A refreshing thought in the midst of another revolting Phillies season is that it's the last day of June. And that's good news because the countdown to Eagles training camp can officially begin in July.
Even though camp has lost some of its luster with the move from Lehigh University to the shrubbery-screened fields of the NovaCare Complex, thinking about Chip Kelly's second season is still much more inviting than watching the Phillies contemplate buying or selling at the trade deadline as they sit more than a week's worth of games below .500.
What has Eagles fans most excited is the offense. How can Kelly turn his fast-moving scoring machine into the best attack in the NFL? Can LeSean McCoy win another rushing title? Can Nick Foles get any better than he was a year ago?
It's the other side of the ball that makes people nervous. The Eagles defense couldn't stop anybody at the beginning of last season, couldn't stop the Minnesota Vikings with Matt Cassel at quarterback near the end of the season, and couldn't stop the New Orleans Saints on the final drive of a first-round playoff loss at Lincoln Financial Field.
The only new starter figures to be safety Malcolm Jenkins, a free-agent addition who has created little excitement among the people who love to spell their team's name out loud.
Don't worry. The defense will be better. In fact, it might even be more improved than the offense, which, as you may recall, lost its top receiver.
Here's why: the Class of 2012.
That group, the last one selected in the Andy Reid era, has a chance to be the best draft class in franchise history. Other than Foles, it is a class dominated by defensive players.
Brandon Boykin might have been the best slot cornerback in the league last season, and he's going to be better in 2014. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks developed into a playmaker in his second NFL season and he's going to be better in 2014. Fletcher Cox, the first-round selection in 2012, is going to be better, too.
They know it and you'll see it.
"I would compare it to just kind of like being a freshman in college and everything is just fast and you're trying not to just learn your way on the field, but also around the whole organization," Boykin said. "Once you get settled and calmed down on the field, you are able to home in on the fundamentals and the techniques, and that's kind of what I did in the offseason going into my second year. That's why I got better."
For Kendricks, the experience was similar.
"The leaps and bounds you make between your first and second year, they're phenomenal," the linebacker said. "Once you learn the language, the schemes, and the concepts, and you have that down, you can focus on the little things that make you better."
It's important to remember, of course, that Boykin, Kendricks, and the rest of the defense had to learn a new system last year. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis introduced a 3-4 defense, and Kendricks said it wasn't until the middle of last season that everything started to click for him individually and for the defense as a whole.
"This may not run well with a whole lot of people, but I consider last year my first year, just personally," Kendricks said. "My first year wasn't really one to remember in terms of personal achievements. Even though I had a great time with the whole experience . . . it wasn't until the second year that I really had fun and felt like I made a difference with my play. I felt like I did what I got drafted to do."
Exactly how Vinny Curry, another member of the 2012 draft class, fits in remains to be seen, but there is a chance that he, too, could become a special pass-rusher.
Regardless, the defenders from the draft class of 2012 already believe they are playmakers and difference makers for a defense that only figures to get better.
"Everybody who is still here from that class is really legitimately contributing to us winning games," Boykin said. "We're only juniors in the game now, so for it to happen so fast is really special for us. We're growing and we're growing together. We understand each other's style of play, and that's only going to get better with experience."
Experience can be just as valuable as a top-tier addition in free agency, so let the countdown to training camp begin.