Admit it, Eagles fans: This team is rebuilding

Posted: September 10, 2011

Nobody at the NovaCare Complex likes the "R" word, at least not going into a new season. But smart Eagles fans will do themselves a favor and embrace the idea before the football leaves the tee just after 1 p.m. Sunday.

Rebuilding. The Eagles are again, or maybe still, rebuilding. Forget "Dream Team" and "all-in." Say the "R" word, get used to it, and the next 17 weeks will be a lot easier to enjoy and understand.

Eight new starters on defense?

New defensive coaching staff, including a first-time coordinator who spent the last 15 years teaching footwork to offensive linemen?

Rookies at two of the key communication positions, center and middle linebacker?

Four new starters, at their positions, on the offensive line?

Rookie kicker and rookie punter?

If that checklist doesn't scream "R" word, what would it take? Would the Eagles have to release all 53 players and replace them with arena-leaguers?

Yes, the Eagles did spring into action after the lockout, throwing tens of millions of dollars around in aggressive pursuit of free agents. That is what led to the phrases "all-in" (Joe Banner) and "Dream Team" (Vince Young) that will cling to this franchise like Stickum on a football if this season doesn't end in Indianapolis.

That influx of talent is hard to analyze. Nnamdi Asomugha is unquestionably an excellent cornerback. Jason Babin is coming off one great season in Tennessee, but may or may not be a consistent difference-maker. Cullen Jenkins is an upgrade at defensive tackle. It will be impossible to assess Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie until we see how the corners are deployed.

Young is a big-name backup, but ideally he won't even see the field. Ryan Harris, the big right tackle, is already gone. So is Donald Lee, the tight end from Green Bay.

What we're left with is the most schizoid team in recent memory. The Eagles have spectacular talent at quarterback, wide receiver, and cornerback. They have the potential for a disruptive defensive line. But they have nothing but question marks on the offensive line, at linebacker, at safety, and in the kicking game.

That is a lot of uncertainty. It is also a target-rich environment for opponents. The Eagles have provided obvious points of attack on both sides of the ball, and you can be sure opposing coaches will test them all. Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo will try to confuse rookie center Jason Kelce and his unfamiliar linemates with exotic fronts and unexpected blitzes. His offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, will try to use the Eagles' aggressiveness against them with screens and draws and quick throws that put pressure on the middle of the defense.

Let's be clear. "Rebuilding season" does not translate automatically into "losing season." The Eagles have two things going for them on that front: Andy Reid, who has a knack for managing crises and coaxing double-digit wins from flawed teams, and the NFC East, which does not exactly appear stocked with powerhouses.

Reid seems to create these challenges deliberately. Maybe it's a natural consequence of coaching the same team for such a long time. In New England, Bill Belichick brought in Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, two of the NFL's least Belichickian players. Like Reid, he seems to be trying fresh ways to keep things interesting.

Whatever the reason, this is the Eagles' third consecutive season operating under the "R" word. They don't like to say so, at least not until after the season, but it's true.

2009: Cut ties with Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, and Brian Dawkins. Reshaped offensive line and infused young stars LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and DeSean Jackson into an evolving offense.

2010: Ended the Donovan McNabb era, then scrapped the planned transition to Kevin Kolb in favor of Michael Vick. Added rookies Nate Allen, Jamar Chaney, and Brandon Graham to the defense.

The Eagles went 11-5 in '09 and 10-6 in '10. After a disappointing end of the season, including a home, first-round playoff loss, Reid used a different "R" word to explain.

"I think there are a lot of positives to look at here," Reid said in January. "Very few teams can kind of retool the way that we retooled and still compete, put yourself in a position to compete for a championship, and we were able to do that. "

Despite that assessment, Reid made even more sweeping and more radical changes going into the 2011 season: new players, new coaches, new schemes on defense and along the offensive line.

Retool, rebuild. Same difference. Whether Reid gets a pass for three consecutive "R"-word seasons will likely depend on how quickly and successfully this team comes together. The feeling here is 11 wins: tops in a poor division but also-rans in a tough NFC. Good but not great.

A Super Bowl? Maybe in our dreams.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his past columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan

|
|
|
|
|