Published August 25, 2011
| Sports Network
Christened by many as the "Dream Team", and by one bitter Hype Team", the Philadelphia Eagles did not conceal the fact that they're going the extra mile to try to win it all this season.
The Eagles' intention every year is to win the Super Bowl, but this offseason had a bit more flair than past ones in the team's quest to meet that goal. The surplus of talented free agents acquired by the organization has the City of Brotherly Love overflowing with optimism that this could finally be the year the Vince Lombardi Trophy takes a tour through downtown Philadelphia.
Title starved since 1960, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and president Joe Banner worked aggressively in a short amount of time following the end of the NFL lockout to give the team a makeover Maybelline would be jealous of.
The first order of business was to trade backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft. Kolb was supposed to be the heir apparent to Donovan McNabb, but lost his starting job following a concussion in last year's season opener that opened the door for Michael Vick's amazing comeback campaign.
Philadelphia also needed to shore up its defensive backfield, and did so in a big way by landing Rodgers-Cromartie and making a deal out of the woodwork for former Oakland Raiders stud cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The two cover men join Pro Bowl honoree Asante Samuel in the secondary, giving the Eagles a trio of starters opposing teams around the league would die to have and not necessarily want to throw against.
"We have three good cornerbacks," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. "It reminds me a little bit of when we had [Pro Bowl cornerbacks] Al [Harris], Troy [Vincent] and Bobby Taylor [in the early 2000's]."
The Eagles weren't done making changes on the defensive side of the ball, however, with the additions of defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and end Jason Babin also among the team's flurry of moves. They will join a defensive front that has been headlined by standout end Trent Cole through the years and will be now coached by the well-respected Jim Washburn, who jumped ship from Tennessee to help Reid's front line.
Reid said he was thrilled to add Washburn, considered to be one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL, to the mix, and the Eagles believe it was the right choice as well.
Philadelphia also made another major change in the coaching department during the offseason, firing defensive coordinator Sean McDermott following a year in which the Eagles gave up a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes and ranked last in the league in red zone defense. Those are the type of numbers Super Bowl contenders could do without, so the Eagles found a replacement from within by moving offensive line coach Juan Castillo into McDermott's old position.
Castillo's hire was seen as a surprise, but he had worked diligently and closely with the late Jim Johnson -- the team's longtime DC prior to McDermott -- and knows a thing or two about scheming for both sides. The move was met with a more favorable reaction among the league's circle of coaches, with Rams head man and former Eagles assistant Steve Spagnuolo -- whose team hosts the Eagles in Week 1 of the regular season -- applauding Reid's decision.
"Great move by Coach Reid," Spagnuolo said. "Juan is a football junkie who has always studied the entire game. He's a detailed, aggressive, and passionate football coach - all attributes vital to coaching defense."
Defense was an issue for the Eagles in their loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in last January's NFC Wild Card Playoffs, though Philadelphia still managed to record a 10-6 record in the regular season and win the NFC East title, while advancing to the postseason for the third straight year.
Vick's resurgence on the field was a major factor in Philadelphia accomplishing that goal. The one-time incarcerated star now enters his first season as the team's starter under center, and will have a plethora of talent around him. Topping that list is wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who curbed his displeasure about not getting a new contract extension by ending a brief holdout that kept him away from the team during the early stages of camp.
Jackson, of course, had the highlight of the Eagles' 2010 season when he returned a punt for a memorable game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Philadelphia Eagles, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2010 RECORD: 10-6 (1st, NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Green Bay in NFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Andy Reid (118-73-1 in 12 seasons)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Marty Mornhinweg (sixth season with Eagles)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Juan Castillo (17th season with Eagles, first as DC)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Michael Vick, QB (3018 passing yards, 21 TD, 6 INT; 676 rushing yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (19 tackles with Raiders)
2010 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 2nd overall (5th rushing, 9th passing), 3rd scoring (27.4 ppg)
2010 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 12th overall (15th rushing, tied 14th passing), tied 21st scoring (23.6 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: OG Danny Watkins (1st Round, Baylor), OT Ryan Harris (from Broncos), DE Jason Babin (from Titans), DT Cullen Jenkins (from Packers), MLB Casey Matthews (4th Round, Oregon), CB Nnamdi Asomugha (from Raiders), K Alex Henery (4th Round, Nebraska), P Chas Henry (free agent, Florida), QB Vince Young (from Titans), RB Ronnie Brown (from Dolphins), WR Steve Smith (from Giants), WR Johnnie Lee Higgins (from Raiders), TE Donald Lee (from Packers), C Jason Kelce (6th Round, Cincinnati), OG Evan Mathis (from Bengals), DE Chris Wilson (from Redskins), DT Anthony Hargrove (from Saints), DT Derek Landri (from Panthers), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (from Cardinals), S Jarrad Page (from Patriots)
KEY DEPARTURES: OG Max Jean-Gilles (to Bengals), MLB Stewart Bradley (to Cardinals), OLB Ernie Sims (to Colts), CB Dimitri Patterson (to Browns), S Quintin Mikell (to Rams), K David Akers (to 49ers), P Sav Rocca (to Redskins), QB Kevin Kolb (to Cardinals), RB Jerome Harrison (to Lions), FB Leonard Weaver (released), OG Nick Cole (not tendered), DT Brodrick Bunkley (to Broncos), MLB Omar Gaither (to Panthers), CB Ellis Hobbs (retired)
QB: Under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Vick passed for a career-high 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2010, while being intercepted just six times and displaying the skill it takes to run Philadelphia's West Coast offense. Previously labeled as a scrambling quarterback with an unorthodox style of play, Vick settled down and learned what it takes to run Reid's scheme, and it paid off with the best season of the veteran's career. Vick was franchised by the Eagles in the offseason and expects to sign a contract extension with the team in the near future. He still needs to prove he can stay healthy, though, as the elusive Virginia Tech product hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2006 and can be prone to injury due to his frequency of escaping the pocket. The Eagles could have kept Kolb as a backup, but he wanted out as soon as Vick took his job in Week 1. In his place will be former Titans starter and NCAA champion Vince Young, the one who coined the now-phrase "Dream Team" moniker upon his signing. He's still trying to get up to speed in learning the offense, but gives the club a very talented No. 2 quarterback. No changes were made at the third-string spot, where Mike Kafka is back in the fold for his second season.
RB: The Eagles were fifth in rushing offense last season thanks in part to a breakout performance from LeSean McCoy (1,080 rushing yards, 7 TD) in his second season in the league. The shifty running back recorded 207 carries and also hauled in 78 passes for 592 yards and two more scores, cementing himself as a vital piece to the Philadelphia offense and a worthy replacement for successor Brian Westbrook. This is McCoy's backfield, but just in case the former University of Pittsburgh star needs a breather, he now has accomplished veteran Ronnie Brown (734 rushing yards, 5 TD with Dolphins) to back him up. Brown was also acquired during the Eagles' busy offseason spree and has similar skills to McCoy, but more bulk at 230 pounds. He can also catch passes in the flats, as he showed by compiling 242 yards on 33 receptions with Miami last season. The No. 2 overall pick by the Dolphins in the 2005 draft, Brown will serve as a proven change of pace back for the Eagles. Philadelphia also drafted McCoy's replacement in college with the fifth-round selection of Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis, whose presence could be returnee Eldra Buckley an odd man out. Owen Schmitt (19 receptions) is back at fullback after replacing 2009 All-Pro Leonard Weaver, who sustained a major leg injury in Week 1 of last season and was released over the summer.
WR/TE: Jackson (47 receptions, 1056 yards, 6 TD) is one of the most explosive players in the league and a big piece to the Eagles' offense. The speedy wideout is also a big threat on punt returns, as the Giants can attest to after he capped Philadelphia's memorable come-from-behind win over New York last December with a dynamic last-second runback for a touchdown. Jackson will line up opposite Jeremy Maclin (70 receptions) once the latter is able to get back to full strength. Maclin sat out the majority of the preseason after losing a lot of weight due to an illness he contracted back in the spring, but led the Eagles with 10 touchdown receptions in 2010 and serves as a nice complement to Jackson when healthy. That figures to be a major question mark throughout the season, however. McCoy led the Eagles with 78 receptions for 592 yards, while the offense also sports another good weapon in slot receiver Jason Avant (51 receptions, 1 TD), whom Reid noted during training camp has the best hands on the team. The Eagles would like to use him more in the red zone due to his soft mitts and ability to get open, and the club is also hoping Riley Cooper (7 receptions, 1 TD) can take a step forward in his second season. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he provides a big target for Vick. Former Giants standout receiver Steve Smith (48 receptions, 3 TD) was added for insurance, as he may not be ready for the start of the season while recovering from microfracture knee surgery. Tight end Brent Celek (42 receptions, 4 TD) was Kolb's favorite target and a very good receiver, but was a bit lost in the mix when Vick took over. The Eagles plan to utilize him more in 2011.
OL: Another offseason overhaul was done to the offensive line, as Reid lured former Indianapolis Colts line coach Howard Mudd out of retirement and the bearded veteran coach has instilled a new philosophy that differed from that of Castillo. There are some questions that need to be answered during the preseason, as to who will start at center or right tackle. Jamaal Jackson, the team's usual regular in the middle, is coming off a season cut short due to injury, and Mudd has been impressed with rookie Jason Kelce (6th Round, Cincinnati) at that position. Ex-Bronco Ryan Harris, another free-agent signing, could supplant Winston Justice as Vick's blind-side protector at right tackle, but has to stay healthy first. The left side is much more settled, as Todd Herremans will once again start at guard and Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters won't lose his job anytime soon. The combination of Peters and Herremans helped McCoy turn in a breakout year in 2010. The Eagles used their first-round pick in April's draft to select guard Danny Watkins out of Baylor, and the former fireman has a lot to learn before the season begins. He's still slated to start at right guard. Tackle King Dunlap and Mike McGlynn, who replaced Jackson at center last season, serve as reliable backups along a front that allowed 50 sacks a season ago, including 34 when Vick was under center.
DL: Washburn's in-your-face tactics may not work with other teams around the league, but Babin (58 tackles) bought into his scheme while with the Titans last season with the Titans. The former first-round pick, who spent the 2009 campaign with Philadelphia before joining Tennessee, recorded a career-best 12 1/2 sacks a year ago under Washburn's tutelage, and the Eagles liked what they saw and signed him to a five-year deal. Babin will still play second fiddle to Cole (65 tackles, 10 sacks), who has recorded double digits in sacks in two straight and three of the past four seasons, while former starter Juqua Parker (22 tackles, 6 sacks) is also back to supply depth. With the skill at the ends and the addition of the talented cornerbacks, a Philadelphia pass rush that was inconsistent last season should be more intense in 2011. The Eagles also got quicker inside with the additions of Jenkins (18 tackles, 7 sacks), former Saint Anthony Hargrove (29 tackles, 1 sack), ex-Panther Derek Landri (43 tackles, 3 sacks) and CFL import Phillip Hunt, while veterans Antonio Dixon (30 tackles, 2 sacks) and Mike Patterson (38 tackles, 2 sacks) are back in the fold as well. Patterson suffered a scary moment when he suffered a seizure in training camp, but should still be ready for the regular season after undergoing treatment for the conditions. Jenkins will replace Brodrick Bunkley, who was dealt to Denver among the renovations, while second-year end Brandon Graham (13 tackles, 3 sacks) will likely open the year on the PUP list while recovering from an ACL tear he suffered last season. Philadelphia would like to improve against the run after finishing 15th in that category a season ago.
LB: The biggest and most concerning aspect regarding Castillo's new-look defense is the linebackers. The team hasn't been a surplus of talent at that position since Seth Joyner, Byron Evans and William Thomas ran the show in the 1990's, and three key members of last year's group (Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims and Omar Gaither) are all gone. Bradley played in the middle until being replaced at the end of last season by then-rookie Jamar Chaney (42 tackles), who did a decent job in coverage and is expected to start at the strongside position this year. Rookie Casey Matthews, a fourth-round pick out of Oregon, has impressed the staff so much he may earn immediate top billing in the middle, though the youngster still has plenty to learn and Castillo may be taking a big risk asking Matthews to call the shots as a fresh-faced rookie. Moise Fokou (51 tackles, 1 sack) should get the first chance to start on the weak side, while both Akeem Jordan (17 tackles) and Keenan Clayton will rotate often. Matthews was one of three rookie linebackers drafted back in April, joining Brian Rolle (6th Round, Ohio State) and Greg Lloyd (7th Round, Connecticut). The Eagles were hurt early and often in the middle of the defense last season, and will be hoping all their recent moves quickly pay off in a big way.
DB: Not too many quarterbacks throw Asomugha's way, as evidenced by the mere three interceptions he's come up with in the past four years. The former Raider had a career-high eight interceptions in 2006, however, and has been named an All-Pro in four of his eight NFL seasons. Asomugha's defection to the Eagles caught the NFL by surprise, with the New York Jets and Dallas considered the front-runners to land the coveted free agent. Now Asomugha will line up against the Cowboys twice a year after reportedly inking a five-year deal worth $60 million. Samuel (27 tackles, 7 INT) wasn't too pleased with the additions of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, fearing he may be relegated to a nickel role, but sucked it up and showed up to training camp on time. If the Eagles are offered something nice in return for Samuel in the weeks leading up to the regular season, don't be surprised if they pull the trigger. He's a proven playmaker, having recorded six of more picks in four of the last five seasons, and though he tends to gamble a bit, still ranks as one of the top corners in the game. Rodgers-Cromartie (44 tackles, 3 INT) can make plays as well, having amassed 13 picks in his first three years in the league. At safety, Nate Allen (48 tackles, 3 INT) missed some time with a knee injury in 2010 and has spent the preseason trying to get back to strength, while second-year man Kurt Coleman (36 tackles, 1 INT) is expected to start at free safety following the free-agent departure of Quintin Mikell. Veteran safety Jarrad Page (12 tackles, 2 INT with Patriots), nickel back Joselio Hanson (31 tackles, 1 INT), young corner Trevard Lindley and rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (2nd Round, Temple) are all ticketed for reserve spots in a deep secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: After 12 successful seasons in Philadelphia, kicker David Akers was not re-signed over the summer and was quickly scooped up by the 49ers. The left-footed kicker holds numerous Eagles franchise records, including most field goals and extra points, and purchased a billboard to thank Philadelphia fans for all their support during his tenure. Now the job belongs to rookie Alex Henery, who was drafted out of Nebraska in the fourth round, and the youngster will be feeling a lot of pressure on a team with high expectations. He may be able to handle it, though, after scoring 397 career points on 68- of-76 field goal attempts (89.5 percent) with the Huskers and finishing his college career as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. Punter Sav Rocca is also gone, joining the Redskins, and the Eagles will go with another rookie there in Chas Henry, who won the Ray Guy Award given to the nation's top punter last year with Florida. Former Raider Johnnie Lee Higgins will return kickoffs and DeSean Jackson is slated to remain as the team's top punt returner. Jon Dorenbos, who doubles as a magician away from the game, is back to man the long snapper job.
PROGNOSIS: Can Vick regain last season's form that landed him Comeback Player of the Year honors? Will new defensive coordinator Castillo succeed in his new role after several years as an offensive line coach? Those are just some of the topics of concern for the Eagles heading into the 2011 campaign. On paper this team has all the potential to make a deep run into the playoffs, but that doesn't mean anything if there's not a cohesive philosophy among all the new faces. The Eagles still have several dangerous weapons on offense and added a few more on defense this offseason. Whether it all comes together remains to be seen for a team pegged by many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Of course, injuries and chemistry issues could conceivably derail those aspirations and leave Philadelphia scrambling for a cure.