Ashley Fox | Some questions the Birds must answer

Posted: August 20, 2007

Twenty-one days. It seems like an eternity, but that is how long the Eagles have until their season opener against Green Bay.

Twenty-one long days.

We sit here at the midpoint of the meandering preseason, two games down, two to go before the real action starts. What do we know? And what do we need to know?

Here are some questions - and a few answers.

After his stellar performance Friday, is Donovan McNabb 100 percent healthy?

Not quite, but he is well on his way.

For months, everyone inside the Eagles locker room has been saying how rigorously McNabb worked in the off-season to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee. McNabb lived at the NovaCare Complex, and boy, did it show Friday night.

In his preseason debut against the Carolina Panthers, McNabb fired bullets all over the field - to Kevin Curtis, to promising rookie Brent Celek, to Matt Schobel, to Jason Avant. McNabb was strong and confident, and he bounced right up after Stanley McClover and Thomas Davis combined for the first hit on McNabb since last season.

McNabb readily acknowledges that this is a huge season for him. He's talking about jewelry - and not the kind you wear around your neck. He wants a Super Bowl title (and ring) and knows that his window of opportunity isn't as wide as it was a few years ago.

For the Eagles to have a shot at playing in Arizona in early February, McNabb not only has to stay healthy, he has to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He certainly showed Friday night that he's up for the challenge.

Why all the secrecy about Shawn Andrews' injured right foot?

It certainly is puzzling. Coach Andy Reid insists the Eagles guard will be ready for the Packers game, but Andrews last week talked like a defeated man. Although he was vague - Reid prohibits players from discussing injuries - Andrews said the news delivered by a specialist was a "tearjerker." Reid countered by saying Andrews was simply being emotional and dramatic.

So which is it?

For the Eagles to be effective running the football, they'll need Andrews on the field. His health is as big of a concern as anyone on the team not wearing the number 5.

Will this be L.J. Smith's final season in Philadelphia?

It is too early to tell, but this much you should know: It's unlikely the Eagles and Smith will agree on a contract extension this year. Smith is looking for big money, and understandably so. He's a valuable member of the Eagles' offense, sure-handed, smart, and an adequate blocker.

This nagging sports hernia, however, isn't helping Smith's case.

The Eagles very well could extend Smith's contract, but to get the money he wants, Smith is going to have to have a big season.

Is Brent Celek for real?

He certainly looks like it, and the Eagles are tickled with their fifth-round draft pick. He had four catches for 59 yards in the first preseason game against Baltimore, then hauled in four more - from three quarterbacks - on Friday night.

Not only does Celek have good hands, he can grind out yards after the catch. At least so far, he hasn't caught balls while on his knees. He's caught them in stride.

McNabb has an affinity for tight ends. If Celek earns his trust, he could have a surprising rookie season.

Will Jevon Kearse be a force this season?

The jury is still out on that one. Speed, especially a blistering first couple of steps, is Kearse's hallmark. It remains to be seen if he can regain that speed after having a knee surgically repaired.

Kearse had a good training camp but suffered a setback Friday when swelling in his knee prevented him from playing against the Panthers. It is the preseason, and Reid understandably is being careful. But you'd rather have Kearse out there with no issues.

He has to play at a Pro Bowl level for the Eagles defense to be dominant. It starts up front.

Who is going to start opposite Kearse?

There is an ongoing battle between Darren Howard and Trent Cole. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has said both players will get roughly the same amount of snaps, but the prediction here is that Cole will emerge as the full-time starter. His motor never slows, and the same can't be said for the 30-year-old Howard.

Who's got the edge between Sav Rocca and Dirk Johnson?

The punting competition seems to be in a dead heat. If Rocca can improve his hang time, here's betting the Aussie gets the nod.

Why did the Eagles raise parking prices from $11 to $20?

You figure that one out.


Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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