Training camp begins next week in Lehigh for the Philadelphia Eagles with more question marks than at any time over the past 12 years. Among these questions would be Kevin Kolb at QB, doubters of Howie Roseman’s qualifications to be GM of an NFL team (see previous article), the Michael Vick Situation, Sean McDermott & the Defense, the offensive line, the secondary, Andy Reid’s effectiveness and the price of cheesesteaks! Let’s get started so that we don’t overlap Flight Night!
THE KOLB EXPERIMENT
The Donovan McNabb Era is over but Andy Reid remains. While no one has mentioned the name of Doug Pederson or Bobby Hoying (thankfully), we are left to wonder what the fate of Kevin Kolb will be now that he is undoubtedly The Eagles Quarterback. Kolb has started just 2 NFL games, but is the only player to exceed 300 passing yards in each of his first two NFL games. This is an efficient quarterback, with a quick release and a true competitive fire. Is Kolb the next Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler? Will Kolb pan out to be this generation’s Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning? Rick Mirer or Drew Bledsoe? Well, history will teach us this lesson but the Eagles brass couldn’t wait for history. They have dispensed of franchise QB Donovan McNabb and have turned the reins over to Kevin Kolb. What happens if Kolb falters? My guess is Kolb stays in the game. Behind him is veteran recidivist Michael Vick (age 30 as we know from a famous recent party in Newport News, VA) and rookie Mike Kafka. No one is talking about Kafka, a fourth round draft choice of the Eagles in 2010 out of Northwestern. Kafka was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior after leading the conference in passing yards (3,430), total offense (3,729), completions (319), completion percentage (64.8) and INT percentage (2.44). A dual threat from the quarterback position, Kafka also amassed 887 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in his collegiate career. Kafka has a lot to learn coming into the league from a program like Northwestern but his time to shine will be down the road. Kolb is no rookie and his teammates are not treating him like one (many already calling Kolb “a leader”), but the media has become more critical. Two games does not an NFL career make, but every man with a bust in the Hall of Fame had to be given a chance to show that he belonged on the field. This is Kolb’s chance, same as it was for Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Fran Tarkenton, Troy Aikman, Bobby Lane, Dan Marino, John Elway and Randall Cunningham.
What will the preseason tell us?
Generally the preseason games have very little value for the fans. Last year the media (and fans) were all over Michael Vick, who was virtually a non-factor in the regular season. Coaches find preseason games invaluable when making decisions on second a third string players. Scrimmages and intra-squad run-through won’t tell you what a game will – even an exhibition game at that. With fans in the stands and the lights on, even an exhibition game will get competitive juices flowing. Rookies run a little faster, while veterans push a little harder to show that they want that roster spot!
This year there are a lot of positions up for grabs. Even positions that are not officially in question could use some shoring up. Kevin Kolb enters his first year as the unquestioned starting QB with just 2 NFL starts under his belt (plus one insane blowout in Baltimore). Sean McCoy is trying to replace Brian Westbrook as the starting RB. Brent Celek is now the starting tight end and a team leader, but who’s on the depth chart behind him? Who are the offensive lineman (or which 5 are least offensive)? Will rookie DE Brandon Graham be the bookend to Trent Cole and the lynchpin to the next generation of Eagles defense under Sean McDermott?
Overview – Running Backs
With Brian Westbrook gone, there will be no Pro Bowl presence at tailback in Lehigh or Philadelphia. Instead, the Eagles are leaning heavily on a second-year back who is more potential than proof. LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy, the Eagles’ 2009 second-round pick, is coming off a promising season in which he rushed for a franchise rookie-record 634 yards. He also showcased his versatility by catching 40 passes and being a capable pass blocker. It was enough for the Eagles to pass on big-name former starting running backs and hand Shady the position. Westbrook’s concussions and injury time will not be missed but his service and explosiveness over the years will not soon be forgotten.
After a lengthy search, veteran Mike Bell was eventually brought in to complement McCoy. When healthy, Bell has proven to be capable. He started last season in New Orleans strong (229 yards rushing in the first two weeks) before a knee sprain against the Eagles hampered his season. As the Eagles saw in their Week 2 loss in New Orleans, Bell brings a much more rugged, up-the-gut running style than the shiftier McCoy. Whether or not Andy Reid chooses to use Bell in this fashion is still to be determined. Considering the Eagles failures against the Cowboys in the season finale and playoff loss, Reid better figure it out!
Aside from Bell and McCoy, there is even more youth and uncertainty. Eldra Buckley made the final roster last season as a special teams ace and carried the ball only 15 times. Charles Scott is a sixth-round pick out of LSU and Martell Mallett is the reigning CFL Rookie of the Year trying to determine if his skills translate to the NFL game. The bottom line is that without a wealth of experience and a known standout running back, this group has plenty to prove.
* Is McCoy a true No. 1 running back? He doesn’t have breakaway speed (just one of his 155 carries went for over 20 yards) and handles the ball like it’s a crab trying to grab his nipples (YEOWCH!). He also needs to get in better shape, suffering from the brevity of the college football season in his rookie year. McCoy wilted late last season when he rushed for just 113 yards in the final six games combined, including the playoff loss to Dallas. This frequently happens to rookie running backs and it is likely the team has modified McCoy’s conditioning regime in the offseason.
* Can Bell stay healthy? Is he good enough complimentary back to sustain success? The Eagles are Bell’s fourth team in five years and he’s played in just 38 career games. New Orleans, for various reasons, allowed Bell to leave in exchange for … nothing! What does that tell us?
* Who will be the third running back? With Bell and fullback Leonard Weaver already in the mix and McCoy lacking top-notch speed, do the Eagles have a back that has game-breaking speed? It would be nice if they did. Then again, if Andy Reid chooses to ignore his running game as in years past, it really won’t much matter who toes the rock.
If only …
McCoy blossoms into the back the Eagles think he will become. That will make life a whole lot easier on first-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb. McCoy’s sharp cuts and shiftiness combined with Weaver and Bell’s power would give the Eagles a nice looking backfield.
McCoy will get plenty of snaps and needs to work on his ball protection. Don’t be surprised if the coaches ride the confident youngster hard in an attempt to maximize his potential. … Bell will be looking to prove he can catch the ball out of the backfield and remain healthy. … The Eagles already know Buckley can contribute on special teams. He will be using every snap to prove he can serve as a useful backup running back as well. That means hitting the holes hard and not dancing laterally behind the line of scrimmage as he did too often last season. … Charles Scott’s another bigger back who will get his fair share of chances at practice and preseason games. He will be trying to show he has the speed, hands and mental acuity to thrive in the Eagles’ system. Young backs’ biggest problem over the years has been learning the intricate blocking schemes. … Martell Mallett, with his CFL background, brings some intrigue to Lehigh. He will be attempting to impress enough to at least be stored on the practice squad but could make the team as a fourth RB if he proves value on special teams or as a sixth receiver..
Overview – Defensive Backs
Asante Samuel is a perennial Pro Bowl corner. After that, it’s a virtual crapshoot. The Eagles have always stockpiled proven veterans and high draft picks at cornerback under Andy Reid, However, with the game changing and power shifting in the front office, there appears to be an organization philosophical switch. The premium is being placed on the pass rush, not the cover guys. That was evident in the draft and free agency. It also left the Eagles tissue paper thin at cornerback heading into the season. Samuel has been bombarded with criticism for his lack of physicality and tackling. He has apparently noticed and taken exception. But is he willing to make the proper commitment to improve that part of his game? Will rookie Safety Nate Allen (known best as the draft pick exchanged in the Donovan McNabb trade) be able to step in and start in his first season?
Who will be the starter opposite Asante? Heading into training camp, Ellis Hobbs is the veteran frontrunner. He comes with questionable reviews and injury questions. Hobbs, a former starter for the Patriots, missed the second half of last season with a neck injury. Can he hold up physically? Joselio Hanson was suspended last season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug and wasn’t the same after he returned. Can he bounce back? Macho Harris was a corner in college before the Eagles moved him to safety last year. Now, Macho is back at corner after a rocky rookie season. Is he fast enough? Is he athletic enough? Is he capable of playing the position? Trevard Lindley would have been a second-round pick if he came out last year. After an injury-plagued senior season, he was selected in the fourth round this year. Which was the correct evaluation of his abilities, and can he contribute immediately? Lindley was a four-year starter at Kentucky, amassing 158 tackles and nine interceptions. Lindley was the only defensive back among the Eagles 13 draft picks in 2010.
Nate Allen? The Eagles selected Nate Allen with the 37th overall selection in the 2010 draft (received from Washington in exchange for Donovan McNabb). A team captain and a second-team All-Big East performer, Allen finished his career at South Florida starting 39 straight games and amassing 224 tackles and nine interceptions. Allen Played in 48 games, starting his final 39 college contests at free safety, finished his career with 224 tackles, nine interceptions, one sack, five tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Allen scored four touchdowns in his career: a 47 yard fumble return, a 75-yard blocked field goal return, a 44-yard interception return and an 11-yard reception. His nine interceptions rank fourth on the school’s all-time list. College success is fantastic and while it is all we have to gauge this rookie, he remains a rookie. Training camp will likely show us Allen’s “measurables” but we won’t see how he reacts to the speed and physicality of the NFL game until the preseason. Allen and fellow rookie DE Brandon Graham should be the focus of the preseason.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Sheldon Brown (traded to Cleveland) and Lito Sheppard (traded top NY Jets) would both still be Eagles if they didn’t have a problem with their contracts. At least one of them would be on the roster to supplement Samuel and the rest of the unknowns. Brown would have three seasons remaining on his contract white Sheppard would still have two. Damn shame.
Usually, Asante Samuel just needs to show up for camp and get in football shape. This year, though, he also needs to lead by example and mentor this young group. From Day 1, Hobbs will get every chance to be the starter. He did start opposite Samuel when the Patriots swept through the regular season and the playoffs (not including the Super Bowl) in 2007, proving that he’s at the very least a competent first-string complimentary CB. He just needs to prove his neck is healthy and he is capable of tackling. Hanson will try to fend off the young group that has its eyes on his job. Rookie Lindley, meanwhile, will start with the third-stringers and needs an impressive camp to get on the field this season. Dimitri Patterson, a veteran who filled in last season during Hanson’s suspension, has to prove he’s more than a special teamer. David Pender has his work cut out for him, but his skills suggest he could be a pleasant surprise.
Special Teams Overview
At 35 years old, placekicker David Akers is coming off one of his best seasons. Considering it’s the one position where age doesn’t really matter (Morten Andersen kicked in the NFL until he was 47 not to mention Jan Stenerud) ), the Eagles don’t have much to worry about. They’re so comfortable that they won’t even have another real kicker at training camp to compete for the job.
Punter is a completely different situation. Sav Rocca was woefully inconsistent last season and his 42.4 yards per punt was 24th in the league. That’s not what the Eagles expect from a punter who is supposed to be known for his powerful leg. How serious they are about replacing Rocca is unknown. Ken Parrish, an East Stroudsberg University product who has never made an NFL roster, is back to compete with Rocca for the second straight year. More to come as camp opens. Most likely the team will take the less expensive player at punter. Most NFL teams do but especially cap-conscious teams like the Eagles.
The fact that there have been no complaints about Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Dorenbos means he’s doing a good job. Pencil him in and look for a backup during preseason games.
• Are the Eagles content with Rocca? Will they search the waiver wire at the end of camp for a proven veteran if the inconsistency continues? Rocca definitely has something to prove to new special teams coach Bobby April. Ken Parrish is in camp too but has never made an NFL roster. IF Rocca can be more consistent, the Eagles would have one of the best kicking games in the league. There are times when he teases the masses with booming 65-yarders accompanied with five seconds of hang time. Combine those with some solid 45-yarders, instead of the shanks that have become all too common, and everybody would be happy. Rocca will be watched very closely by his new coach at Lehigh. If the inconsistency from last year stretches into training camp, the Eagles could be looking around the league for a viable replacement. … Parrish did enough last year to earn another invite. But he will need to be super-steady to catch April’s attention
• Can Akers stay healthy? At what point will his leg strength deteriorate and negatively affect his kickoffs? Akers needs only to build his leg strength and remain healthy. His starting spot is secure no matter how he performs in camp.
NEXT ARTICLE: DIDN’T ANYONE THINK TO DRAFT SOME OFFENSIVE LINEMAN? COACHING STAFF IN CRISIS? WHAT IS THE OUTLOOK FOR THE EAGLES 2010 SEASON?
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org