The Youth Movement: An Ego Problem?

DeSean Jackson Andy Reid Bump Youth Movement Ego Problem

As I’ve explored before, the Eagles have made a conscious organizational decision to go with youth. That doesn’t mean it’s a rebuilding year, but the changing of the guard is obvious.

None of these “Young Guns,” as DeSean Jackson christened the new group of upcoming Eagles leaders, are lacking in confidence or sense of purpose. It seems as though many of them knew Donovan was on the way out and we’re just fine with that change.

Let’s kick off this discussion by going back to something Don Banks wrote right after the trade:

Sources close to the situation in Philadelphia have told me in recent months that McNabb does not have close relationships with the younger Eagles play-makers like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jason Avant. Those players are actually tighter with Kolb, who came to Philadelphia in 2007. So many of McNabb’s closest friends on the Eagles are now ex-Eagles.

Certainly McNabb must have been closest to guys like Dawk, Tra, Runyun, Westbrook, etc. He played well with the young players, but you never got the feeling that they were really tight. Donovan often sounded like he was an increasingly distant role model, rather than buddy, to the players almost ten years younger. He even criticized some of their play after the losses to Dallas.

You can even read more into this. Andy Reid must have seen the divide, so even if he thinks Donovan McNabb is better, there’s something to be gained by uniting the locker room around one group of players. After all, it seems like the young players already knew they were the main guys by the time they got to the NovaCare complex — and it wasn’t just all the rumors, according to Kevin Kolb:

“Once I got here and worked out I got a better feel for it — and when I was around the guys… there was a sense that “Hey, this is going to be us.” That’s what’s good about the offseason, you can build a lot of rapport and chemistry at this time of year, and so I was glad to get back here and get around those guys and get that feeling again.”

Clearly these “Young Guns” have a lot of confidence in themselves. They seem like they were waiting for this day to come, and were happy when it did. Listen to Jeremy Maclin:

I’m excited man. Kevin’s shown flashes of what he can do and he’s obviously a great quarterback and I’m looking forward to kind of getting out there and working with him a little more and hopefully we can spread the ball around a little bit… he definitely shows a lot of leadership and that’s definitely kind of rare for a guy who hasn’t been out there doing much. But I think that’s his number one thing and I think if you have a guy who’s a leader behind center he can take you a long way.”

Maclin went on to say that he wasn’t shocked about McNabb getting traded, only that he got sent to Washington. You really get the sense that he and the other young players were working out, watching ESPN, and waiting for Donovan to go — and it didn’t bother them at all.

Brent Celek has said some similar things, but on to someone far more quote-worthy. DeSean made sure no one else upstaged him on the McNabb trade. He started with just some genuine excitement about the deal:

“It just feels like some new energy is coming around and guys are pumped up. I just heard Maclin say that he’s ready to get the season started right now. We’re fired up and ready to go. We have a lot to prove and we feel like we’re a team that’s always been that close.  We’re just ready to go take it all the way.”

Besides the Barack Obama campaign reference, DeSean and friends really seem a lot more enthusiastic about losing a Pro-Bowl quarterback than you would expect. And it’s as though he’s saying that it was the older players who were holding the team back. Soon Jackson was being more explicit in his support of the trade:

“It was time for a change. We’ve got some young players here. I’m just excited about everything.

That excitement is everywhere these days. Maybe DeSean just likes having the core group of teammates also be close friends:

“When I first came to this team, we had guys like Dawkins, McNabb and Westbrook. All those guys are gone now. It’s going to be exciting. We’re able to all communicate with each other. We hang out, we do all the things together.”

It’s a strange choice of words, suggesting that things will be exciting because those old veterans are gone. Sounds like perhaps DeSean didn’t get a chance to rap in the locker room all that much when those guys were enforcing decorum.

I agree with DeSean and the guys. This is exciting. I can’t remember the last time the Eagles had so much young talent. And DeSean as a leader makes the team dynamic very different — of course, not necessarily better. That’s where you have to begin to make a value judgment. Confidence is always good, but at some point you pass into the realm of ego.

The Eagles let go of a lot of great players over the last two years. Players whose contributions both on and off the field will be very difficult to replace. I have reservations about trusting a group of young guys who seem to be unabashedly happy that those players are gone.

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There’s only one player whom I expected to have joined in with Maclin, DeSean, Celek, and Kolb, but really hasn’t — LeSean McCoy. His major comment on the McNabb trade:

“I still don’t believe it. 11 years, [McNabb] played in Philly so I figured that he would finish his career here. But… this is the business side of [the NFL], and Coach Reid runs the show. It’s going to be tough seeing him [in a Redskins uniform] because he’s done so much for Philly. I don’t understand why. Donovan is a very good quarterback and Washington has a nice squad.

That’s more than even the respectful pause get got from veterans like Avant, Herremans — it’s outright questioning. I wonder if he’s just not actually that tight with the other young guys or if he just got much closer to Brian Westbrook than I realized. The latter explanation would be backed up by this quote:

“Off the field [being professional], I learned a lot from Westbrook. On the field, McNabb taught me about relaxing, staying calm and taking my time. It will be weird playing against him twice.”

Sounds like perhaps when guys like DeSean were running away from the veteran leaders, McCoy really appreciated them as mentors. Just something to keep an eye on…