Roster Roundouts: A Philadelphia Eagles Preseason Report
The three people most responsible for the success or failure of the 2009 Eagles are head coach Andy Reid, quarterback Donovan McNabb, and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Fascinating still, are the names I did not include in that list. Essentially, the most publicized off-season NFL acquisition (sorry, Jay Cutler), the most dynamic all-around offensive weapon in the NFC, the third receiver drafted in this years NFL draft, the pro bowl NFL lineman who missed last season with psychological issues, and the 2008 NFL blown blocks leader turned franchise tackle acquisition are relative after-thoughts on this team.
If the Michael Vick addition solidified one thing, it’s that the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles are a complete circus. S0 what’s different between them and the 2008 Cowboys who might be viewed as the disappointment of the last decade? Have the Eagles made moves to become the very team they crushed to end last season? Well, you see, that depends on those three people most responsible for keeping this train on the tracks.
The Eagles are just as highly touted coming off an NFC Championship game appearance as Dallas was a year ago. Like their NFC counterparts, they’ve valued talent over reputation in the offseason, leading to disproportionately high expectations. This, however, is not a fundamentally flawed team like the Cowboys were. They Cowboys were a “super bowl contender” whose best case scenario meant 2nd place in their own division and a playoff run.
The Eagles might be in the same situation, but the NFC East is unlikely to have a 12 win team this year. It could happen, but if things break right, 10-6 with a strong divisional record could get the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Eagles are very capable of that this season. But they can’t be a division favorite because for every high upside player they have acquired, there’s an equal football-performance related risk that keeps the team from improving their overall value as a preseason favorite.
Donovan McNabb can’t be only as good as the Eagles’ weakest link. He had a strong 16 game season last year for the first time in four years, but given how the Eagles went from on the verge of replacing him to re-investing in him in the off-season; and it’s not like we know anything about McNabb’s abilities now that we didn’t know after a tie and a stinker of a half in Baltimore, followed by a benching. McNabb doesn’t exactly have competition this year, but it’s not hard to conceive that the short, sprinty one or even Kevin Kolb getting a lot of reps in camp next year if McNabb squeezes through 11 games of mediocre play this year.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is the one who could be taking all the blame if the defense falls too far from it’s spot in the top 5 last season, but the absolute worst thing that could have happened to him did when he lost youn-talented LB Stewart Bradley for the year. It’s an injury the Eagles weren’t prepared to weather, and combined with a conscious decision to work with scheme specific late-round LBs in the Jim Johnson (rip) era, the Eagles would have found the sledding tougher this year with or without Bradley, but now the Eagles feature “Chris Gocong and the replacements.” The Eagles defense will be an interesting case study, because they are two excellent defensive units (particularly the D-Line) in front and behind a potential disaster of a unit. McDermott is not Jim Johnson, and he’s very understaffed at a critical area in most defenses that Jim Johnson made a very fungible position.
Andy Reid is completely and utterly responsible for making Michael Vick a positive factor on this team and not a negative. There’s significant management needed for this situation, and even if we assume that as a given, Reid might not be the best coach for using Vick in a way where he both complements McNabb and helps the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, it appears to be too late to go back, so Reid has to find a way to use Vick to get further than they did last year, without alienating McNabb. No pressure, Andy.
The timing on the Vick move is what might do it in. Vick, ideally, would have found a team who was already bound to do better than it did last year, but for the Eagles, that’s not so certain. My thought’s on Vick have been dumped here, and I note there that Philly is a good situation for Vick. A great situation, actually. I’m just not sure the feeling is mutual.
Regardless of whether or not the Eagles succeed or fail, the credit or blame lies with those three people. Outside of their control, however, is the variance that every team has to deal with, and in the Eagles case, it just happens to be a lot more volatile. The starting tackles this season are projected to be Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters. Andrews, if he can stay on the field, will excel, although if injuries force him to move back inside, it’s not a good sign for the overall value of the Eagles’ OL. There’s no question that Peters has the physical tools to be the best LT in the game, but he hasn’t played like that since 2006, and who knows what the Eagles are getting. Well, at least they’re getting a healthy player, because it doesn’t look like they’ll have much help from the other four spots on the OL.
I think rookie RB LeSean McCoy will end up being the offensive rookie of the year, but I think that may come at the expense of Brian Westbrook, who is still a dynamic weapon, but no longer an elite runner. I don’t project good things for rookie WR Jeremy Maclin. I don’t think he’ll make much of an impact this season. The Eagles are thin at tight end behind Brent Celek, which is something they’ve taken steps to avoid over the last three years or so. In a stunning twist, the Eagles are now deep at skill positions, and weaker on the lines.
It’s a good, potentially a great offensive team. But that’s the thing: if this isn’t the 2004 Eagles on offense, they’re not strong enough on defense or special teams to overcome the gap. They’re one of maybe four or five teams in the NFL that is above average in all three facets of the game, but at the end of the day, it looks like 9 or 10 wins for the Eagles, and that’s sure to disappoint those who really, really wanted to have a bandwagon to jump on.
Eagles Camp, Bethlehem, PA
The Eagles have actually developed some camp battles due to injury.
Backup Quarterback: Kevin Kolb vs. A.J. Feeley
It’s unlikely that the Eagles will keep 4 QBs, so Vick’s arrival likely means the end of the road for Feeley. Feely might survive if Kolb’s injury is bad enough to land him on IR.
Offensive Tackle: King Dunlap vs. Winston Justice
For Justice, this is the end of the road unless the Eagles think he’s a game ready offensive tackle in his third year. No players’ fate is more linked to his preseason performance than his.
Guard: Mike McGlynn vs. Mike Gibson vs. Fenuki Tupou
Three guys are battling for the 9th lineman spot on the Eagles OL, and it’s probably McGlynn’s to lose. He was drafted ahead of Gibson in 2008, and the Eagles like Tupou, but probably as a year one practice squad player.
Cornerback: Jack Ikegwunou vs. Trae Williams
Ikegwunou has an impressive rap sheet, and was injured for all of his rookie year; the Eagles knew both of these things when they took him, and yet, here he is. Hard to think the Eagles would invest this much in a shady character and not put him on the roster. He’ll make it over the talented but raw Trae Williams.
Starting Free safety: Quintin Demps vs. Sean Jones
Demps is currently listed atop the depth chart, and probably would have challenged Brian Dawkins for playing time even if they had been able to keep him. Sean Jones came over from Cleveland when Dawkins left, and he’s looked good thus far. Demps is a good kick returner, so Jones might get a tiebreaker based on the special teams ability of his opponent, but I’m not seeing a tie. Demps has been the heir apparent since he was drafted, and if he does just fine in the preseason, he will start and play more than half the time in week one.
- WR Hank Baskett
- G Todd Herremans
- C Nick Cole
- DE Chris Clemons
- LB Matt Wilhelm