Ante Up: Eagles prepare for Year 2 of Chip

The Philadelphia Eagles season ended on January 4 with a last-second field goal in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. Given the spring and summer in Philadelphia sports, it feels like a decade ago.

But the long wait is almost over. The Eagles season-opener is on Sept. 7. The preseason opener is on Aug. 8. Training camp opens on Saturday.

Saturday also marks the beginning of Chip Kelly’s second season as Eagles head coach.  His debut in the NFL brought an NFC East championship, the Eagles first playoff game in three years and a 10-win season. Not bad at all.

But year two, at least for now, brings questions of the future.

The first involves an offense that was tops in the NFL. Kelly’s high-speed, high-powered offense is now a known commodity.

The Eagles offense was second in yards per game (417.2 yards) and fourth in points per game (27.6 points).

They may very well have the same results within their own division. The Eagles offense produced 76 more yards of total offense than the next highest NFC East team, the Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles will be returning many of the same faces. Nick Foles is still the leader at quarterback and there’s an all-pro maintaining a running game that was tops in football in LeSean McCoy.

But there is an entirely new group of wide receivers on the opposite end of Foles passes. With the exception of Riley Cooper, the Eagles will roll out Jeremy Maclin, sidelined for the entire 2013 season with a knee injury, and two rookies – Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff.

The four will handle a bulk of the receiving with familiar pieces to the Kelly offense at tight end – Brent Celek and Zach Ertz return – and another newcomer in the backfield in Darren Sproles.

There is a lot of learning that will come with the offense, having so many new faces and such.

There are just as many new faces on defense. In the beginning, this can only help a group that posted the fourth-worst yards per game in the NFL.

But again, there is a lot of learning that will happen and a lot of it has to be on Kelly’s part.

Kelly clearly succeeded on the offensive side of the ball, as expected. Defensively, the Eagles got better as the season progressed, but still had many flaws. Additions at safety in Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker with top draft pick Marcus Smith will have to make a difference on the other side of the ball.

Putting up points is all well and good for Kelly, but the defense is the real test that will determine his long-term success and thus the long-term success of the Eagles.

Not much went wrong for the Eagles in the 2013 season – aside from running their last offensive drive in the Wildcard game a little too fast to keep the New Orleans Saints dangerous offense coupled with their own shaky defense off the field. It ended a dream of sorts.

The Eagles were good again after everything with Andy Reid crashed and burned before it all ended for good.

This is only the beginning for Kelly. Training camp will mark the dawn of a new season, also a new beginning.

But the few short weeks before the 2014 NFL season are critical for the Eagles as they iron out the kinks in Kelly’s system. It won’t be long before we know what’s in the cards for Kelly and the Eagles in 2014.

Kevin Durso is a contributor for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.


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