year.
Because a month before opening day, this group looks awfully good.
Usual caveat: It’s practice. It’s training camp. And it’s come against a young offense still finding its way. It means nothing in the big picture. Not yet.
But the combination of a bunch of key offseason additions, some young players who may be ready to offer significant contributions and an impressive young coordinator has generated optimism that this can be a competitive defense.
Not in the future but now.
So far, everything we’ve seen from this defense has been encouraging.
The first thing the Eagles had to do was add talent in an offseason where they faced severe cap limitations. They did that with cheap one-year contracts for safety Anthony Harris ($4 million), corner Steve Nelson ($2.95 million), linebacker Eric Wilson ($2.75 million) and edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan ($2.5 million).
Each one of those guys upgraded a position group that needed upgrading. In a few cases, desperately.
Harris gives the Eagles a solid experienced safety who led the NFL in interceptions two years ago. Wilson is an experienced linebacker who like Harris played for Gannon in Minnesota. Kerrigan is a four-time Pro Bowler who at 33 should be an effective rotational pass rusher.
The Nelson addition was the most important, coming just before training camp began. Getting Nelson made the Eagles better - significantly better - at two spots: Outside corner as well as slot, since his presence allowed Avonte Maddox to move back to his natural inside position.
We know this is a top-5 d-line. They’re loaded. With Alex Singleton, Wilson and T.J. Edwards, the Eagles finally have a solid group of linebackers. And the secondary should be as strong as it’s been since the Super Bowl season.
The big thing is there are no apparent weak links.
There’s no Nate Gerry running around missing tackle after tackle. There’s no Sidney Jones, letting some obscure receiver speed past him, then hobbling off the field with another hammy. There’s no Haloti Ngata sticking around a few years too long or Zach Brown pocketing another check or Malik Jackson underachieving for $10 million per year.
So far at least, this seems like a solid group of motivated and talented guys who welcome coaching and want to get better and play well together.
There aren’t a lot of superstars in this unit. Fletcher Cox has had a terrific camp and is most likely headed for a seventh straight Pro Bowl. Brandon Graham looks like the same old B.G. Darius Slay isn’t quite elite but he’s very good.
But that’s OK. The Eagles won a Super Bowl in 2017 with only two stars – Cox and Malcolm Jenkins – and a smart, disciplined, motivated supporting cast.
Not to compare this group with that one, but after the Eagles dropped from 4th to 12th to 15th to 20th in defense the last four years, the potential is definitely there to reverse that trend this fall.
Maybe the most encouraging thing is the presence of some young guys who look like they might actually be players.
Rookies Zech McPhearson and Milton Williams are fighting for playing time. Davion Taylor (currently hurt) and K’Von Wallace have done some good things early in camp. Heck, Josh Sweat has been one of the big stories this summer, and he’s only 24.
We all know it’s a long way from a couple impressive weeks of training camp practices to doing it consistently in the regular season. But I like what I see. They have a shot. And that’s more than we could say the last few years.
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