This article is part of our Team Previews series.
By Dalton Del Don
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Eagles responded to a disappointing 2005 last place finish by reclaiming the
NFC East division title in 2006 with a 10-6 record. Sitting at 5-5, the Eagles
were left for dead when Donovan McNabb was lost for the season after tearing
his ACL in Week 11. Before going down, McNabb was having one of his best
seasons as a pro, recording 8.4 yards per pass attempt, with an 18:6 TD:INT ratio. The
loss of McNabb – a legitimate MVP candidate – figured to signal the end of any playoff
hopes, especially with an extremely tough schedule left to play.
Enter veteran signal-caller Jeff Garcia, who after losing his first start, won six straight
games to lead the Eagles into the postseason. The system helps of course, as coach
Andy Reid's offensive schemes put
his players in position to succeed more
often than not, and the quarterback is
normally the biggest beneficiary. That
said, Reid switched philosophies somewhat
with Garcia at the helm, handing
over play-calling duties to offensive
coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who
featured a more balanced attack, making
Brian Westbrook the center of the
offense. While Reid routinely called
pass plays more often than any other
coach, under Mornhinweg a more even
60-40 pass-run ratio was employed.
With Garcia gone via free agency,
Reid plans to continue the balanced
attack approach this season, even with
McNabb's return. The addition of wideout
Kevin Curtis helps cushion the loss
of Donte' Stallworth and the drafting of
RB Tony Hunt gives the team a bruising
runner to complement/spell Westbrook.
Obviously, McNabb's health status is the team's biggest issue entering this year, as rumors
surfaced that the star QB was behind schedule in his rehab during the offseason. Although he
won't participate in minicamp, all signs point to him being ready for training camp.
Philadelphia surprised many by selecting quarterback Kevin Kolb with the 36th pick in
the NFL Draft. He's more of a project than an immediate threat to McNabb, as the Houston
product worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun in college. His learning curve figures
to be steep, but still, the selection of a quarterback that early in the draft with other
areas of need certainly didn't ease concerns about management's confidence in McNabb's
While the team had the second-ranked offense in the NFL last year, the defense was
ranked 15th as it struggled stopping the run. Acquiring Takeo Spikes and the healthy return
of Jevon Kearse (knee) will go a long way toward rectifying that problem, which should
help give the Eagles a good shot at their sixth division title in seven years.
Round, Overall, Player
2. (36) Kevin Kolb, QB Houston
QB of the future will need time, but has the
tools to succeed if he can adapt to an NFL style
2. (57) Victor Abiamiri, DE Notre Dame
Could be groomed as Darren Howard's eventual
3. (87) Stewart Bradley, LB Nebraska
In a fairly thin linebacking corps, could earn
snaps immediately on the strong side.
3. (90) Tony Hunt, RB Penn State
Will battle Correll Buckhalter for backup RB
5. (159) C.J. Gaddis, CB Clemson
Good size, with solid tackling ability and ball
5. (162) Brent Celek, TE Cincinnati
With L.J. Smith entering a contract year, Celek
may eventually be his successor.
6. (201) Rashad Barksdale, CB Albany
Could make it as a special-teamer.
7. (236) Nate Ilaoa, FB Hawaii
Versatile back, who is adept at catching
passes out of the backfi eld.
1. Takeo Spikes, LB (Bills)
Should finally be fully recovered from Achilles'
woes. Versatile enough to play any of the
three linebacker positions.
2. Kevin Curtis, WR (Rams)
Speedster should start opposite Reggie
3. Kelly Holcomb, QB (Bills)
Strictly McNabb insurance.
1. Donte' Stallworth, WR (Patriots)
Was the Eagles' best deep threat, averaging
19.1 yards per catch last season.
2. Jeff Garcia, QB (Buccaneers)
Strong play in relief last year earned him a
nice contract with the Bucs.
3. Michael Lewis, S (49ers)
Once a Pro Bowler, his coverage skills have
fallen off dramatically.
1. IS Donovan McNabb HEALTHY?
McNabb has gone down with six or more games remaining in the regular season during
three of the last five years, including season-ending injuries in each of the last two
campaigns. His most recent injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee
suffered last November, was expected to sideline him for eight months to a year. There
have been rumblings that he was behind schedule in his rehab, with mixed communication
coming from the team and McNabb's camp. The relationship between quarterback
and team is no doubt strained and the drafting of Kevin Kolb in the second round didn't
make things any better.
While the latest reports suggest McNabb should be healthy enough for training camp,
the team is clearly tired of his inability to put in a full 16-game schedule. Major ACL
injuries have unpredictable recoveries, as Carson Palmer made a smooth return last season,
while Daunte Culpepper required additional surgery and still isn't right. McNabb
is a tireless worker though and he could well enter the season close to 100 percent. How
long he'll stay that way is the bigger concern.
2. WILL THE BALANCED ATTACK STICK?
Andy Reid has often stated the goal of running the ball more, but then gone ahead
and called pass plays 75 percent of the time. Reid's philosophy produces big numbers,
but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's balanced attack produced more wins last
year. With McNabb back at the helm, Reid will be tempted to get pass-happy again, but
all indications point to Mornhinweg continuing as the play-caller. Over the first half of
the season last year, Brian Westbrook never received more than 20 carries in a game.
During the season's final eight games, Westbrook toted the rock 20 times or more four
different times. The selection of RB Tony Hunt in the draft gives the Eagles a bigger,
more powerful option out of the backfield as well, something they had previously been
missing. Philadelphia is still going to throw a ton, but expect the success from last
season's second half to result in the ground game being featured more and more.
3. CAN Brian Westbrook HOLD UP PHYSICALLY?
At 5-8, 203, Westbrook has had durability issues throughout his career. In reality, he's
never suffered a major injury and was able to withstand a career-high in touches last year despite battling nagging knee problems all season long. He shattered his previous
high in carries (177) with 240, and bested his previous high in receptions (61) with
77. Rookie running back Tony Hunt should shoulder some of the load, but the Eagles'
offense works best when Westbrook is featured heavily.
Rising: No longer competing for looks
with Donte' Stallworth, Reggie Brown
enters the season as Philadelphia's clear-cut
No. 1 option in the passing game. His six
catches for 40 or more yards last year reveal
just how explosive he can be.
Falling: Troublesome knees have made
Jeremiah Trotter a shell of his former self.
Sleeper:Kevin Curtis' speed is a good
fit in Andy Reid's scheme, plus he finally gets
Supersleeper:Tony Hunt should
be the goal line back immediately, with the
possibility of earning starter snaps should
Westbrook go down.
1. Jevon Kearse, DE
Had 3.5 sacks in two games before succumbing
to injury last season.
2. Brian Dawkins, SS
Finished last year with a career-best 94 tackles,
while also tying his personal record for
interceptions with four.
3. Takeo Spikes, LB
Expects to play weakside for Philadelphia, where
he should be able to rack up plenty of tackles.
Article first appeared 6/18/07