More Sports:

March 01, 2023

Eight takeaways from Nick Sirianni's and Howie Roseman's NFL Combine press conferences

Eagles NFL
030123NickSirianni Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni and general manager Howie Roseman spoke for around 15 minutes each at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Here are my eight biggest takeaways.

1) The Eagles like Jalen Hurts and they're going to pay him (duh), but they'd also like to have the ability to surround him with good players

"If you don't have a quarterback, you're searching for one," Roseman said. "You can't win in this league without a great quarterback who plays at a high level. We saw how Jalen played in the Super Bowl on the biggest stage. That's exciting for our team, for our fans, for all of us."

As for Hurts' contract extension on the horizon, Roseman said, "You want to find something that he feels really good about, and at the same time that we feel good about and surround him with good players. He knows that. He's a smart guy. He understands that. That doesn't mean that it's not going to be a tremendous contract for him because he deserves that, too."

2) The Eagles will wait patiently for Jason Kelce's decision to play, or not

"When is our first game," Roseman responded when posed with a question about when they need an answer from Kelce. "I mean, he's a special player, special person. I think that whatever his timeline is, we're willing to work with him. I think I'm doing his podcast tomorrow, so maybe we'll have a conversation on it tomorrow."

Ideally, the sooner the Eagles have an answer on that the sooner they can formulate a plan for their 2023 offensive line, and Kelce certainly realizes that as well. Maybe he'll announce his return to Howie on the podcast? That would be a smart way to draw in more listeners.

3) New offensive coordinator Brian Johnson will call plays

Even before the Eagles hired Johnson to be their new offensive coordinator, Sirianni had said that whoever filled that role would call plays. As far as what gives him confidence that Johnson is ready for that responsibility, Sirianni noted that Johnson has experience with it, and was influential at times in recommending in-game calls to Shane Steichen.

"Obviously you go through it, taking us through and getting us to our first 15 that he helps with, the third down order that he helped with, the red zone order that he helped with, the two-minute calls that he helped with," Sirianni said. "You do all that work, and you adjust during the game obviously, but you do all that work Monday through Saturday to get yourself ready for the game.

"You put yourself in every position you possibly can. You know, two-minute scenarios. You put yourself in as many positions as you possibly can, so you don't flinch when it comes.

"You're practicing, just like you practice, right? You practice to make sure that you're ready to roll in the game. It's the same thing with calling plays. He's been in that process, and Brian had some experience calling it at the college level as well.

"But as you talk on the headset, ‘Hey, they're doing this; we should look to do that.’ Brian was doing that all the time last year, just when we're talking on the headset trying to figure out the next series of plays and how we need to adjust.

"Again, he's done some of it in the past as a coordinator in college and then just the number of things that we do together as an offensive staff and all the things that Brian was involved in every one of those meetings to put it together, and that's where a big chunk of how you call the game goes."

4) The Eagles only interviewed one other person for the offensive coordinator job

"We had an external coach in Nate," Sirianni said. "I don't want to mispronounce his last name, from Iowa State. Offensive coordinator at Iowa State. Really sharp, young coach. You guys know my connection to Iowa State and [Iowa State head coach] Matt Campbell and him. We were really impressed with him and his interview, and he is a great football coach."

Sirianni was referring to Nate Scheelhaase.

During the interview process, it became clear that the Eagles were going to hire Johnson for that role when there were seemingly non-stop reports of defensive coordinator interviews, but no reporting of offensive coordinator interviews emerged. That should show how sold they are on Johnson. To note, NFL teams are required to interview an outside minority candidate for any coordinator openings, even if the internal candidate who got the job is himself a minority.

5) Defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson is not a certainty to remain on the staff

One of the internal candidates for the the defensive coordinator job was Wilson, who was passed over for Sean Desai. 

"I think we interviewed a really good group of guys and I was really impressed by all of them actually," Sirianni said. "Just at the end of the day, obviously some experience that Sean has had calling it, but also just I have to do what I feel is best for the team, and I felt like Sean was the best guy for the job."

When asked if Wilson would remain on the staff, Sirianni was uncertain. 

"We'll obviously go through that as we continue on," he said. "Does the staff dynamic fit? Does Sean have anybody? But Dennard is a great football coach. He's done an outstanding job. If he is still our defensive backs coach, we'll be lucky to have him because he know how good of a coach he is. We're not to that process yet. We just finalized that Sean will be our defensive coordinator, so we're not there yet. I think the world of Dennard and how good of a football coach he is."

6) The Eagles don't intend on being forthcoming about what Desai's defensive scheme will look like

"One thing that we definitely have now is what we had our first year going into it," Sirianni said when asked what Desai's defensive scheme will look like. "We have a little bit of unknown. Now, whoever we play first game can go and watch some of Sean's stuff from Chicago or even some of the things from Seattle. But one thing that we have is some uncertainty again going into that first game, where you hide some things in preseason football.

"So not give everything away, but what I did like is some of the similarities to the things that we do, that we've already been doing here on a very successful defense with different coverages, different run blitzes, things like that."

7) Sirianni made some excuses for Quez Watkins

"It's easy to say, well, Quez Watkins didn't have the same year he had last year," Sirianni said when asked if he was happy with the production he got from the third wide receiver spot in 2022. "Well, he didn't have the opportunities he had last year, and it actually wasn't even close.

"And so, when you ran the ball the way we did this year, when you threw it … I think if Dallas Goedert doesn't get hurt and miss those four games he probably has 1,000 yards. So, you have three 1,000-yard receivers potentially – you have one that had 1,500 yards, one that had, 1,300 did DeVonta have? Close? 1,300 yards, like somebody's production is going to slip a little bit.

"The things that Quez does is he stretches the field. The things that Zach Pascal did was being our enforcer. Go back and look at the tape of how many times he was in on a big block that sprung a big run, or even the play that he made against Pittsburgh for a touchdown. Like, why did that play come up and why was he able to score on that play? And I'm talking about Zach. Well, it was because he had made that block so many times that they all jumped in and he ran by them.

"And so, the production, all I want them to do is produce in the roles that we're asking them to. When there is a play to be made, make the play that you need to be made. But we understand, too, that they didn't have a lot opportunities. And I'm talking about Zach and Quez. They didn't have a lot of opportunities because, like I've said to you guys, our pass game run through A.J., it ran through DeVonta, and it ran through Dallas Goedert. We were looking to get them the ball, and sometimes … I know Doc Rivers used to say this a lot: Some guys are just going to have to get rebounds, and then if you got a chance to put it in, you got to take advantage of that opportunity to put that thing in. But we're going to design plays to run through boom, boom, boom, right? And that's what we're talking about with roles.

"And so, I think it's easy to look at the stats and say, hey, his numbers were way lower. They were, but he didn't have as many opportunities because of the other guys that we had on the team and how much faith we had in them.

"But we do have faith in Zach and we do have faith in Quez that they'll make plays when their number is called. It's just that it's called a little less.

The problem wasn't that Watkins had worse numbers in 2022 than he did in 2021. It's that he didn't make the plays when he had his opportunities.

8) The Eagles pretty clearly think that the efforts by some teams to outlaw the QB push sneak plays are lame

In case you were unaware, there are some teams looking to abolish QB sneaks in which players attempt to push the quarterback across the line of scrimmage.

"All I know is everything we're doing is legal and it works, and just because people do something that’s really good, doesn't mean it should be outlawed," Roseman said. He then turned to an Eagles PR person, looking for assurance that his comment wasn't finable by the league.

"I think some defensive coaches are bringing that up right there," Sirianni said. "No, we'll play with whatever rules they have. I think that it was obviously a very successful play for us. You guys would know the numbers a little bit better. I haven't hit my self-scout stuff yet.

"Very successful play for us, but wasn't the only thing we were doing off it, right? I think we had some exciting plays that came off it when the defenses were trying to stop the play that they thought was coming. That's what football is, right? 

"Hey, I don't get a vote. They don't ask me. I thought that there was a lot of hard work that went into it. There is a lot of the technique and fundamentals that go into it as far as how our guys block it and the specialty of our guys, like Jason Kelce.

"So, we'll do whatever the rules say to do, obviously, but we had a lot of fun coming up with those plays. We had a lot of fun practicing those plays, the different ways we did it. The guys had fun doing that. Fletcher Cox always wanted to be in on one of those plays. So, it was a lot of fun, and some of the wrinkles that were off it.

"I thought it was good for the game. Obviously, I'm biased. We had a lot of success with it."

My take? There are times when certain plays are abolished because they look to circumvent the spirit of the rules, like when the NFL banned the Patriots' deceptive ineligible receiver play. In the case of the Eagles' wide variety of QB sneaks, there is absolutely nothing deceitful about what the Eagles are doing.

"iT's rEaLLy hArD tO StoP!" is not a valid reason to ban a play. 

Follow Jimmy & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @JimmyKempski | thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Jimmy's RSS feed to your feed reader