Another Eagles season begins tomorrow. And as I mentioned in my NFC preview, I’m not especially optimistic. The national media seems to be high on the Eagles, and while I see potential for greatness, I also see too many question marks for this team to be truly great.
Here are a few areas that will define how the Eagles do this season:
The Eagles assembled what looked to be an outstaning offensive line. They traded for Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters, signed tackle Stacy Andrews, and were expecting Stacy’s brother Shaun to return from his back injury that kept him out for most of last season.
However, Shaun Andrews still doesn’t seem healed from his back troubles, and didn’t play in the preseason. He’s out for the first game, and it doesn’t look like he can be counted on. His replacement is Winston Justice, who in limited past playing time has looked horrible. His one prior start against the Giants two years ago was one of the worst performances by an offensive lineman in Eagles history. The coaches say he’s looked good this preseason, but he’s a huge question mark.
Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews have also been slowed by injuries in the preseason, and haven’t looked especially good when they played. Left guard Todd Herremans has also been injured and will miss the first couple of weeks. His replacement, Nick Cole is serviceable, but anytime you have to use a sub, the quality will diminish.
So while the line could be a strength, it doesn’t seem like it will be at the beginning of the season.
Every year, the Eagles seem to leave a position inadequately filled, and that seems to be TE this season. Third year man Brent Celek is the starter and looks to be an emerging player. I’m fine with him.
They drafted Cornelius Ingram to be the backup, but he was coming off of a major leg injury in college and there were concerns that he would be a risk of re-injury. Sure enough, he hurt his knee and is out for the season. Now, the only other TE on the roster is Alex Smith who was just cut from the Patriots roster a few days ago, and doesn’t yet know the Eagles system.
If anything happens to Celek, the Eagles are in big trouble here, and may be even if Celek is fine.
Over the past few seasons, Brian Westbrook has been one of the best running backs in the NFL. He’s also been especially injury prone, and looked to have lost a step last season. Once RBs start slowing, they rarely regain their old burst.
To help counter his possible decrease in performance, the Eagles drafted RB LeSean McCoy. And while McCoy looked good at times in preseason, I wonder how much Andy Reid will actually use him. After all, the Eagles had a good backup last season in Correll Buckhalter who seemed to play well whenever he was on the field, yet he rarely played. If Reid didn’t trust a solid veteran, why should we think that he’ll trust a rookie.
Westbrook is the key to the Eales offense, and if he gets overworked, he’ll get injured or slow down, and the Eagles offense will likely go with him.
Emerging middle linebacker Stewart Bradley got injured in a preseason practice. His replacement is Omar Gaither who actually started there in 2007. Gaither is a decent enough replacement, but he’s far from an impact player. Also helping out is second year player Joe Mays who plays hard, but may be undersized.
Going from a potential star to adequate fill ins will transform the linebacker position from a probable strength to a potential weakness.
No Brian Dawkins
Brian Dawkins has been one of the best players in Eagles history. He was the unquestioned leader on defense. The problem is, in recent years, he was only able to be a great player for short stretches, rather than entire seasons. And in many games, he looked very old and slow, especially when trying to cover recievers. So the Eagles let him go to Denver as a free agent.
The problem is that they don’t have a suitable replacement. Second year player Quintin Demps has playmaking potential, but also seems to make a lot of mental mistakes. They signed Sean Jones, but he has failed to stand out thus far. Therefore, the new starter is rookie Macho Harris, a converted cornerback. Entrusting a safety position to a rookie changing positions seems a dangerous way to live.
Jim Johnson’s Death
Longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson passed away after a battle with cancer. He was a brilliant mind on defense, and with him at the helm, you always had a feeling, the defense would come up with a big play.
He will be replaced by Sean McDermott who studied under Johnson for years. And while McDermott seems capable, and other Johnson proteges have done well in the NFL (John Harbuagh, Steve Spagnuola) you can never be sure how a new coach will perform.
The Michael Vick stuff
Donovan McNabb should have a good season. He’s proven to be a top 10, if not top 5 QB in the league over the past ten years. But then again, he’ll also have some horrible games mixed in where he makes remarkably bad decisions, and looks like a rookie.
Of course, he’s now threatened by not only third year QB Kevin Kolb, but Michael Vick. Nobody knows exactly how the Eagles will use Vick. In the preseason, they kept trying to rotate him in, and McNabb was visibly upset that the offense was being taken out of it’s rythym. It’ll be interesting to see how McNabb reacts when Vick is used and the offense stalls.
Maybe the threat will make McNabb more motivated. Or maybe it will lead to a long, messy QB controversy that threatens to upset team harmony. And maybe, just maybe the Eagles will find a way to utilize Vick that makes their offense unbelievably great. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
So is there reason to hope?
Yes, there is. While they have question marks, they also have a lot of talent. Given the best case scenarios, the offense could be potent. Westbrook, McCoy, Celek, along with WRs DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, and rookie Jeremy Maclin could put up a lot of points. If the offensive line does work out, I can see the Eagles having one of the best offenses in the league.
On defense, they have some emerging young players in Trent Cole, Broderick Bunkley, Quintin Mikell, and Chris Gocong. If these players continue to develop, they could overcome the losses of Bradley and Dawkins. And their cornerbacks with Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown should be among the best in the league.
So I see the Eagles making the playoffs as a wild card, but once again falling short of the Super Bowl. But I don’t really have a good read on them. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them make the Super Bowl, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them miss the playoffs. At the very least, it should be interesting.