1. Whither Kevin Kolb?
The new quarterback has to be listed first, even if a lot of people around the team wouldn't rank him as the biggest question on this Eagles squad. The change in QBs, after 11 years of Donovan McNabb, is the story of the season, period. But nobody in the locker room seems worried or disappointed by the change, and after 3 years of preparing, Kolb seems poised to be solid, if not spectacular. His success will hinge on the offensive line, which might be harder to assess than Kolb right now.
2. Can this be a dominant offensive line?
Kinda saw that coming toward the end of No. 1, didn't ya? How long will Nick Cole have to hold down the fort before ACL recoveree Jamaal Jackson can return and play effectively at center? Can Cole give a better accounting of himself than he did at the end of last season against Dallas? Will we see a training-camp battle between Cole and Mike McGlynn? And what about Stacy Andrews at right guard? Is counting on him to step up going to be any less disastrous than counting on his brother last year? Slightly lower than that red-alert level rank questions such as whether Winston Justice can improve on last season's surprisingly capable but not dominant performance at right tackle, and whether Jason Peters can be more consistent with a year in the offense under his belt. (Also, will that belt be less strained - can Peters report in better shape this time?) That leaves only left guard Todd Herremans, the most consistent member of the OL, without a question mark. So here goes: Is Todd's repaired foot really OK, or is it a long-term concern?
3. Is Sean McDermott overmatched?
The defensive coordinator got an "incomplete" on his first season, because he stepped in permanently just before camp, as beloved coordinator Jim Johnson was dying, and he lost his cornerstone middle linebacker, Stewart Bradley, the first week of workouts. But the "D" wasn't good. Opponents threw for 27 touchdowns, more than any of Johnson's defenses ever allowed. That's right, even the 5-11 1999 team or the 6-10 2005 team did not allow 27 TD passes. The play of the defense was one of the main reasons the Birds were considered a "soft" 11-5 team. McDermott has Bradley back and, presumably, the draft has strengthened his secondary. If the defense isn't better, McDermott's Philly roots won't keep him off the hot seat.
4. Is Stewart Bradley magic?
The Eagles thought their middle linebacker was about to blossom into a Pro Bowler when he went down for the season during a team scrimmage Aug. 3. As the defense struggled without him, Bradley took on almost a mythic, James Dean-type stature, beyond what he had actually accomplished. There seems little doubt that Bradley is healthy, but will he make that big a difference? The addition of Ernie Sims to the starting linebacking corps should help Bradley at least a little.
5. Will free safety be less of a gaping hole?
The most serious scuff mark suffered so far by the Eagles' shiny 2010 plans happened early in minicamp, when key free-agent signee Marlin Jackson went down for the season with an Achilles' tear. The good news was, second-round rookie Nate Allen seemed to step in with smarts and poise. The bad news was, this is pretty much where the Eagles were a year ago, when Macho Harris was the rookie they were counting on to fill Brian Dawkins' shoes. Allen will have more on his plate than any of the other dozen drafted rookies. Quintin Demps, originally designated as Dawkins' replacement, remains in the mix, but the job is Allen's to lose.
6. How good is the running back corps?
Somehow, the difference between Brian Westbrook banged up half the time and Brian Westbrook gone for good seems pretty significant. LeSean McCoy seems to be at least a slightly different go-to back than Westbrook; you might be able to hand him the ball a little more, without risking injury as much, but you can't scare defenses when you line him up wide. As a rookie, McCoy really struggled with the NFL season, so much longer than college; getting stronger was a big thrust of his offseason. We have no idea yet how Mike Bell fits in, or if there might be a role for Charles Scott or Martell Mallett. More questions here need to be resolved than in recent memory.
7. How unhappy is DeSean Jackson, and how much of a problem is that?
Suddenly, the little fella from Cal is the Birds' biggest star. We know he wants his contract redone. We know the Eagles think that's just about impossible to do right now, under collective bargaining agreement restrictions. We know DeSean sat out the final week of minicamp, but Andy Reid said No. 10 plans to be at Lehigh on time, and DeSean seemed to indicate as much recently on Twitter. Certainly bears watching.
8. Can Michael Vick fade quietly into the background?
Couple of things you don't want in a QB who is backing up your brand-new starter: The backup feeling he ought to be starting, and the backup making news for unsavory off-the-field exploits. When last season ended, Vick thought he'd be vying to start somewhere else right now. When last season ended, the Eagles' brass thought Vick was a good bet to stay away from further controversy. Both parties were mistaken. So far, neither Vick nor management has tried to dissolve the partnership, but it won't withstand a whole bunch more stress. Vick needs a low profile. To let sleeping dogs ... ahh, scratch that.
9. How square are the corners?
Next to Stacy Andrews, no 2009 newcomer expected to start in 2010 faces more skeptics than Ellis Hobbs. Among those not blown away by Hobbs' half-season of work was Joselio Hanson, who feels he has just as valid a claim as Hobbs on the starting spot opposite Asante Samuel, and Jose might have a point. Speaking of Samuel, if the answer is "Roy Halladay and Asante Samuel," then the question must be "name two Philly athletes getting paid a lot of money, who have thrown no-hitters." It would be easier to appreciate the plays Samuel makes - and he does make them - if he didn't have to line up in another zip code every snap.
10. Will success spoil Leonard Weaver?
Nah, of course not. Just felt the need to throw in an easy one, and give some props to one of the most genuine, standup athletes to enter the Philly sports scene in years.
11. Which end is up?
The Eagles spent their first-round draft choice on defensive end Brandon Graham, which tells you they're concerned about getting pass-rush pressure without blitzing. They've been looking for a long-term answer opposite Trent Cole for quite a while now. Graham won't be handed a starting job; the Eagles like to keep vets as titular starters, even if youngsters are getting more snaps. Clearly, Graham is expected to have an impact.
12. Too young to contend?
Thirteen drafted rookies, plus a couple of undrafted players with a decent shot at making the team. A first-year full-time starter at QB and running back, probably at free safety. The Eagles could be the youngest team in the NFL when the season starts. But does that make them a bad team? I would think not. Even if that was a soft 11-5 last season, it's not like the talent was awful. And other than McNabb and Sheldon Brown, what strong contributor to that team did the Birds really lose? The biggest obstacle might be what looks like a tougher schedule, but that's always impossible to predict until you see how the other teams really look.
13. Brent Celek, Superstar?
The Eagles need a breakout personality, after DeSean Jackson, and Celek seems poised to be just that. He played tight end at a Pro Bowl level last year, seems to be embracing leadership. Definitely smart enough to seize the day.
14. Who will fans 'heart'?
Hard-working little guys always pluck at the Lehigh heartstrings, so I'll take Chad Hall for starters. Fellow wide receiver Riley Cooper will certainly have his favorites, many of them female. Don't discount top pick Brandon Graham, who promises to be the kind of rookie who heads over to the fence for autographs and hustles through every drill. (Assuming no lengthy holdout, obviously.)
15. What if Graham doesn't sign quickly?
There seems to be a first-round logjam relating to when bonuses will be paid, given the lack of a CBA beyond this season. Defensive end isn't quarterback in terms of complexity and synchronizing with others and such, but Graham is in a competitive situation with guys like Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp, who are capable of making hay during his absence. Anything much beyond a week and you have to wonder how much Graham can contribute this year. As this was written, Nate Allen also wasn't signed. It's hard to think there will be an extensive delay with a second-rounder, and given Allen's status as your presumptive starting free safety, there'd better not be one. Indications yesterday were that a deal was close.
16. Parrish the thought?
Everybody knows that Sav Rocca's stats are better than his actual punts, which still lack consistency. Those long-bomb boomers envisioned when the Aussie signed have been scarce through two seasons. New special-teams czar Bobby April seems inclined to take a look at Ken Parrish, who might be able to free David Akers from kickoff duty, as well. Something to watch.
17. Is this going to be one of those years when we'll have to read stories about the precautions trainers take on superhot days?
Yeah, looks that way. Pass the sunscreen, keep hydrated.
18. Is Jeremy Maclin better off with Kolb taking snaps than with McNabb?
That's one theory being offered, that DeSean Jackson is more of a down-the-field threat, which was McNabb's strength, but that Maclin is more a "possession guy," and will prosper as Kolb offers a more traditional West Coast approach. I think Maclin and Kolb are close off the field, but Kolb's way too smart to disgruntle D-Jax. If Maclin does more this year, it'll be because he worked really hard all offseason, not so much because of the new QB.
19. Which position is in the most trouble?
Until Allen signs, it's free safety. In fact, until we see Allen in a few preseason games, it's free safety. After that, center. And maybe the corner opposite Samuel.
20. Where the heck is Butch?
Anthony "Butch" Buchanico, director of team security for 13 years, was best known by fans as that South Philly-looking guy with the mustache and the Brylcreemed hair who was standing beside Andy Reid in virtually every picture of the coach entering or leaving a field. Butch, who joined the Eagles after a long career with the Philadelphia Police Department, turned 65 this year and retired, replaced by David Young, an ex-state trooper. Butch probably won't be visiting training camp; he was not one to treasure the pastoral pleasures of the Lehigh Valley. Time will tell if Young proves as photogenic.