This week started with the tragic news that Garrett Reid, 29, son of Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid, was found dead in his room at Lehigh University, where he had been assisting the Eagles conditioning staff.
On a human level, one has to feel great sympathy for Reid and his family. The outpouring of support from fans, the media and the Eagles and NFL families has been heartwarming.
Football and Garret Reid’s death are in two disparate categories. Andy Reid seems to be a very compartmentalized person; it is my opinion that, as fans, we should approach this situation in the same compartmentalized way. We all have the requisite sympathy for the Reid’s loss. Anything beyond that is an inappropriate infringement.
Accordingly, with the season fast approaching, a preview of the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles is in order. This week, the defense is under the microscope.
The Eagles tied the Minnesota Vikings for the league lead in sacks last year with 50, and the lion’s share of those came from the defensive line. Part of that outstanding production came from the new system brought in by defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
The new system produced sacks, but also put a great deal of pressure on a subpar linebacker corps. Unable to withstand that pressure, the Eagles struggled to stop the run.
The Eagles addressed that problem with the trade for LB Demeco Ryans and the selection of Mychal Kendricks in the draft. Brian Rolle showed an ability to make plays last season and will most likely be the starting weakside linebacker.
The Eagles require strength at the point of attack from their defensive tackles because their defensive ends are almost exclusively pass rushers, with the notable exception of Trent Cole. He is one of the best run/pass defenders in football. Fletcher Cox will be expected to improve the tackle position.
Whether Ryans and Kendricks are the answer to the linebacking problems of 2011 is unknown. Kendricks, of course, has never played in an NFL game, but seems to have all the tools needed to be successful. Ryans is a respected veteran who has been a very good NFL player, but will be in his first season with the Eagles. Surely, he is an improvement over last year’s opening starter, Casey Matthews.
The Eagles defensive secondary was average at best last season. With Asante Samuel gone, they hope having Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha in place at their natural positions will settle the backfield down.
With an offseason of working together with the safeties, the secondary should be able to reduce the confusion that haunted them last year and left opposing receivers wide open at times. The third corner will probably be Joselio Hanson, a proven veteran who has been very solid over the years.
Asomugha’s play was bitterly disappointing last season. He was hailed as the second best cover cornerback in the NFL (behind Darrelle Revis of the Jets), and his acquisition had been viewed as the Eagles' most shrewd move last offseason.
Watching him play, fans thought that reputation was a mirage. Asomugha has to play like the player they thought they were acquiring when they signed him to a rich contract a year ago. Both he and Rodgers-Cromarite must improve if the Eagles hope to have a successful defense.
The safeties are the unit that draws the most skepticism from fans and rightly so. They were not good enough last year and the position was not addressed in the offseason. Kurt Coleman is the starter at one of the safety spots. A hard-working, hard-nosed player, he was a seventh-round draft pick for a reason. Coleman makes the most of his abilities—he just may not have enough of them.
The Eagles would be well-served to partner a really strong safety with Coleman, which would make him more than just adequate. They do not have one in Nate Allen. Young and talented, Allen did not play well last year. He improved as the season went along, but at times was downright bad. The Eagles did not have enough around him to compensate for his problems and cannot afford more growing pains from Allen this season.
Overall, the defensive line is a strength, as it was last year. The linebackers are unknown because of the new players, but fans can expect them to be better than the linebackers from last year. The cornerbacks are the same players who did not live up to their reputations last year. The safeties are unproven and look to be the weakest unit on the defense.
The Eagles added a ton of new faces last season, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Some, like Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins lived up to their reputations and more. Others, like Asomugha and DRC, did not. The hope is that they will benefit from a full offseason and play up to the reputations they had before they arrived in Philadelphia.
The same can be said for Juan Castillo, the offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator. He was placed in a difficult spot last year. He was first time defensive coach with a lot of new unfamiliar players and no offseason. The defense struggled mightily in the beginning of the season and Castillo received a lot of the blame. The defense improved significantly as the season progressed, yet Castillo did not get any of the credit.
By the end of the season, the Eagles ascended to having the eighth-ranked defense in the NFL. They must force more turnovers this year, especially if their own offense does not improve dramatically in protecting against turnovers.
The season as a whole will go a long way in determining Andy Reid’s future. Even more so, the performance of the defense this season will determine Juan Castillo’s future.