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2011 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterbacks

Starter: Michael Vick
Backup(s): Vince Young, Mike Kafka

Starting QB: Two years ago Michael Vick was a curiosity, as the Eagles signed him to a low cost, incentive laden contract. Vick ended up being used occasionally as a gimmick QB but wasn't an impact player. Last offseason, with the trade of Donovan McNabb, Vick was elevated to the QB2 role behind Kevin Kolb, but ended up getting into the first game after Kolb was concussed. The rest is history. Vick went on to redefine expectations as he combined his long established rushing prowess with a newfound ability to throw the ball. Vick set career highs with 233 completions, 3,108 yards, 21 TD passes and only 6 interceptions. Were it not for Tom Brady's amazing year, many felt Vick was the league MVP. The Eagles agreed to a long-term extension with Vick that would pay him upwards of $100 million, with $40 million guaranteed. This will be the first offseason that Vick will get the majority of reps. As long as he can stay healthy, he projects as one of the league's most productive QBs.

Backup QB: Kevin Kolb was traded to Arizona for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round pick, and the Eagles moved quickly to replace him with Vince Young. Young, the former Titans starter and 3rd overall pick, is hoping to follow Michael Vick's footsteps. If all goes well, Young will rebuild his reputation and refine his passing touch under Andy Reid with an eye toward re-gaining a starting job somewhere else in 2012. The third string role is once again Mike Kafka's domain. Kafka, drafted out of Northwestern a season ago, is a smart QB with a quick release, but is more of a game manager in the mold of previous Andy Reid proteges like A.J. Feeley and Koy Detmer.

Running Backs

Starter: LeSean McCoy
Backup(s): Ronnie Brown, Dion Lewis [R]
Fullback(s): Owen Schmitt

Starting RB: LeSean McCoy wasn't awe inspiring as a rookie, but he proved in his 2nd season that the Eagles were right to draft him as Brian Westbrook's replacement. As the full-time starter, McCoy racked up 1,672 yards from scrimmage (1080 rushing/592 receiving) and 9 touchdowns. McCoy not only led all NFL runners with 78 receptions, he led the NFL in yards after the catch. At just 23 years old, McCoy is an explosive, cornerstone of the Eagles young, potent offense. He runs with great balance and patience, and is capable of running up inside or hitting a home run. There are few RBs that are a better fit for Reid's pass happy attack.

Backup RBs: The Eagles were fortuitous in their pursuit of a backup to McCoy, landing Ronnie Brown to an inexpensive 1-year contract. Brown, a former Top 5 pick and starter in Miami, struggled with injuries and will now serve as a safety valve for the contending Eagles. When healthy, Brown has the size, speed and vision to produce big numbers. The Eagles drafted Dion Lewis out of Pittsburgh, who happened to be LeSean McCoy's replacement in college and now will back him up at the pro level. The question for Lewis is whether he can add some bulk to a 5'6", 190 pound frame. He's got the willingness to run hard up the middle, and he has all the moves you want from a tailback, but at some point we can't pretend that size doesn't matter.

Fullback: Owen Schmitt was a plodder but worked hard last year, and knows his role as a battering ram for the talented trio of tailbacks lining up in the backfield with him.

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin
Backups: Steve Smith, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper

Starting WRs: DeSean Jackson only caught 47 receptions last year, down from 63 in 2009. Yet, he somehow managed to notch a 1,000-yard season on those 47 catches thanks to averaging an astounding 22.5 yards per catch. There is no one at the position with as much explosiveness as Jackson, and few defensive backs can afford to play him tight. That said, Jackson missed time last year with a number of maladies, and many observers thought he stopped running effective crossing routes last year after a concussion. The Eagles need Jackson to evolve into a more well rounded receiver, versus just the league's best deep threat. It was 2nd year Jeremy Maclin who actually led the receiving corp in receptions (70) and TDs (10). Maclin isn't as explosive as Jackson, but has emerged as a reliable outlet who makes seemingly impossible catches in tight coverage. The fact he's only turning 23 this year and has already started 29 games, bodes well for the future of this passing offense, provided he makes a full recovery from the mystery illness which has sidelined him in camp.

Backup WRs: The Eagles offseason frenzy birthed a new receiving option in Steve Smith -- who just two years ago was Eli Manning's favorite target and a thorn in the Eagles side. Smith is coming off microfracture surgery, but returned to practice a few weeks before the season. The Eagles guaranteed him $2mm and are clearly expecting a major contribution from the sharp route-runner, as either a potent #3 or an exemplary injury replacement if need be. Jason Avant returns for another go around, and may be the league's best #4 receiver. Avant is physical, and doesn't shy away from contact. He might start for a number of NFL teams if given the opportunity. Riley Cooper only caught 7 receptions for 116 yards as a rookie, but was quickly inserted into the 4-WR rotation and looks able to carry a bigger load if injuries open up the opportunity.

Tight Ends

Starters: Brent Celek
Backups: Clay Harbor

Celek didn't put up eye popping numbers last year (42 receptions for 511 yards and 4 TDs) but he was a fixture in the lineup and greatly improved his blocking. Once thought of as a stop gap, Celek is now part of the young nucleus this team is building around. Celek was one of Michael Vick's favorite targets on 3rd and long a year ago, and he'll continue to provide that safety valve in the middle of the field. Clay Harbor has shown more in practice than on Sundays so far, but the coaches love his progress and believe he's capable of a major role when the opportunit arises.

Place Kicker

Alex Henery [R] : The David Akers era is over, and the Alex Henery Era is set to begin. The Eagles drafted the big legged kicker from Nebraska, and he will be given every opportunity to lock down the place-kicking job in 2011 and beyond. Rookie kickers can be risky bets, and this is a team with lofty expectations, so early season struggles could result in a quick hook. Magician / long snapper Jon Dorenbos is still around, but kicker David Akers and punter/holder Sav Rocca are gone via free agency. Their roles will be filled by a pair of highly touted rookies. The Eagles drafted the top rated kicker in this year's class, Alex Henery out of Nebraska. He is the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. They also signed undrafted punter Chas Henry from Florida. He won the Ray Guy Award last year. Special teams coordinator Bobby April noted, "They've both been in high-pressure situations, and they have not succumbed to any pressure at this point, and we don't expect they will at any point. That's the good thing about their background.... we're very happy we have them." Henery steps into a nice situation, as the eagles have ranked either 1st or 2nd in attempted kicking points each of the past three years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Dion Lewis, Ronnie Brown

Punt Returners: DeSean Jackson

The Eagles parted ways with all three potential return specialists -- Johnnie Lee Higgins, Sinorice Moss and Chad Hall. The team looks to start the season with star WR DeSean Jackson as the primary punt returner and veteran RB Ronnie Brown and rookie RB Dion Lewis handling kickoff returns.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jason Peters, LG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce [R], RG Danny Watkins [R], RT Todd Herremans
Key Backups: OG Julian Vendervelde, OG Kyle DeVan, OT Winston Justice, OT King Dunlap

The Eagles keep tweaking the offensive line trying to recapture the formula that worked so well in Andy Reid's early tenure. Importantly, the Eagles hired Howard Mudd to coach the line this year, as Juan Castillo have been promoted to defensive coordinator. Mudd has a long history of success, but has typically preferred more agile linemen than road graders. Left tackle remains set with Jason Peters, but the rest of the line has been changed. Rookie 1st rounder Danny Watkins will start immediately on the right side, while the left guard spot is manned by free agent veteran Evan Mathis. Todd Herremans, last year's starting LG, has been moved to RT (his position in college). The biggest surprise is rookie Jason Kelce's elevation to starting center at the expense of long-time starter Jamaal Jackson.

Team Defense

The Eagles defense is going to be different this year - and that is not necessarily a bad thing. For years under Jim Johnson, and then coaches that followed his teachings such as Sean McDermott last year, the Eagles were a blitzing defense that attempted to disrupt the offensive line and the pocket to force turnovers while leaving good corners alone on islands in the secondary. Philadelphia struggled to keep up that method for the last few seasons, including 2010 where the defensive backs were a weakness especially in nickel coverage. To try and improve their odds of getting off of the field on third downs and to combat 11 personnel, the Eagles moved Juan Castillo from OL coach to defensive coordinator before the draft and orchestrated a key trade for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to improve their starting corners -- but that was just the beginning. The Eagles continued to sign players throughout the free agency frenzy, adding the biggest free agent in CB Nnamdi Asomugha to give the Eagles three top flight corners (along with Asante Samuel), making them an overnight tough passing defense. Additions of Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins improved their front four depth, leaving their biggest weakness the linebacking corps, a perennial problem for the Eagles. Should teams break through the defensive line with a powerful ground game then it will be tough for Philadelphia to slow down strong running teams.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Trent Cole, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson, DE Jason Babin
Backups: DT Trevor Laws, DT Antonio Dixon, DE Darryl Tapp, DE Juqua Parker, DE Phillip Hunt

Starting DL: The Eagles had two big problems last season -- stuffing the run in the middle and finding another pass rusher opposite of Trent Cole. Philadelphia hopes to have solved those issues via free agency with the additions of DE Jason Babin and DT/DE Cullen Jenkins. Babin returns to the Eagles after a breakout year in Tennessee to work again with his defensive line coach from last year (Jim Washburn). Babin will not play every snap but when he is in, look for him to create a pass rush on the left side opposite of Trent Cole. Cullen Jenkins joined the Eagles after several years in Green Bay, giving Philadelphia a big presence in the middle and positional versatility in that Jenkins can also move out to defensive end. Mike Patterson will remain in the middle despite a training camp scare where he had a seizure in practice and learned that he has a "tangle of blood vessels" in his brain, which sounds extremely scary but apparently Patterson can manage the condition and should be fine.

Backup DL: One key holdover from previous seasons is that the Eagles love to rotate their defensive linemen to keep them fresh. Only Trent Cole rarely leaves the field, affording plenty of playing time to the depth players. Antonio Dixon, a surprisingly effective part-time starter last year, will rotate inside often, while Juqua Parker -- a long-time starter at DE -- will adopt a part-time role in 2011. Darryl Tapp has shown flashes at defensive end, but he lacks consistency to put up solid performances and now has three ends in front of him. Trevor Laws has locked down the 4th DT slot.

Linebackers

Starters: Moise Fokou (W), Casey Matthews (M), Jamar Chaney (S)
Backups: Keenan Clayton (W), Akeem Jordan (S), Brian Rolle

Starting LBs: If you were looking for the biggest hole in the Philadelphia team defense, look no further. Teams will be looking to expose the youth and inexperience at linebacker for the Eagles, who currently have rookie Casey Matthews (the younger brother of Green Bay's Clay) as the middle linebacker. That is a big role for a rookie in any year, but even bigger with an abbreviated preseason schedule. Joining Matthews at starting roles are Jamar Chaney at the strong side ("Sam") linebacker spot and Moise Fokou at the weak side ("Will") position. Rumors are out there that the Eagles will use more of a three-cornerback / nickel base defense, leaving only Chaney and Matthews at linebacker. Matthews is the only three down linebacker on the team as he remains on the field even in dime packages.

Backup LBs: Given Philadelphia's woes in the past at linebacker and the usual team need for them on special teams units, expect at least three backups to make the final roster. Keenan Clayton can play all three linebacker positions, and Akeem Jordan is not far behind Clayton in his versatility. The third spot goes to rookie Brian Rolle.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Asante Samuel, SS Jarrad Page, FS Kurt Coleman
Backups: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, S Nate Allen, S Jaiquawn Jarrett, CB Trevard Lindley, CB Curtis Marsh, CB Brandon Hughes, S Colt Anderson

Starting DBs: The Eagles stole the free agency show by signing the biggest name out there in Nnamdi Asomugha away from Oakland -- and also the New York Jets. Apparently Philadelphia is a top destination for free agents, but the Eagles also acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kevin Kolb trade with Arizona, making them three deep at "starting cornerback". That may sound like a crowd, but Philadelphia plays many teams that often use 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). Last year the Eagles had a huge hole at nickel cornerback, but that is not a problem with three stud corners this year. Safety is another story, as the Eagles are moving on from the Quintin / Quintin duo of Mikell and Demps from last year. Free agent Jarrad Page outplayed Nate Allen (who is still recovering from last year's injury) and will start as strong safety while Kurt Coleman mans free safety. The Eagles typically do not use "free" and "strong" safeties, instead using both interchangeably -- but that is based on previous defenses. It remains to be seen if there will be a 50-50 split for each safety playing up in the box or back in coverage this year.

Backup DBs: Rookie S Jarrett has drawn comparisons to former Eagle Brian Dawkins for his ability to deliver big hits, and is viewed as the long-time starter alongside Nate Allen. Trevard Lindley outlasted everyone else in a spirited camp battle to secure the 4th CB slot -- making Joselio Hanson expendable.

Last modified: 2011-09-05 16:22:57

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