An outsider’s look at the 2007 Philadelphia Eagles

Jake Stark ('08)/ Eastside Business Manager

philadelphia eagles rep“The team to beat.”

“The NFC Champion favorites.”

Phrases like the aforementioned have been thrown around when discussing the upcoming NFL season. Unlike most members of the Philadelphia media, I don’t even think the Eagles are the team to beat in their own division, let alone the entire conference. Although the Eagles have a proven coaching staff and a talented mix of veterans and youth, many questions must be answered on the field before they can be considered championship contenders.

Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses of the team based on position.

1. Offensive Line
Arguably the most important part of winning a football game is dominating down in the trenches. Although the Eagles Offensive Line has been a huge part of the team’s success in recent years, there is reason to doubt they will play up to their past dominance this season.

The Good: Starting Right Tackle, John Runyan has signed a 3 year contract to remain with the Eagles. Runyan has started 144 consecutive games for the Eagles and not only is he a Pro Bowl caliber linemen, but he is also the emotional leader of the Offensive Line.
Center Jamaal Jackson proved to be a more then capable starter last season, his first season as the starter, taking over for fan favorite Hank Fraley.

Left Guard Todd Herremans proved to be an excellent draft selection in the 4th round of the 2005 draft. The Eagles rewarded Herremans with an extension for his play. Herremans has proven to be a complete guard, excelling in both pass and run protection.

The Bad: Although a 2 time Pro Bowler, Left Tackle William Thomas saw his play regress during the 2006 season, his first full season following offseason back surgery to repair a herniated disk. Thomas must revert to his past dominance to provide QB Donovan Mcnabb assurance from his blind side.

The Eagles best lineman, Shawn Andrews has been down with an ankle ailment that had forced him into a walking boot. Although Coach Andy Reid expects Andrews to suit up for week 1 against the Packers, Andrews referred to his injury as a “tear jerker,” which could mean that this may be a lingering injury.

Overall Grade: B+

2. Quarterbacks
The key to the Eagles success in the upcoming season is the health of Donovan Mcnabb. The Eagles do not have the insurance of Jeff Garcia, who led the team on a magical run when he took over the helm following Mcnabb’s season ending ACL surgery. Instead, they opted to sign former Eagle, AJ Feeley. The team also drew criticism of the fans and media when they used their first selection in the 2006 draft to select QB Kevin Kolb out of Houston.

The Good: Feeley is a capable backup QB who has had marginal success in the league. Kolb has impressed in the Pre Season and in Training Camp.

The Bad: Although many doubt McNabb’s ability to win “the big game,” no one can put down his brilliance on the football field when healthy.

Unfortunately Donovan’s durability has been a concern in recent years, as he has failed to play over 10 games in 3 of the past 5 seasons.

McNabb went under the knife to repair a Torn ACL in the middle of last season, an injury that generally takes just over a year to completely heal. Although Mcnabb has looked solid in the preseason, his ability to complete a full season remains a huge question mark.

Although capable, Feeley does not have the skill to take this team to the playoffs if McNabb goes down with an injury.

Overall Grade: B (due to concerns over Mcnabb’s durability)

3. Running Backs
Brian Westbrook, the product of the Univeristy of Villanova has proven to be an elite NFL tailback. With the retirement of Tiki Barber, Westbrook is the best overall back in the NFC East. With Correll Buckhalter complimenting him, the Eagles have a formidable tandem.

The Good: Brian Westbrook is poised for another excellent season, running behind a top Offensive Line. Last season Westbrook not only rushed for over 1200 yards, but he also led the team with 77 receptions.

Full Back Thomas Tapeh proved to be a proficient run blocker, although he lacks great hands coming out into the flat.

Correll Buckhalter proved a force to be reckoned with in his return to the field last year. He provides an excellent chance of pace to Westbrook’s elusive style of running.

The Bad: 4th round pick Tony Hunt has been unimpressive during the Pre season, barely rushing for over 1 yard per carry. Hunt has shown a lack of “burst” that running backs need to succeed in the NFL.

Overall Grade: A

4. Wide Receivers
The Eagles lost their top Wide Receiver, when Donte Stallworth opted to sign with the Patriots. However the Birds wasted no time solidifying their receiving corps, signing St. Louis Rams standout, Kevin Curtis.

The Good: The signing of Kevin Curtis gives the Birds a solid receiver to compliment Reggie Brown. However, Curtis has not been a starter in his NFL career. He was 3rd on the depth chart of the Rams, behind Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt. Curtis will have to adjust to his new role as a starter, as teams will be focusing on him much more than in the past. Curtis has the talent to be a quality starter, and I expect a solid season out of him.

Reggie Brown continued to progress, setting career highs in both receptions and receiving yards in 2006.

The Bad: The Eagles receiving corps lack depth. They have 2 unproven receivers in Jason Avant and Hank Baskett. One of the two will have to emerge this year to provide the Birds with a viable threat out of the slot.

There is no clear cut number 1 receiver on the roster. Although both Curtis and Brown are solid, neither can be placed into the “game changer” category.

Overall Grade: C+

5. Tight Ends
LJ Smith has been a dynamic Tight End in the past; stretching the field with his ability to catch the long ball, while also proving to be an asset in the Blocking game. However, Smith has been plagued by injuries in the past, and the Eagles lack dept behind him.

The Good: Smith is a top Tight End when healthy.

The Bad: Backup Matt Schobel is nothing more than a serviceable backup. Lee Vickers was merely a Practice Squad player this past season and although he has looked good against the backups in Pre Season, he is as unproven as it gets.

The Health of Smith is in doubt, as he has reaggravated his sports hernia.

Overall Grade: C

6. Defensive Line
The Eagles turn to Last year’s first round selection Brodrick Bunkley to anchor the interior line this season. Mike Patterson, the USC grad appears primed to start beside him, forming a young tandem that oozes with potential, but lacks vital experience. The defensive ends remain a strength for the Eagles with the emergence of Trent Cole and the return of Jamal “The Freak” kearse.

The Good: When healthy Kearse is a top 5 DE in the NFL.

Former 5th round selection Trent Cole has emerged as an excellent pass rusher, surpassing veteran Darren Howard on the depth chart.
Brodrick Bunkley has looked excellent in Camp, flashing blazing speed while rushing the passer.

The Eagles arguably have the best depth on the defensive line in the entire league, lead by reserve linemen Ian Scott and Darren Howard.

The Bad: The entire defensive line has to live up to their potential in order to solidify the run defense. Trent Cole must work on his run defense in order to become a complete defensive end.

Bunkley must improve his run defense.

Overall Grade: B+

7. Linebackers
With the release of fan favorite and former Pro Bowler, Jeremiah Trotter, many questions surround the Eagles linebackers. Recently acquired Takeo Spikes will anchor the backers this year, as he will start along with two young players in Omar Gaither and Chris Gocong.

The Good: When healthy, Takeo Spikes is an elite SAM Linebacker.

Chris Gocong has proven that he is an excellent tackler.

Rookie Stewart Bradley out of Nebraska has flashed potential during Camp.

The Bad: The Birds lost a leader when they released Trotter last week.

Takeo Spikes’ durability is a looming concern.

Omar Gaither will have to adjust to his new position as the Mike Linebacker, and has big shoes to fill with the loss of Trotter.

Overall Grade: B-

8. Secondary
The starter cornerback tandem of Lito Sheppard and Sheldon brown is the best in the league. Both players excel in man to man coverage, which is emphasized in the Eagles blitzing defense. The leader of the team, Safety Brian Dawkins has been limited in camp due to a sore Achilles, which has drawn the concern of the Philly faithful. Strong Safety Sean Considine has a lot to prove heading into the upcoming season.

The Good: Although Lito Sheppard has received a lot of the press, Sheldon Brown has proven to be as consistent, if not more reliable than Sheppard. The two CBs have both been to Pro Bowls and make it tough on the opponents passing game. That is of course when Sheppard does not line up across from Giants Receiver Plaxico Burress.

Brian Dawkins, the unquestioned leader of the team had another strong season in the 2006 campaign. However, age and injury have to be a minor concern for Dawkins this season.

Although Rod Hood was lost to free Agency, Will James will step in and have a solid year as the Nickel CB.

The Bad: Sean Considine struggled last year in coverage and in the running game. Although he made a few big hits, Considine must develop his game if he hopes to hang onto the starting job.

Overall: A-

9. Special Teams
The Eagles return Pro Bowl Kicker David Akers, but they will most likely head into the season with a new Punter, Sav Rocca, of Aussie Rules Football. Jeremy Bloom will return Punts and Kickoffs.

The Good: David Akers remains one of the best Kickers in the NFL.

Rocca has a huge leg, and has been booming Punts in Training Camp.

The Bad: Kickoff coverage has been dismal for the Birds, not allowing Bloom any open running lanes, and forcing the Offensive to start with bad Field Position.

Overall: B+

Overall Record Prediction: 10-6, with a wildcard berth.