Plenty of questions as Eagles return to training camp

Posted: July 17, 2012

When the Eagles open training camp Sunday, months removed from a disappointing 2011 and on the verge of another season that holds immense promise, a long list of players and coaches face questions. The answers could determine their legacies in Philadelphia.

The team will hold training camp with a talented roster fueling high hopes. The Eagles and head coach Andy Reid have had time to incorporate the many new faces of 2011, to revise their game plans and study their mistakes, to give injured players time to heal, to resolve distractions and patch holes in the roster. Now, they get a second chance to make good, to deliver on the promise and excitement stirred by two offseasons of marquee roster moves.

"This is our chance to prove that we can play, that this team that they have put together is a contender," said tight end Brent Celek.

Another failure after three years without a playoff win could force a team-wide shake-up.

The list of players under scrutiny is long:

Can Reid, with a full offseason to prepare, a talented lineup, and an even more prominent role in key decisions return to winning playoff games? Or will his long run reach an end without a Super Bowl?

Can Michael Vick, with two years as an Eagles starter and a full offseason to examine his turnover-prone 2011, rebound and win a playoff game for the first time since 2004? Or will he cement his reputation as a talented quarterback who couldn't deliver postseason results?

Can Juan Castillo, in his second season coaching defense in the NFL, get the most out of his unit? Or will his promotion go down as a mistake?

Will Brandon Graham and Nate Allen - each with two years of experience and time to recover from rookie-year injuries - justify the faith their first- and second-round selections generated in 2010?

Can linebacker DeMeco Ryans, back in the 4-3 defense, and with another year to heal from a 2010 Achilles tear, return to his Pro Bowl form?

Will wide receiver DeSean Jackson, with new contract in hand, return to his game-breaking ways?

Were big 2011 acquisitions Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Cullen Jenkins worthwhile investments who just needed time to adapt to a new team? Or expensive pieces of a flawed formula?

Except for Ryans, each of these figures was part of the frustration of 2011. But they said one season can make a big difference.

With much of the roster back intact - and seemingly improved with several defensive additions - players again carry hope into the new season.

"This was never a one-year plan. It wasn't, 'We go to the Super Bowl or we'll never play again,' " said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. "There's always another year, and that's where we are right now."

Do Lehigh right

Unlike 2011, the Eagles have a full offseason to get ready this year and will continue that preparation in training camp at Lehigh. Rookies report Sunday, and veterans are due on Wednesday.

Reid has put his team through a full offseason program. Injured players rehabilitated under the watch of the team's training staff; rookies and recently acquired veterans have had time to acclimate to their new home.

The front office has worked to fill the gaps that cost the team a year ago, adding Ryans to lead the defense and explosive draft picks at defensive line, cornerback, and linebacker.

New contracts should keep Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy happy. Receiver Jeremy Maclin enters the season healthy and stronger.

With Asante Samuel's departure, Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie will get a chance to play the aggressive, pressing style they prefer. And while the offensive line has lost superstar Jason Peters to injury, four of the five line spots will be manned by known, solid starters.

There are questions - most prominently about who will step in if Vick gets hurt and if they have a top-flight safety on the roster - but most roster spots are set. The players and coaches now have to deliver.

The Eagles had talent last year, too, but still stumbled out of the gate. Now they're on a three-year streak with no playoff victories.

But Reid said he saw momentum building at the end, when the team won four straight to close out the season at 8-8. "You got to that fifth and sixth game left in the season, all of a sudden the guys said, 'Listen, this nonsense has got to stop. We've got to come together as a football team.' "

Reid said he believes the sense of unity has carried into the 2012 preparations.

"These guys rallied together, and they were kicking some tail against some decent teams," he said.

One key, according to Reid and several players, was the sense of purpose that built as the team came under fire.

"Everybody's attitude right now is in the right place. A lot of issues we had last year are resolved now," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, a Super Bowl champion two seasons ago with the Packers. "It's one of the most talented teams I've been on, but we have to make sure we're playing as a talented group, not just talented individuals."

Reid intends to test his team at training camp, promising a tough summer.

"We have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and effort going on right now. The attitude is right," Reid said. "There's a ton of work to be done. We've got to make sure we handle Lehigh the right way."

Many on the hot seat

Hanging over the entire team is the last word on the 2011 season, delivered by owner Jeffrey Lurie in a Jan. 3 news conference. He called last year's results "unacceptable" and said he expects "substantially better" in 2012.

If that is the standard, another disappointment would seem to call for dynamite at the team's foundations.

Reid is entering the final two years on his contract, and the Eagles can get out of Vick's deal after this season with few financial consequences.

The team's aggressive moves, though, provide reason for hope. If Vick is healthy and at his best in the playoffs, the Eagles should be dangerous.

Now comes the hard part, living up to their potential. This core group is getting a second chance to maximize its talent. If the Eagles can't rebound, it's unlikely they'll get a third shot.


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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