By Julie Glass
Carson Wentz, their second-year quarterback, has said that the Eagles had the “pieces in places” to win the NFC East.
Wentz will be looking for a way past the rookie wall — his final 12 games ended with 13 interceptions and a 72.3 passer rating — that brought his promising introduction to the NFL to a halt.
In addition to undergoing laser eye surgery, he has worked with private quarterback instructor Adam Dedeaux this offseason to fine-tune his mechanics and footwork.
Wentz deserves some blame for the offensive shortcomings last season, as few quarterbacks were equipped with less supporting talent at skill positions.
The Birds addressed that problem in earnest, however, by signing wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Jeffery provides the legitimate No. 1 option Wentz previously lacked, while Smith can take the top off defenses after last year’s receiving corps failed to provide any semblance of a deep threat (Wentz’s 6.23 yards per attempt ranked 29th among quarterbacks).
LeGarrette Blount was a late offseason addition, and Eagles Nation hopes he can replicate last year’s success after rushing for a league-high 18 touchdowns with the New England Patriots. That move could be an indicator that Ryan Mathews is on his way out, as he is coming off a serious neck injury, and his $4 million salary is not guaranteed.
Philly has fleet-footed options elsewhere in Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and rookie Donnel Pumphrey. The three could make significant contributions in the passing game as well as a change of pace from the lead back.
If Jim Schwartz’s insistence on having his front four set the tone for the entire defense wasn’t already clear, this offseason reinforced the stance. Though starters Bennie Logan and Connor Barwin moved on to new teams, the Birds reloaded by signing Chris Long to work off the edge with Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, as well as trading for Timmy Jernigan, who could thrive next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. They then doubled down by taking defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round to provide more juice to the pass rush.
No team was more vulnerable to deep passes, as the Eagles surrendered the most yards on attempts outside the hashes more than 20 yards downfield, according to Pro Football Focus. With Patrick Robinson being the lone addition after Nolan Carroll’s departure, the outlook is similarly grim for 2017. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas were taken on the second day of the draft, but neither looks poised to make an immediate impact (especially Jones, given the torn Achilles suffered at his pro day). In a division with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant and Terrelle Pryor, it might be up to the pass rush to prevent opposing quarterbacks from slicing up the secondary.