By all accounts, this seems to be the strength of the team, which is
Dono van McN abb, after last year’s conflict with Terrell Owens and remark able, because it was the most under achie ving unit a year ago.
his sports hernia, faces more scrutin y than he has since the Eagles The addition of defensiv e end Darren Howard was the biggest offsea-
drafted him second overall in 1999. Ther e is a segment of the fan base son move, and it seems to have helped rejuvenate Jevon Kearse.
that seems to have turned against him, that looks for things to pick When first-round rookie defensiv e tackle Brodrick Bunkle y’s condi-
apart. In the preseason, McN abb gave those people little ammunition; tioning improves, he should mount a serious threat to starter Darwin Howard
he was fit and focused, fully recovered from abdominal surgery. Jeff McNabb Walker. Sub defensiv e ends Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas had excel-
Garcia is the most accomplished backup McN abb has ever had. The lent preseasons, as did rookie defensiv e tackle LaJuan Ramse y, a
addition of A.J. Feeley at the end of training camp was a solid upgrade over Koy Detmer. sixth-r ound pick out of USC. The Birds still will be a bit vulner able to the run, given that
they’re built for pass-rushing , but Jim Johnson really should be able to get pressure
RUNNING BACK much of the time without blitzing .
This might be the team’s biggest question mark. Brian Westbrook re-
vived all the longtime fears about his durability when he suffered a foot
sprain only six carries into the preseason. Correll Buckhalter’s come- This is the defense’s big question mark. The biggest surprise of the
back is courageous, and “Buck” definitely looks ready to help the Eagles offseason was that the Eagles didn’t try harder to find somebody to un-
again, but after three knee injuries in 4 years, it’s hard to project contin- seat strongside lineba cker Dhani Jones, who just is not very good at
ued good health. Ryan Moats still hasn’t showed he can pick up a blitz and Buckhalter covering tight ends. It seems possible the Eagles will try to get around
keep McN abb from getting killed. Bruc e Perry essentially made the team that problem in some situa tions with a gimmick defense that includes
as a kick returner. Will Reno Mahe be activa ted ahea d of Moats? one lineba cker and free safety Brian Dawkins lined up close: Maybe
By LES BOWEN Dawkins will cover tight ends. Jeremiah Trotter is the emotional cen- McCoy
line in recent memory , and a bigger, stronger offensiv e year we had some talented guys, guys that specialized
FULLBACK email@example.com ter of the defense. Undersized second-year lineba cker Matt McCo y be-
line than last season. They have a health y Dono van Mc- in certain things, but this year we have a more well-
comes the weakside starter. He did pretty well in the preseason, but still has a lot to
Thomas Tapeh is back from a terrible hip injury and is an upgrade ath- Nabb and harmon y off the field, two things that were rounded team . . . This year, we really and truly have
Losing bring s chang e more quickly than winning , prove. Ther e’s not much experienc e among the backups.
letically on Josh Parry. But Tapeh still looks a little stiff and mechanical; missing right from the start a year ago. a better team than last year.”
the West Coast offense is not yet second nature to him. The idea of back- which is why the 2006 Eagles don’t look that much like They have to take on their old friend Terrell Owens
the 2005 Eagles, at least on paper. “I don’t care if they have us first or last. It doesn’t mat- SECONDARY
up center Nick Cole blasting holes as a goal-line fullba ck is intriguing . and the Cowboys twice, the second time on Christmas
ter,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said this week. “We’re go-
When the team cut down to 53 players last weekend, day, at the end of that ridiculous stretch of three divi- The lack of a pass rush really hurt this group last season. Some of the
TIGHT END Tapeh 10 were rookies. Sixteen were not with the Birds last sea- ing to go play our hardest and our best.” dama ge will be hard to undo; opponents now know, for example , that
sional road games in 3 weeks. Ther e are many other
son, including new starter s at wide receiver (Donte' McN abb has said he thinks this is a Super Bowl team. hurdles to clear between this Sunda y’s opener in strong safety Mike Lewis flat-out can’t cover. Still, a decent pass rush
This should be the year L.J. Smith makes the Pro Bowl; he was headed Teamma tes have endor sed his vision, even thoug h there
Stallw orth) and right defensiv e end (Darr en Howard). Houston and the New Year’s Eve finale , at home ought to get corner s Lito Sheppar d and Sheldon Brown back on their
there last year before McN abb got hurt. Matt Schobel provides a better second target at this
On paper, this is a deeper, stronger team than the one is much to prove, and a lot of youth will be involved in the against Atlanta. By then, we’ll know whether last sea- games, and ought to be able to help Dawkins counter those persistent
position than McN abb had last year, but neither Smith nor Schobel is a great block er.
that slipped to 6-10, althoug h nationally not many fore- proving. son was an injury -plagued anomaly , or whether mas- whisper s that he’s on the decline as he approaches age 33 next month. It’s Brown
caster s see the Eagles back in the playoffs. “I think this year, we have talent all across the board,” sive, era-shifting chang e is nec essary to get this team a little troubling that Sheppar d feels his repaired ankle still isn’t 100 per-
WIDE RECEIVER cent, nearly 10 months after he injured it, but he feels he’s making
But the Eagles feel they have their strongest defensiv e running back Brian Westbrook said this week. “Last back to competitiv enes s. i
The acquisition of Donte’ Stallw orth was huge. This group had a lot of progress. Rod Hood is a fine nickel corner. Keeping Joselio Hanson as the
interesting possession guys and no deep threat before Stallw orth arrived fourth corner was a bit of a surprise , given the strong play of Donald
from New Orleans last week. It will be interesting to see who lines up in Strickland last season. The safety position seems especially deep.
the slot with Stallw orth and Reggie Brown — Greg Lewis has experienc e, Left cornerback Wide receiver
Hank Baskett has size, and Jason Avant has great hands and a deceptive- 24 Sheldon Brown 86 Reggie Brown SPECIAL TEAMS
ly solid build. This is a group with a lot of potential. Stallworth 45 Joselio Hanson 81 Jason Avent
Punter Dirk Johnson and kicker David Akers are health y and in their
primes. Both are locked up in long-term deals. Coverage was a problem Akers
OFFENSIVE LINE Strong safety Tight end for the Eagles early last season, but it wasn’t during this preseason and
This is a really young bunch — center Jamaal Jackson, left guard Todd 32 Michael Lewis Left end 82 L.J. Smith
Kicker it shouldn’t be when the real games start. John Harbaugh has a mix-
37 Sean Considine 93 Jevon Kearse 2 David Akers
Herremans and right guard Shawn Andrews all are second-year starter s, 89 Matt Schobel 8 Dirk Johnson ture of experienc ed vets — such as lineba cker Jason Short and safety
95 Jerome McDougle
and Jackson and Herremans only played part of last season. The five re- Right tackle Quintin Mikell — and talented young sters — such as lineba cker Omar
serves include four rookies — second-round tackle Winston Justice, 69 Jon Runyan Gaither and wideout Jason Avant. The return game might be a bit of a
fourth-r ound guard Max Jean-Gilles, undrafted center Nick Cole and un- Weakside linebacker 68 Pat McCoy conc ern. Plan A was fifth-round rookie Jeremy Bloom, who went to in-
drafted tackle Pat McCo y. The other reserve, second-year guard Scott 51 Matt McCoy jured reserv e without being able to show much. Plan B was J.R. Reed,
56 Shawn Barber
Young, never appear ed in a game last season. The starter s looked big and Thomas Left tackle Right guard who staged a courageous comeba ck from dama ging the peroneal
powerful in the preseason. If Andy Reid is serious about restoring some 98 Mike Patterson 73 Shawn Andrews Running back nerve behind his left knee, but didn’t quite have the burst of speed he
Punter 91 Sam Rayburn 62 Max Jean-Gillies 36 Brian Westbrook had as a rookie 2 years ago. Having Bruc e Perry return kicks and Reno Gaither
balanc e to a pass-happ y offense, he ought to be able to run the ball a little behind these guys. 8 Dirk Johnson Middle linebacker 28 Correll Buckhalter Mahe punts clear ly is Plan C, and it remains open to chang e.
The health of left tackle William “Tra” Thomas is really crucial; Justice does not look ready 2 David Akers 54 Jeremiah Trotter Center
to step in as a rookie starter. 96 Omar Gaither 67 Jamaal Jackson
Right tackle 59 Nick Cole Quarterback FIVE KEYS FOR THE DEFENSE
Strongside 97 Darwin Walker
FIVE KEYS FOR THE OFFENSE linebacker
78 Brodrick Bunkley 5 Donovan McNabb
7 Jeff Garcia 1. Pressure: It’s what Jim Johnson's schemes are built on.
1. Keeping Brian Westbrook healthy: If you could guarantee that, you could just
about guarantee a winning season.
55 Dhani Jones
52 Jason Short
79 Todd Herremans
2. Linebackersbestepping up:toThe Eagles’ LBs have a lot to prove. The de-
2. Balancing the offense: Andy Reid has ackno wledged that last season’s pass-
happ y appr oach was unfair to Dono van McN abb, and unsound. The Birds 90 Darren Howard
71 Scott Young fense could vulnerable teams throwing underneath.
now seem to have an offensiv e line they can run behind, at least a little more. 58 Trent Cole Left tackle Fullback 3. Get need athe passpass rush and betterwas athe run-stoppers. Todefinite-
off the field on third down: This
problem last year. fix it,
run-stoppers. The Eagles
3. Giving Donovan time: Teams had a lot of success last season rushing the Ea- 72 William Thomas
gles right up the middle . Ther e’s a new center and a new left guard, pretty Free safety 74 Winston Justice 38 Thomas Tapeh ly seem to have rush. Hard to say about
4. Backrush support, theyand play-making abilitySheldon Brown2need to re-
much for that reason. Better protection is an obvious key to a healthier , more suc- 20 Brian Dawkins to the future: Corners Lito Sheppard and
cessful quarter back. 27 Quintin Mikel
Right cornerback capture the confidence they showed years ago.
4. Meshing with Donte’: The Eagles’ new vertical threat, Donte’ Stallw orth,
needs to be quickly integr ated into the comple x offense. He has limited value
26 Lito Sheppard
29 Roderick Hood
18 Donte Stallworth
Given pass should be able to do that.
as a decoy. 84 Hank Baskett
5. emotional leaderTrotterdefense. An injuryno proven backup,asand he's the
here might pose big a prob-
5. Using both tight ends: L.J. Smith and Matt Schobel are big targets who can
run. A hundr ed catches between them might not be out of the question. lem as losing Brian Westbrook.
PAGE E-12 P H I L A D E L P H I A D A I L Y N E W S THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2006