What to worry - and not worry - about with the Eagles

"You want to see what everybody can do when it counts," says new Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.
"You want to see what everybody can do when it counts," says new Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 09, 2011

The NFL season finally begins Sunday in St. Louis for the Eagles after a short, chaotic preparation, and it has been difficult to tell if honest expectation for this team has been overtaken by raging anticipation.

For fans, there is no question that the sheer nature of this offseason - the uncertainty as to whether it would even be followed by an actual season - has heightened the excitement of football's return. And the way in which the Eagles returned, moving roster pieces around the board like a chess master playing five games at once, only served to throw coal on the already fiery interest.

For those paid to keep cooler heads, it has been a pretty remarkable journey since the end of July, too. The Eagles have essentially remade the core of their team, and, regardless of what they might say, no one within the organization really knows how it will all turn out.

"I feel like we've got something special here," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, one of the new faces on a defense that returns only three starters to the positions they held on the 2010 season-ending depth chart. "But it was a strange offseason, and there's going to be a lot of nervous energy around the first game because there's a lot of unknown. It's the first time on the field for the units. And it's natural to be nervous, because you want to see what everybody can do when it counts."

Watching the team in practice and watching the exhibition games can give you only an idea of how it will play in practice and exhibition games, but there are some areas that will require special focus on Sunday. In no particular order, here is one short list of some things worth worrying about and some things that will turn out fine.

Worry

DeSean Jackson: He went through the charade of an aborted holdout that gained him nothing, and every indication is that the receiver is very upset the Eagles haven't crowned him with an exorbitant new contract. The team holds the leverage here and showed its muscle by making Jackson the No. 1 punt returner, a high-risk assignment that should make Jackson think twice about playing this season without taking whatever security he can get.

What we don't know is if Jackson and agent Drew Rosenhaus are demanding crazy money, or if the Eagles simply aren't interested in a serious negotiation with a talented player, but one who is subject to injury and is a bit of a pain in the tail. This situation could be resolved soon, but it could also blow up into something ugly this season.

Don't worry

The overall receiving game: That said about Jackson, the Eagles are very relieved that Jeremy Maclin has returned in good health and has quickly gotten back on the field and back to speed. He was their leading receiver in 2010, their go-to guy who made Jackson's fireworks possible.

In addition, Steve Smith has been very good in practice. He looks like the same guy who had 107 catches and 1,220 yards for the Giants in 2009. If Smith's recovery from knee surgery had not been as remarkable, the Eagles would have kept a sixth receiver. As it is, with Jason Avant and Riley Cooper - and running back Ronnie Brown in the mix as a slot receiver - Michael Vick will have a talented array of targets.

Worry

The offensive line: There is just too much wishful thinking here, and too much reliance on the boom-or-bust scheme of Howard Mudd to predict a smooth season. Job 1 is keeping Michael Vick on the field, and that is going to be quite a task for this offensive line.

If Vick gets hurt, neither Vince Young nor Mike Kafka will be able to keep the offense afloat. The Eagles are that close to having this season of great expectation limp away.

Don't worry

The linebackers: They're always a convenient target, but this group is very fast and can do what it is asked, which admittedly isn't very much. Will the Eagles get slashed by the run at times? Yes, and their scheme accepts that collateral damage as part of the package.

The other reason not to worry, of course, is that the Eagles will be in five- and six-defensive-back formations perhaps 75 percent to 80 percent of the time. If it isn't third and 1, don't expect to see three linebackers.

Worry

The kicker and punter: The Eagles have been spoiled for a while at these spots. Putting rookies in there had to happen eventually, but it is a lot to expect that kicker Alex Henery and punter Chas Henry won't cost them a game or put them in a bad position at least once or twice.

"They have things that you would hope this is the worst they'll ever be and from here on the arrow's going north for them," said special teams coach Bobby April. "They do need to strike the ball better."

Yes, that would seem important at their positions.

Don't worry

The safeties: Some folks won't be satisfied unless Brian Dawkins is magically returned, and this safety group has been overshadowed by the showy roster of cornerbacks, but Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman can really play. They can cover and they can hit. Coleman, a seventh-round pick in 2010, can range from the line of scrimmage to the deepest coverage area. Page, signed as a veteran free agent, provides the protective umbrella. A former draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, he also might be the best athlete on the field.

That's a brief, incomplete list of concerns and non-concerns, perfect for an opening week and sure to change by about midway through the first quarter on Sunday. After that, there will be plenty of time for leaping off bridges and leaping onto bandwagons. Perhaps on consecutive plays. This is the season of great expectation, after all, even if no one is really 100 percent sure what to expect.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|