By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
In a season of coulda, woulda, shoulda with a few ifs and buts sprinkled in for good measure, watching his Philadelphia Eagles falter to a mediocre 8-8 was something that didn’t sit too well with team owner Jeffrey Lurie.
“This season was without question the most disappointing since I’ve owned the team,” Lurie said during his press conference with the media on Tuesday.
. “The primary emotion is anger and frustration….You’re not thinking that if you’re aggressive in free agency, you make a trade for a Pro Bowl cornerback and you continue to improve the team with good, young players and Michael Vick coming off a year where he was second to Tom Brady as MVP of the league, there’s no way that anyone could have imagined that we could be sitting here with the season already ended.”.
All that said, Lurie said he was sticking with head coach Andy Reid, who did not give his regular Monday press conference. He said he believes the team has the talent to make a run for the title in 2012 and that Reid is the man to lead that talent.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if our focus is to win a championship next year, the best coach for that is Andy,” Lurie said. “Andy Reid not only has the love of the players and their respect, but he also the fire in his belly to be the best.”
Lurie said the future of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is something that Reid has to decide. Meanwhile, rumors are already circulating that recently fired St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, a former Eagles assistant coach, could be the Birds next defensive coordinator.
Before announcing that Reid, who has two years left on his contract, would be his guy, Lurie said that there were no legitimate excuses for the team’s demise in the first half of the year.
Blowing fourth quarter leads, the lack of minicamps and organized team activities because of the lockout, and rationalizations about the defense’s inability to gel and learn Castillo’s system during the first half of the season were things the Birds owner wasn’t trying to hear.
And even though Lurie thought that the last four wins of the season against non-playoff teams were fool’s gold, he was apparently excited enough about them to bring Reid back.
“It’s a talented group and it’s a group where we brought in a lot of good, talented players,” Lurie said. “The pay off wasn’t this year, but the pay off has a chance to come soon and be really great.”
Eagles players attribute the failure of the 2011 season to not having offseason mini-camps and organized team activities (OTAs) because of the lockout.
That sentiment came mostly from the Birds much-maligned defense, which got pushed around to the point where it couldn’t hold leads late in games. Apparently, it wasn’t until the last four games of the season that the Eagles finally figured out Castillo’s defense given the influx of different players that came to the team via trades or free agency.
“Coming into camp, we got thrown into the fire early and so you have to learn as you go, said Eagles linebacker Brian Rolle.”
Learning on the fly was something that Castillo, last season’s offensive line coach, had to do. He definitely underwent some very severe growing paints this season as he watched his defense blow fourth quarter leads in a four-game losing streak after the Eagles beat the Rams on opening day.
For the record though, Castillo’s defense did finish the 2011 season ranked eighth in the NFL in total defense (10th against the pass, 16th against the run). They tied the last-place Minnesota Vikings for the team title in sacks with 50—18 from defensive end Jason Babin.
Rolle said the defense was eventually able to find themselves as a unit because some of the veteran players like cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha started making suggestions to Castillo and that he became more aggressive as a play caller.
Asomugha, who had a disappointing season after coming to Philly as a highly touted free agent, said Castillo got better at utilizing players individual abilities to help the defense.
“When I first got here, he didn’t really know me and he’ll tell you himself, he didn’t know what to take and what not to take,” Asomugha said. “But as the season went on, he figured out what helped us the most as a defense. The one thing about him is that he does listen and wants to get better. He started to show that.”
Like Rolle, Asomugha said having the full schedule of offseason workouts will help the Birds defense get better if Castillo is back as the defensive coordinator.
“Anytime you have more time to work on something, it’s going to help,” said Asomugha, who finished the year with three interceptions. “We didn’t have that time we will have now. We can be even better than we are right now.”