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Minicamp analysis: Eagles hope to eliminate X factor

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The Sports Xchange

PHILADELPHIA — In March, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was asked what his team needed to do to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year this season.

“I think we have to improve on defense overall,” he said. “We have to be better on the back end. We weren’t good in the secondary. We had too many X plays (pass plays of 20 yards or more) over our heads.

“Offensively, we have to clean up the turnovers. They were at an all-time high for any system I’ve ever been in. And we have to improve our depth at inside linebacker and in the secondary.”

As Kelly’s Eagles completed their mandatory minicamp Thursday and went on hiatus for six weeks before training camp opens on Aug. 2, they appear to have accomplished all three of those goals.

They have completely made over their secondary, getting rid of three of last season’s four starters. They signed the top-rated cornerback on the free-agent market – Byron Maxwell, and spent a second-round pick on another top young corner – Eric Rowe.

Kelly is hoping last season’s turnover problem – the Eagles had 36 giveaways, including a league-high 21 interceptions – has been solved with the March trade acquisition of injury-plagued quarterback Sam Bradford.

Bradford has the fourth lowest interception percentage in NFL history, and appears to be ideally suited to run Kelly’s tempo spread offense. The question with him is whether he can stay healthy. He’s coming off back-to-back ACL tears that limited him to seven starts the last two years.

He still has not completely recovered from the second ACL tear. He did not participate in any 11-on-11 work in the Eagles’ spring camps. But he was confident this week that he’ll be ready to go for the start of training camp. “If I can’t do 11-on-11 work in training camp,” he said this week,” Bradford said, “then something has gone terribly wrong.”

As far as improving their depth at inside linebacker, the Eagles acquired one of the league’s top young inside ‘backers, Kiko Alonso, in a March trade with Buffalo, giving up their star running back, LeSean McCoy. Alonso, like Bradford, is coming off a torn ACL, but he was a full participant in spring drills.

The Eagles replaced McCoy with two of the top running backs on the free-agent market — league rushing champ DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews.

The biggest offensive question, next to Bradford’s health, is the offensive line. Kelly released both of his veteran starting guards – two-time Pro Bowler Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. Their projected replacements – Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin – have a combined 15 career starts.

Asked what he learned about his team during OTAs and minicamp that he didn’t know before, Kelly said, “I think their capacity to work is the biggest thing our staff has been impressed with in terms of the amount that we’ve gotten in since April 20 with this group. It’s an extremely thirsty group in terms of they always want something more and they want something new.”


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