Lack of productive, vocal leader hurting Eagles
November 23, 2012, 4:33 pm
Leadership -- or the lack thereof -- in the Eagles’ locker rarely came into question for the first 12 years of Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach.
Reid built his early NFC East dynasty around veterans who either inspired through actions (Jon Runyan, Brian Westbrook), words (Hugh Douglas, Ike Reese) or a combination of both (Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter).
The names changed but the nucleus of character guys who others looked toward when times were tough was tangible inside the locker room. It was evident in 2006, when the Eagles rallied from 5-6 to go two rounds deep into the playoffs, and in 2008, when they rebounded from 5-5-1 to play for an NFC title.
The easy angle is to look at the past two seasons and link at least part of the team’s 11-15 record to a glaring lack of leadership or accountability. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson sure suggested that the locker room doesn’t have the same feel that it once did.
“When I came in it was a little different, just with the leadership and personalities here,” he said. “But them folks aren’t here anymore, so the team that presents itself now, whoever it is, somebody is going to have to to be that person.
“Myself, I’m really not a big vocal guy as far as yelling and screaming, doing all that. I just try to go out there and just show by example by playing hard, making plays and things like that.
“As far as anyone being that vocal guy, [there is] really not no one on this team that’s like a Brian Dawkins. We don’t have that.”
The void of a locker room leader with the powerful presence of Dawkins or the tireless work ethic of Runyan has become a recurring theme throughout the six-game losing streak, the longest of Reid’s career.
Guys who want to lead aren’t playing well enough to get in someone’s face. Guys playing well enough to speak up consider themselves leaders by example only.
Tight end Brent Celek, long been viewed as an offensive spark plug with some fire inside, admitted that his ability to lead has been compromised by his own recent dropoff in production.
Celek, who’s had trouble catching routine passes lately, dropped a pass against the Redskins that bounced right into the hands of cornerback DeAngelo Hall for an interception on the Eagles’ first possession.
“That’s the biggest thing. I want to be a big-time leader on this team and then for the way that I’ve been playing it’s hard to be,” Celek said. “Let’s be honest. You’ve got to be at a certain level of play to be a leader to a certain degree and be able to assert yourself. That weighed on me a little bit, too.”
Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy have emerged as vocal leaders but both are recovering from concussions and neither is expected to be on the field for Monday’s game against the Panthers.
Vick was once viewed as the consummate leader, back in 2010, when he sometimes single-handedly carried the offense and consistently played at a MVP level. But he hasn’t played anywhere near that level since and his offensive line has sustained one injury after another, making the offense’s problem less about leadership than being undermanned.
The defense has five starters who have made a Pro Bowl but nobody has really stood out as the unit’s heart and soul.
Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans came over in a trade from Houston and brought along a magnetic presence that instantly made his younger teammates lean on him but he’s not the type to grab a teammate by the helmet and bark something unprintable.
“For me, my style is, ‘You get it done.’ I’m not gonna berate guys, get in their faces or anything like that,” he said. “That’s just not my style. That’s not me.”
The clubhouse has changed drastically since the Eagles let Dawkins, Runyan and Thomas -- three locker room pillars for almost a decade -- walk after their contracts expired after the 2008 season.
They still had veterans Donovan McNabb, Westbrook, Quintin Mikell and Sheldon Brown going into 2009 -- each of whom had played for the 2004 Super Bowl team -- but only Mikell remained by 2010.
In 2011, the front office’s philosophical shift toward spending on big free agents coupled with its youth movement toward draft picks (many of which haven’t panned out) resulted in an overhauled roster full of newcomers who either lacked the overall experience to assert themselves inside the locker room or were just trying to find their way in a new environment and hadn’t yet earned anyone else’s respect.
Jackson was asked if the team’s losing streak was traceable to the lack of standout veterans who had fought the battles throughout the years for this franchise.
“Might be,” he said, “but I can’t speak on that because we don’t have that going on with this team. Like I said, when I was here, when I was a young guy coming up through the organization, that’s who we counted on -- Brian Dawkins, Westbrook, guys like that. Just being here ... with the guys here now we just have to mold together and figure out a way to get it done.”
The Eagles on Friday claimed wide receiver Greg Salas off waivers from the Patriots and released receiver Mardy Gilyard. Salas didn't play for New England this season but had 27 catches for 264 yards in 2011 for the St. Louis Rams.
E-mail Geoff Mosher at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Posted 23 November 2012 - 04:45 PM