Les Bowen | Birds draft to a different drummer

Posted: April 30, 2007

THIS DRAFT weekend highlighted the disconnect between the Eagles and their fans over that much-discussed, hypothetical "window of opportunity."

The team's management is all about extending the opening of that window indefinitely. What's the single biggest threat to the Birds' being competitive into the distant future? The eventual demise of Donovan McNabb.

The fans are all about jumping through that window of opportunity and finally winning the darned Super Bowl. They take the view that keeping the window open forever is nice, but not nearly as important as actually winning a championship.

This is not a new debate, but here we go again, with quarterback Kevin Kolb as the Eagles' first selection in the 2007 draft, 36th overall, in the second round, followed by a defensive end (Notre Dame's Victor Abiamiri, 57th overall, also in the second), a linebacker (but not until 87th overall, in the third round, Nebraska's Stewart Bradley) and at long last, a big running back (90th overall in the third, Penn State's Tony Hunt).

Analysts said they would be shocked if the Birds closed up shop at the end of the first day without acquiring either a safety or a corner for their depleted secondary that revolves around 33-year-old free safety Brian Dawkins. So analysts were indeed shocked. More like dumbfounded, actually, and the second-day arrivals of fifth-round corner/safety C.J. Gaddis, from Clemson, and sixth-round corner Rashad Barksdale, an ex-baseball player from Albany, didn't do much to change that.

The most urgent thing the Eagles needed to address, with their only selection among the top 50 players auctioned off on Saturday, was the quarterback position?

Management implicitly acknowledged that all the defensive backs the Eagles thought were first-rounders were gone when their 26th overall selection arrived. So instead of taking Anthony Spencer, the defensive end the Cowboys nabbed at 26 after trading with the Birds (or linebacker Paul Posluszny, or corner Chris Houston, or running back Brian Leonard or tight end Greg Olsen, all of whom remained on the board), the Eagles decided to move to 36 and pick up a third (the Bradley pick) and a fifth (Gaddis). Then, at 36, the Birds skipped right on by Houston and Leonard again to draft Kolb.

"Any time there's a quarterback you think has a reasonable possibility of being good in this league, it's very difficult to bypass that," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday afternoon, as the shock waves emanating from the NovaCare complex began to subside.

More nettlesome to fans, surely, was Reid's explanation that "for the first time since I've been here, we've actually been able to sit there during the draft and take the best player at that time."

Reid stuck to that tone yesterday, when he wrapped up the draft, speaking to the media just after adding 5-9, 245-pound running back Nate Ilaoa, from Hawaii, with the team's final selection, 236th overall, in the seventh round.

"I didn't feel like we had to concentrate on one specific position going in," Reid said. "We'd done a nice job in free agency and re-signing our own players, and we got some players from IR back. I thought we had good depth, and more so than good depth, we had good quality depth. So you take the best player up there, even though you might have a stack at that position, let 'em jump in there and compete."

Two players the Eagles did not re-sign were trusty nickel corner Rod Hood and former Pro Bowl strong safety Mike Lewis. Hood could jump in whenever a starting corner was out. Lewis, a big hitter, lost his starting job last season to undersized Sean Considine, who hasn't proved he can be more than a role player in the NFL. And there is the matter of Dawkins' age (he turns 34 in October). But Reid apparently feels that re-signing corner Will James and safety/special-teams ace Quintin Mikell, along with the return of corner Joselio Hanson, makes the 2007 defensive backfield solid.

"I think our secondary's OK. I feel comfortable with it," Reid said. "We were able to sign a couple of guys back at corner and safety, so we've got decent depth there. It was a matter of adding just a couple of guys in there . . . But the starters and the rotational guys in there, I feel pretty good about."

It was not a shock that the Birds went for a defensive end with their second selection; Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard are 30 and Kearse is coming off a serious knee injury. Abiamiri, 6-4, 267, from Randalls-town, Md., said he had spoken with the Eagles at the Senior Bowl and at the scouting combine.

"They were on the radar as far as having them draft me, and I'm very lucky to end up in a situation where I'm so close to home," he said. "It's a great situation."

The Eagles like Bradley (6-3 1/2, 254) as a strongside linebacker. He came back from a torn ACL in 2005 to lead the Cornhuskers in tackles last season with 76.

"I'm a big fan of Andy Reid because I'm from Utah and he used to coach at BYU," said Bradley, a native of Salt Lake City. "I really like the team. I follow Donovan. They have a very physical team, which is the same style of football we played at Nebraska."

The SAM position now is officially crowded, with much-disaparaged returning starter Dhani Jones scheduled to compete with 2006 third-rounder Chris Gocong and former practice-squadder Tank Daniels, in addition to Bradley.

Though the Eagles didn't draft Olsen, they did at least make a nod toward the fact that L.J. Smith can be a free agent next offseason by selecting tight end Brent Celek from Cincinnati in the fifth round, 162nd overall. Celek is said to be a reliable receiver and blocker who lacks Smith's deep-route capability.

All in all, if you subtracted Kolb and added a second-round defensive back, it would have been pretty much the draft everyone expected from the Eagles. But that one difference spoke volumes.

Send e-mail to bowenl@phillynews.com

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|