Marcus Hayes: It's about responding to pressure

Jeremy Maclin has lived up to his first-round draft status in his first three seasons and would be in line for a healthy pay bump with another good year.
Jeremy Maclin has lived up to his first-round draft status in his first three seasons and would be in line for a healthy pay bump with another good year. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: July 20, 2012

SO, CAN THE Eagles manage the pressure?

They didn't last season, after president Joe Banner declared them "all in" and backup quarterback Vince Young anointed them the "Dream Team."

(Notably, both Banner and Young have been relieved of their duties.)

So, this year?

Probably. Yes.

If they do shoulder the pressure - and it will be unmatched - it will be the first time that has happened in Philadelphia in a few years.

Not since the Phillies reached the World Series as defending champions in 2009 has a team performed to high expectations.

Last season's first-round loss in the playoffs by the 102-win Phillies deflated the city, even as the nightmare start by the Eagles competed with it as the biggest downer in the city's depressing sports past.

Now, as the Phillies endeavor to be the biggest first-to-worst flop in baseball history, the Eagles again will be picked to be a force in the NFL.

It will be even harder this time.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid, having edged Banner out of the power pyramid, must win or be fired, for the first time in his 14-year reign.

He and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have almost everything they could ask for, except their Pro Bowl left tackle.

Michael Vick is in his third season as starter. He must be polished and poised this season, or Reid and Mornhinweg's faith in him will have been wasted, and their credentials as quarterback gurus will be tarnished.

They will protect Vick in the pocket and with the playbook, wearing out their young running back and whoever else they need to lean on. They will save Vick, and thereby they will save themselves.

Like the offense's brain trust, Vick could be gone after this season. He can be cut without penalty and without criticism of his cost the past two seasons, a total of $32.5 million.

So, this is a big year for Vick. If he pays badly enough to be cut, he will not make anywhere near the $47.5 million he would have made over the final 3 years of the deal.

Vick is a reformed and refinanced felon. This sort of pressure is nothing to him.

Vick is not alone facing this sort of pressure.

Former Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spent 2011 proving he cannot play the slot. He can be a free agent after this season. He must prove again that he can lock down a receiver on the outside; expect him to be victimized, and to remain an Eagle at a discount.

Jeremy Maclin won't be discounted. He has performed like the first-rounder he was in 2009. Only tight end Keith Jackson had more catches in his first three seasons with the Eagles than Maclin, who had 189. Hello, free agency? Hello, franchise tag.

There is a different sort of pressure lurking, too.

The pressure of justification.

Running back LeSean McCoy and receiver DeSean Jackson demanded extensions. They got them. They must earn them.

Jackson, undefendable, will.

McCoy, very defendable, cannot.

The Eagles snatched left guard Evan Mathis back from free agency a year after Mathis had to make the team. With left tackle Jason Peters lost to injury, Mathis must earn his money and, ostensibly, play even better. He could.

But there is no telling if free-agent replacement Demetress Bell will be a viable replacement for Peters. Rest assured, Bell will not lack for commentary on his play; he will be a weekly focus.

He can ask second-year right guard Danny Watkins how that feels. Watkins, a first-round pick in 2011, lost the starting job in training camp last year and failed to crack the lineup until Game 5, and then only because veteran Kyle DeVan had played his way to the bench.

Suffocated by the pressure, Watkins' convivial demeanor turned taciturn by season's end. Nevertheless, Watkins was fine, and will be again.

Watkins will continue to be watched, but not like first-round rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox . . . who will be surrounded by oceans of talent and will thrive.

Or 2010 first-round defensive end Brandon Graham, who has been injured for most of his brief career, and will be used in specialty situations, to his benefit.

Or 2012 free-agent centerpiece DeMeco Ryans, himself coming off injuries and into a town desperate to love its middle linebacker. He cannot succeed. Too much will be asked.

Or second-round linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who unknowingly is charged with chasing the ghosts of second-round disappointments James Darling, Barry Gardner, Quinton Caver and Matt McCoy. These ghosts will haunt him.

Or Nnamdi Asomugha, the surprise signing of the 2011 offseason and the most dissected player in recent Eagles history. Asomugha played well enough, and will again.

But no one in green will suffer scrutiny like Juan Castillo.

Castillo begged to move from offensive-line coach to defensive coordinator before the 2011 season.

Remarkably, Reid obliged.

Predictably, Castillo failed.

Another failure and Castillo might never get another chance to coach defense.

Well, if memory serves, Castillo wasn't a great NFL offensive-line coach in his first chance at it, but he grew into the job. Brilliantly.

But still, so much pressure . . . for just one season.

It will be on them all the way to their NFC Championship Game appearance.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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