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Roster Roundouts ’10: A Philadelphia Eagles Season Preview

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Philadelphia Eagles (projected finish: 11-5)

Team synopsis: The Eagles made the biggest offseason acquisition of any team in the league, but you’ll have to scroll down to see who I’m talking about.  The story here isn’t about additions, it’s about subtractions.  Donovan McNabb is out.  Draft picks are in.  Kevin Kolb is the quarterback.  Michael Vick is old.  These are great stories!  A rejuvenated defense should lead the Eagles back to the playoff where Kolb will enter the uncharted waters where McNabb excelled.  Kolb is going to be a piece of something great on this offense, but is going to be reliant on development from his young receivers, who in turn will rely on Kolb’s passes to develop.  McNabb is gone, yet, the circle of life continues.

Best Players

  • FB Leonard Weaver (signed — Seattle/2009 free agent)
  • WR DeSean Jackson (drafted — Cal/2008 2nd round pick)
  • WR Jason Avant (drafted — Michigan/2006 4th round pick)
  • TE Brent Celek (drafted — Cincinnati/2007 5th round pick)
  • C Jamaal Jackson (signed — Delaware State/2003 undrafted free agent)
  • DE Trent Cole (drafted — Cincinnati/2005 5th round pick)
  • DT Brodrick Bunkley (drafted — Florida State/2006 1st round pick)
  • LB Stewart Bradley (drafted — Nebraska/2007 3rd round pick)
  • CB Asante Samuel (signed — New England/2008 free agent)
  • S Quentin Mikell (signed — Boise State/2003 undrafted free agent)

Best Prospects

  • QB Kevin Kolb (drafted — Houston/2007 2nd round pick)
  • RB LeSean McCoy (drafted — Pittsburgh/2009 2nd round pick)
  • WR Jeremy Maclin (drafted — Missouri/2009 1st round pick)
  • DE Brandon Graham (drafted — Michigan/2010 1st round pick)
  • DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (drafted — Washington/2010 3rd round pick)
  • CB Macho Harris (drafted — Virginia Tech/2009 4th round pick)
  • FS Nate Allen (drafted — USF/2010 2nd round pick)

Donovan McNabb has been Andy Reid’s quarterback since Reid started as Eagles head coach in 1999.  It wasn’t initially clear if McNabb or Daunte Culpepper had been the best quarterback in the class, but by 2006, Culpepper was ineffective and it was clear that McNabb was the best quarterback picked that year.  In some ways, the post-2004 Donovan McNabb was the best McNabb.  McNabb has offered many different variations of himself over the years, but the post-Owens leader that helped lead the Eagles to the division title in 2006, then back from the dead (a tie with the Bengals) to the playoffs in 2008, and out to a seemingly insurmountable lead in the wide open NFC East in 2009.  But when the Eagles coughed up that lead and got punched out of the playoffs in the first round, suddenly, everyone was expendable.

Everyone, that is, except for center Jamaal Jackson who missed the final regular season game and the playoff game, and the Eagles offensive line just couldn’t sort out the blitzes to protect McNabb.  When the Eagles brought in Michael Vick, they were able to create misdirection action and find the holes in the swiss cheese Cowboys secondary that were there the whole time, as Vick threw a long touchdown pass.  That’s long been McNabb’s specialty, and in a way, announced the changing of the guard.  Though, Vick will merely maintain the status quo as a package player, it’s Kolb’s team now.

The Eagles have a good line in front of Kolb, so long as Jackson is healthy.  Todd Herremans is an above average left guard, and Jason Peters is an average left tackle.  Winston Justice is an improved pass protector, but perhaps the weakest run blocker on the line.  RG Stacey Andrews is the weakest link, and he once held the franchise tag from the Bengals.  This is a good group that should allow fewer hits on the QB than last year.  But they need to get a healthy Jamaal Jackson back in the middle.

They should also open up a bunch of running lanes for 22-year old LeSean McCoy, the Eagles new featured runner.  He’s a run and a pass threat in the mold (but not at the level) of Brian Westbrook.  The Eagles brought in Mike Bell from New Orleans to back him up, and run between the guards.  Eldra Buckley is the team’s third RB, but he will see fewer carries than pro bowl FB Leonard Weaver, who has a package in the offense as a single back.  Weaver is, pound for pound, the best player in the backfield.

Kolb will throw to four different number one type targets: WRs DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, and Jeremy Maclin, and TE Brent Celek.  Jackson is the explosive athlete who can outrun defensive backs, Avant is a possession target, with run after catch ability.  I’m a bit skeptical of Maclin’s long term potential, but he’s a true technician for such a young receiver.  Celek is averse to blocking, but has few weaknesses as a receiver.  If the Eagles have a problem here, it’s that there’s little depth beyond these four.  The Eagles like their young TEs, Clay Harbor and Cornelius Ingram, who are both unproven, and Ingram has had issues staying healthy.  Depth comes in the form of guys like Hank Baskett and Kelley Washington, with rookie Riley Cooper as a long term project.  Chad Hall, a first year player out of Air Force, is a darkhorse to make the roster.

This is a group more prepared to run the west coast offense than last years offense was.  Likewise, the defense is better suited to pressure the quarterback than last years.  The difference is a focus on the pass rush.  Right end Trent Cole might be as strong as any pass rusher in the league, and is a good name to throw out there as most underrated.  Left end Juqua Parker is a very good player and is likely to start again, but doesn’t have elite pass rushing skills.  That was clearly the focus of a draft where the Eagles added three defensive ends, and traded for another, Darryl Tapp of Seattle.  All four are likely to make the roster, specifically, that includes Brandon Graham (Michigan), Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (Washington), and Ricky Sapp (Clemson), a converted linebacker.  That means that they will keep six DEs and that Victor Abiamiri needs to beat out Parker to make the team.

The interior is less muddled, with Trevor Laws backing up two very good interior players, Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson.  Behind him is a camp battle between 7th round rookie Jeff Owens, and Antonio Dixon, who was picked up on waivers after the Redskins released him last camp.

Stewart Bradley and Akeem Jordan are the returning Eagles linebackers, and Bradley’s return should indicate more success with pressure schemes; the Eagles missed him in the middle last season.  Ernie Sims came over in a trade from the Lions, and he and Moise Fokou will battle for the weak side linebacker position.  If rookie Keenan Clayton (Oklahoma) sticks as the other OLB, that means that veterans Omar Gaither and Tracy White will battle to back-up Bradley in the middle, and coming off an injury, that could be one of the more important decisions the Eagles will make.

Asante Samuel, now 30, returns as the number one corner, coming off a 9 INT season.  His opposite in New England, Ellis Hobbs is likely to start across from him again.  Joselio Hanson is battling with Macho Harris at nickel back, and Dimitri Patterson has really impressed in this camp.  He was on the team at the end of last season for his first pre-season action after a cup of coffee with the 2005 Redskins and their issues with corner depth.  He’s been much more impressive than rookie Trevard Lindley, who might have trouble making this roster.  Nate Allen, the player selected with the draft pick received for Donovan McNabb, is on the fast track to start at free safety, but Quentin Demps and Anthony Scirrotto are in the running to hold that position down on opening day.  I can safely say that despite their best efforts, this team would be better off with Brian Dawkins this year (to be fair, they offered him a market value contract in 2009 free agency, and were simply outbid).

The best acquisition made by the Eagles, and perhaps any team this year, was when they brought in special teams coordinator Bobby April to remake their special teams.  The Eagles have utilized their extra draft picks to earn a competitive advantage over other NFC East teams on offense and defense, but they didn’t have a special teams advantage.  Now, they most certainly do, and even though Sav Rocca and David Akers aren’t the best specialist tandem in the league, the Eagles have to be an early favorite to have the best offense, defense, and special teams in the NFC East.  Because of April, they are the LiveBall Sports pick to be above the rest at the end of the year.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

The Eagles will likely keep three quarterbacks again, with fourth round pick Mike Kafka holding McNabb’s spot on the roster this season.

JJ Arrington is battling Eldra Buckley to be the third running back on the Eagles.  If Arrington doesn’t make it, the Eagles receive a draft pick from the Broncos, a pretty good deal if Buckley proves to be worthy of his spot.

At receiver, the Eagles have the ability to hold six players.  On a pure talent level, Kelley Washington would be the fourth receiver.  But both Hank Baskett and Chad Hall offer more value to April special teams’ units, and coaches just love Hank Baskett’s, um, attitude.  Riley Cooper has looked sharp enough to win a spot on this team, in my humble opinion.  I do think that Washington is ultimately the cut here, which thins the Eagles offense to a level I would not feel comfortable with if I was a fan.

Clay Harbor could overtake Corneilus Ingram on the depth chart before the first game as the no. 2 TE.  The fourth round pick from Missouri State has had a really fantastic camp.  But for Ingram, he’s healthy for the first time since before the 2008 season at the University of Florida, and good for him that he can now get his career started on an offense that loves to throw the ball.

There’s a lot of focus in the preseason about who is handling the Center role.  A.Q. Shipley, a Steelers pick of a year ago, hasn’t been much competition for Nick Cole, a guard by trade, but the man who handled Jackson’s role in his absence against the Cowboys last year.  Those cleat marks on his chest belong to Jay Ratliff.  Mike McGlynn, a 4th round pick from two years ago, has also received snaps there in the preseason.  He might be the best option.  Max Jean-Gilles is the backup for Stacey Andrews, and could see playing time as the right guard this year if for nothing other than a motivational tactic.  King Dunlap and Fenuki Tupou are in a camp battle to win the third tackle spot.  Tupou might be better, but he’s a guard by trade.  Dunlap played tackle in college, which could give him the edge.

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