The Eagles made splashy moves to open the offseason. This week the team made some moves that didn't generate as much fanfare, but could be critical to the team's success in 2011.
Last week the Eagles made a bunch of splashy moves to fill some key holes and help put the team over the top. This week the Eagles stayed active, but the moves were of a different variety. The goal was to find good insurance policies in case of injuries or other unexpected problems.
The biggest name to be added was running back Ronnie Brown. I love this move. LeSean McCoy has emerged as one of the top running backs in the NFL. McCoy is going to be the workhorse back now and into the future. He was great in 2010 and is having an outstanding training camp so far. The only concern is what would happen if McCoy got hurt. Last year the Eagles were lucky that he stayed healthy all year. Since the team expects to compete for a Super Bowl title this year they couldn't go into the season without a top shelf backup at running back.
Brown is a perfect fit for the Eagles offense. He's a skilled runner, but what sets him apart from other backs is the fact he is a very good pass blocker and also a talented receiver. Some of the backup running backs who failed to pan out for the Eagles were deficient in those areas. Ryan Moats was a terrible pass blocker. Tony Hunt struggled in that area and was limited as a receiver. Mike Bell wasn't healthy. Charles Scott struggled to adapt to the NFL passing game completely. Brown isn't a project at all. He is a proven player.
Brown has added value in a couple of ways. With the Dolphins he was their Wildcat quarterback. He was able to run the ball, execute option plays, and also throw passes. The Eagles have run some Wildcat in the last three years. They can do that again, but mix in Brown as the quarterback if they want to. The other good thing about Brown is that he doesn't need a ton of carries to be an effective player. He shared the ball with Cadillac Williams in college. Brown shared the ball with Ricky Williams in Miami. He won't have a problem with being second fiddle to McCoy.
Should anything happen to McCoy, Brown is experienced and talented enough to be the primary back for the Eagles. He can handle that role for a game or even the whole season if that was needed. Obviously we hope McCoy is able to get through 2011 healthy, but you can't count on that. Adding Brown gives you a good player to mix into the offense and a good insurance policy.
The Eagles added a player that might actually become a starter. Tackle Ryan Harris was expected to stay in Denver, but changed his mind and signed with the Eagles. His career has been very up and down. He started at right tackle for the Broncos in 2008 and played well. He seemed like a fixture at that spot. In 2009 he was hampered by a toe injury. In 2010 it was an ankle injury that got the best of him. Harris only started 18 of 32 possible games. His play slipped when he was on the field because he was less than 100 percent.
Harris now comes to the Eagles with a chance to be the starting right tackle. He is a very good fit for Howard Mudd's style of blocking as well as the Eagles offense. Harris played left tackle in college and is a natural pass protector. He's got a sleek athletic build at 6-5 and 300 pounds. Harris isn't physically imposing. He's going to block defenders by being technically sound and using his athletic ability.
Right tackle is a concern right now for the Eagles. Winston Justice remains on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. The team hopes he's able to come off that and practice before the season starts, but there are no guarantees. King Dunlap has been a major disappointment. He was expected to challenge for the right tackle spot. He looks lost in Mudd's system and is now playing on the third string offense. Dunlap showed so much promise last year that you hoped he had finally turned the corner and was ready to be a reliable backup and possible starter. So much for that idea. Fenuki Tupou is also in the mix at right tackle, but he hasn't played so well that you see him as starter material.
Harris is a player the Eagles could rely on. He has started and played well. He is a good pass blocker, something that is critical in the Andy Reid offense. Harris has to learn the offense, but I'm sure that won't be a major problem. He's a smart player. The concern with him is durability. Can he stay healthy? Second year lineman Austin Howard has gotten reps at right tackle and left tackle. He's been up and down. He is the most likely of the backups to push Harris for the right tackle job. He also could be the guy off the bench in case anything does happen to Harris. It was important for the Eagles to add a veteran at right tackle in case Justice isn't able to play.
Defensive tackle looked like a stacked position last weekend. Things changed in a hurry. Brodrick Bunkley was traded. Mike Patterson had a seizure and spent a couple of days in the hospital. The reports now make it sound like he'll be back in a few days, but there are no guarantees for a player with some serious issues. He's got to get final opinions from specialists and then the Eagles have to agree that he's okay to play. Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon suffered minor injuries. Suddenly, the Eagles were super thin at defensive tackle.
In the past the Eagles would add camp body types and then wait for the key players to come back. Heck, a couple of years ago they took a backup offensive lineman and used him on defense. The Eagles were more aggressive this week. They did sign two players that are camp bodies, Brandon Collier and Charles Noonan. The team also added a pair of quality veterans. Derek Landri started all 16 games for the Carolina Panthers last year. Anthony Hargrove was a key role player for the Saints on their Super Bowl run in 2009.
Neither Hargrove nor Landri is guaranteed a spot, but both players fit Jim Washburn's attacking scheme on the defensive line. Last year Landri had three sacks and seven tackles-for-loss. Hargrove had 5 sacks for the Saints in 2009. He was extremely disruptive as an interior rusher that year. If Patterson comes back, there might be no need for either of the recently signed veterans. Still, I love the moves. Why not go get good players to come in and fight for a roster spot? Both players have been good role players on playoff teams. They are smaller defensive tackles, but that's what Washburn wants. He needs players who can fire off the ball and penetrate. His system works when the defensive linemen are able to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Are the Eagles finally done with making moves? For the most part, yes. General manager Howie Roseman always keeps an eye out to see what players are available, as well as what areas the the Eagles might need help in. Backup running back - filled. Possible starting right tackle - filled. Depth at defensive tackle - filled.
Some people are stuck on the notion of adding veterans at linebacker. This remains a possibility, but the Eagles are giving Casey Matthews every chance in the world to show he should start in the middle. He's done nothing to prove them wrong so far. The big test will be to see how he does in game action. Practice is one thing, but games are a whole different world.
Wide receiver is an odd position. The Eagles did have interest in Plaxico Burress, but he signed with the Jets. Since then, the Eagles haven't shown interest in other receivers. It seems like Jeremy Maclin will be back for the regular season. DeSean Jackson will reportedly in his holdout on Monday. With those players, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and some talented guys in camp, I'm not sure there is much need at receiver. The Eagles will make a move if they think someone can help the offense. Right now they are sitting tight, but don't mistake that for complacency. Roseman is ready to pounce the second he thinks a deal needs to be made or will improve the team. After all, good is good, but better is better.