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A Day Of Change And Team Building

Posted Apr 28, 2014

The purpose of the Eagles' Annual Playground Build is to change the world for children, and the team did that on Monday, with some football talk mixed in ...

Before getting to the on-field stuff, let's focus for a moment on the 18th Annual Playground Build, this one at Prince Hall Elementary School in North Philadelphia. It's always a remarkable day for all involved as the Eagles devote a day to build a playground for a needy school and in turn change the lives of children forever.

"I'm so proud of the organization and all of the schools with whom we've partnered," said Christina Weiss Lurie, President Eagles Youth Partnership, Eagles Social Responsibility. "The theme of today's playground was 'Learning to become leaders,' and I think it's so amazing that the kids embraced that and used some of the images to show the strength of those words."

We can segue nicely now into football, for it was the focus for the many cameras and reporters lined up to speak with Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman. The media wanted to hear from the Eagles about the decision a month earlier to release wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

What they heard was a consistent message: The decision was based solely on football. Kelly wants to go in a different direction at wide receiver. The Eagles didn't hold a press conference after the move, just as they didn't when they released wide receiver Jason Avant, safety Patrick Chung or, recalling past years, veterans from other seasons. They released Jackson in time to give him the best chance to find a job, which he did in Washington.

And now the Eagles are moving on. They made the decision on Jackson and now the task is to take the offense to new heights, to replace the production provided by Jackson, and to re-stock a wide receiver corps that is without the slot play of Jason Avant and the home-run threat that is Jackson.

"It's sad to see them go, for sure. They're both really good friends of mine, but we trust where Chip is going with this organization," said wide receiver Riley Cooper. "It's tough to see them go, especially being such great players, so dynamic. Jason cannot be covered one on one and DeSean is one of the most dynamic players in the game.

"Now we've got Jeremy Maclin back and that's super exciting. I can't wait to see him running routes and really getting after it."

It's fair to judge the decisions only after we see how the offense performs in 2014. To expect Kelly to have a conventional approach in his offensive game plan and use of personnel is to ignore what happened last season, when the Eagles established franchise single-season records for points scored and yards gained. This offense leans more toward a run-first approach than not, but there is no sense putting the Eagles into any kind of box that is easily defined.

By adding running back Darren Sproles via a trade in March, the Eagles brought in a versatile weapon who can line up and contribute from anywhere in the offensive formation. The tight end trio of Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey is versatile and productive. Maclin feels great physically and should step right in and play well in the scheme.

And the Eagles are going to have chances to add to the wide receiver group during draft weekend. Roseman has said how deep this draft is at wide receiver, and the analysts agree that if the Eagles want to bring some young talent on board, they'll have options in just about every round on May 8-10.

The locker room, please understand, has already moved on. Change is the nature of the business, no matter how high-profile the players who leave may be.

"We still have great chemistry in the locker room," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "The thing about the changes in the locker room is that we brought in good, quality guys who fit right in. We all get along well and we hang out together. We have some really good people in the locker room.

"We feel like we still have a lot of playmakers on our team. DeSean was a big playmaker for us and we lose a lot from that standpoint, but we still gain playmakers in Sproles and other guys we've added. As a team, we move on and we're able to make up for that by playing collectively as a group."

That's the reality, folks. The questions from the outside aren't going to stop, of course. But inside the NovaCare Complex, within the locker room, it's business as usual. Kelly wants to take this team into a new direction, and he's been given the authority from Lurie to do so.

How do the Eagles become more dynamic in the slot? How does this offense, which led the NFL in plus-20-yard plays in 2013, become even more explosive and productive? The answers come starting in September. In the immediate present, we watch on the edge of our seats to see how much and with whom the Eagles address the offense with personnel additions.

The Eagles clearly believe, in this case, that change will prove to be beneficial for an offense that made major strides in Year 1 wiith Chip Kelly and clearly intends to reach new heights in 2014, in whatever way the success is achieved.

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