The head coach was asked to assess the team's spring workouts, including the just-completed mandatory minicamp. Going into the long break until the start of training camp, it seemed that everything had been accomplished as planned, and the foundation had been put down for a successful NFL season to come.
"It was good to get everybody in the building and everybody working together. Overall, I feel like the team is coming along great, and the unity is where it needs to be at this point, and then when we come back to training camp with the knowledge of the system and people knowing one another, hopefully we can take off from there."
Chip Kelly said a lot of things like that last week during the Eagles' minicamp. In fact, there were 32 NFL coaches who said a lot of things like that. The above quote happens to be from Jay Gruden, new head coach of the soon-to-be-renamed Washington Redskins, a team that went 3-13 last season and might not be much better in 2014. Yup, everybody was working together. As opposed to what, refusing to take the field?
All around the league, guys were picking things up quickly, rookies were showing they belong, the conditioning was great, the dedication was wonderful, the practices were crisp, and the future was as bright as a June afternoon. Of course, there hasn't been a single tackle yet, or a workout in full pads, or any of the other details that separate real football from a Strat-O-Matic quiz on the playbook.
"There's still a huge physicality part, so you can't make a full evaluation," Kelly said, an observation he echoed about several players.
Even the team's top draft pick, outside linebacker Marcus Smith, is a wait-and-see project despite taking part in the full range of rookie camp, OTAs, and minicamp. Just put him on the list of unanswered questions.
"It's all tough to evaluate, especially that position, just like the defensive line without pads on, because [a linebacker has to be] two entirely different people," Kelly said. "So you can observe athletic ability, spatial awareness . . . how they pick up concepts . . . do they know where they're supposed to be as it relates to drops or rushes or gaps they're supposed to be in. But we've still got a whole lot we've got to really kind of delve into with him when we get the pads on."
What we do know, or at least suspect, is that the Eagles, like almost every other NFL team, do not appear to be blessed with great depth. What would happen if the offensive line were to suffer injuries - one of the things that derailed Andy Reid's final season here - is not a pleasant topic to ponder.
Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, and Lane Johnson combined to play 5,426 of the 5,520 snaps taken by the offensive line last season. That's remarkable, and it gave the Eagles consistent play at the line, but it did nothing to sort out whether guys like Allen Barbre (who got 86 of the 94 other snaps), Julian Vandervelde (eight), Dennis Kelly (zero), or Matt Tobin (zero) could actually play effectively if called upon for an extended stretch. Maybe, maybe not, and your guess is as good as Kelly's.
Split out from the line, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are the starting wide receivers. Someone - Brad Smith, second-round draft pick Jordan Matthews? - will become the primary slot receiver. Without DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, it seems like a thin bunch, but Kelly's history suggests that the system makes the player and not the other way around. They better hope so, or the decision to push Jackson out of town will take on a nose/spite face quality.
There are other areas of, not exactly concern, but where the information isn't completely assembled. The backup quarterback position is one, with the main question being exactly who Mark Sanchez might be. Then there is the starting defensive backfield of Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Malcolm Jenkins, and Nate Allen. Is that good enough? Or would some combination of Brandon Boykin, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, and Nolan Carroll make it better?
Some of those questions will be answered in training camp, but most will have to wait for the live action of the exhibition games or even the shakedown cruise that is the first month of the regular season.
Kelly knows that, by then, all the cheery spring talk about working together and pulling on the rope in the same direction and buying into the program will be a lot less important than which players can win their one-on-one battles on the field.
"We want a bunch of guys who like playing football, not what football gets them," Kelly said.
They also want a bunch of guys who are really good at it. The spring doesn't give you that answer, though. That's what the other three seasons are for.