Published August 16, 2012
| Sports Network
Andy Reid is the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, but many wondered if 2011 would be his last with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Though Reid's 13-year run has exemplified consistent success, last season's 8-8 finish by the Eagles after an offseason of high spending following the lockout put his status in question.
There were a few bright spots in the performances of running back LeSean McCoy and defensive end Jason Babin, but there many rough patches as well. Quarterback Michael Vick struggled with turnovers at times and couldn't match his 2010 level of play, and a weak linebacker corps was exposed.
Reid and his staff have entered another training camp knowing there is plenty of work to do, and are banking that an entire offseason of practices could bring it all together.
Coming together couldn't have been more true when Reid's oldest son, Garrett, was found dead in his Lehigh University dorm room on August 5 after a long battle with drug addiction. The tragedy helped bring the Eagles closer as a unit, with the players showing support for their head coach with their prayers and actions.
Vick took it a step further by dedicating the 2012 season to Andy Reid's son.
"Our entire season will be dedicated to Garrett [Reid]," Vick said during camp. "I'm personally dedicating my season to coach and to my teammates. This season will be dedicated to Garrett starting [the day after his death]."
Reid was moved by the outpouring of support, especially from his quarterback.
"That's a humbling thing," Reid said of Vick's statement. "I'm pulling for Michael Vick because Michael and Garrett were close. They had gone through some of the same experiences as far as being incarcerated and so forth. They developed a bond there, and I respect Michael for that."
Whether the support will galvanize the team to greater lengths this season is unknown, but the Eagles will surely be wearing emotions on their sleeve. While Vick has vowed not to let his coach and team down, though his play for the Eagles last season was sometimes average at best. He had a career-high 14 interceptions a year ago and fumbled 10 times, losing four. Vick also missed three games because of injury and hasn't played a full season since 2006 -- his only 16-game campaign.
Even President Barack Obama chimed regarding Vick this summer, calling for the elusive quarterback to slide more often.
Philadelphia's offense shouldn't have much trouble moving the football with McCoy coming off a career year and a happy DeSean Jackson at wide receiver. Both inked new contracts in the offseason and have set the bar high for 2012.
The defense, however, learned on the fly last season after didn't have an opportunity to gel without OTA's and a full training camp. Perhaps it will be different in the group's second year under coordinator Juan Castillo.
One glaring weakness of Castillo's defense was the linebacker position, which seemed much like a turnstile last year with new faces coming and going.
Defensive line coach Jim Washburn instilled his "Wide-Nine" approach, which allowed Philadelphia to get to the quarterback but also left the defense susceptible to the run. The Eagles hope their acquisition of former Houston Texans captain and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans will shore up those issues.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Philadelphia Eagles, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 8-8 (tied 2nd, NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Green Bay in NFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Andy Reid (126-81-1 in 13 seasons)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Marty Mornhinweg (seventh season with Eagles)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Juan Castillo (18th season with Eagles, second as DC)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LeSean McCoy, RB (1309 rushing yards, 48 receptions, 20 total TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Jason Babin, DE (40 tackles, 18 sacks)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 4th overall (5th rushing, 9th passing), 8th scoring (24.8 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 8th overall (16th rushing, 10th passing), 10th scoring (20.5 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: LT Demetress Bell (from Bills), SLB Mychal Kendricks (2nd Round, California), MLB DeMeco Ryans (from Texans), P Mat McBriar (from Cowboys), C Steve Vallos (from Browns), DT Fletcher Cox (1st Round, Mississippi State), DE Vinny Curry (2nd Round, Marshall), OLB Adrian Moten (from Seahawks), CB Brandon Boykin (4th Round, Georgia), S Oshiomogho Atogwe (from Redskins)
KEY DEPARTURES: CB Asante Samuel (to Falcons), QB Vince Young (to Bills), RB Ronnie Brown (to Chargers), FB Owen Schmitt (to Raiders), WR Steve Smith (to Rams), C Jamaal Jackson (released), OT Winston Justice (to Colts), DE Juqua Parker (to Browns), DE Victor Abiamiri (free agent), DT Trevor Laws (to Rams), OLB Moise Fokou (to Colts)
QB: Vick (3,303 passing yards, 18 TD, 14 INT in 2011) enters his second full season as Philadelphia's starting quarterback, and a lot is riding on him to bring the Eagles back into the playoffs. His 84.9 passer rating last season was his lowest as an Eagle, while his lone rushing touchdown was far less than his nine-score total in 2010. Vick did pass for a career-high 3,303 yards a year ago, but registered a 59.8 completion percentage. He's still always a threat for the big play, but his somewhat fragile body could cost him a few games and the Eagles some wins. He also needs to read defenses better and have a stronger feel for playing in the pocket. Mike Kafka (107 passing yards, 2 INT) will again back up Vick, with veteran Trent Edwards and rookie Nick Foles (3rd Round, Arizona) fighting for the final quarterback spot.
RB: The Eagles haven't been known as a rushing team under Reid, but that could change after what they saw from McCoy (1309 rushing yards) last season. The Pro Bowl running back set a team record and led the NFL with 17 rushing scores and 20 total touchdowns, and hit the 100-yard mark in rushing six times in 15 tries while fumbling just once. McCoy also caught 48 passes for 315 yards and three scores. The Eagles are hoping he can keep it up, but also know defenses will be keying in on him every week. Vick obviously can run the ball when plays break down as well, while backup running back Dion Lewis (102 rushing yards, 1 TD) seems to have the offense down in his second season. Rookies Chris Polk and Bryce Brown (7th Round, Kansas State) and fullbacks Stanley Havili and Emil Igwenagu will battle for roster spots throughout camp and the preseason.
WR: Who knows how the Eagles would have been last season had Jackson (58 receptions, 4 TD) not let his contract issues dictate his play? The speedy wide receiver, who signed a new deal in the offseason and appears more happy, came up just short of a third straight 1,000-yard season and missed one game because he was benched for not showing up to a team meeting. The millions he just pocketed may help curb that type of behavior from now on. Jeremy Maclin (63 receptions, 5 TD) battled illness and injuries a season ago, but is arguably Philadelphia's most complete receiver. While Jackson can spread the defense with his speed, Maclin can take it across the middle with his bigger body and better hands. He also will be seeking a new deal soon and be aiming to have a breakout season for leverage. Maclin has never hit the 1,000-yard mark in his three-year career, but 2012 could be the year he does. Slot receiver Jason Avant (52 receptions, 1 TD) has the best hands on the team and is usually Vick's emergency outlet when plays break down. No. 4 receiver Riley Cooper (16 receptions, 1 TD) could miss the beginning of the season with a broken collarbone, which could enable rookie Marvin McNutt (6th Round, Iowa) to see some early action.
TE: Tight end Brent Celek (62 receptions, 5 TD) was more involved in the offense in 2011 and delivered a solid season. Formerly Kevin Kolb's favorite target before the ex-Eagles quarterback was dealt to Arizona, Celek is starting to become one of Vick's as well. Able to take advantage of slower linebackers on routes, he's also a vital blocking piece for both McCoy and in the passing game, where the offensive line struggled in protecting Vick last year. Backup Clay Harbor (13 receptions, 1 TD) is an admirable replacement for Celek and is often used in two-tight sets.
OL: When the Eagles learned that All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters would be lost for the season with a torn Achilles suffered during the spring, they immediately went shopping and nabbed free-agent Demetress Bell as his intended replacement. Whether Bell, a starter on the left side in Buffalo, will be used as a one-year rental remains to be seen, but at least the Eagles have a solid substitute for Peters. He's had to adjust to Philadelphia's different blocking schemes, but has otherwise had a solid camp. Bell is being pushed, however, by King Dunlap, who's entering his fifth season with the organization. Todd Herremans will play right tackle and has been a jack-of-all-trades along the o-line throughout his Eagles' career, while right guard Danny Watkins got better as the season went on during his rookie year of 2011 and Evan Mathis held it down on the left side, earning a big new contract in the offseason for his efforts. Second-year center Jason Kelce is a smart player and very mobile up front as well. A big reason for Philadelphia's improvement along the offensive line has been coach Howard Mudd, a savvy and experienced teacher who previously earned his keep from his days with Indianapolis. The line helped pave the way for McCoy's Pro Bowl season, but will need to protect Vick more, even though the scrambling quarterback can be impatient in the pocket.
DL: Babin (40 tackles, 18 sacks) has compiled 31 sacks over the past two seasons and brings a high motor to the left end spot, though he's not known for his run defense. He suffered a calf injury during training camp, but is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Trent Cole (44 tackles, 11 sacks) is Philadelphia's other Pro Bowl defensive end and was also rewarded with a new contract in the offseason. He and Babin combined for 29 sacks a year ago and should come close to that number if healthy in 2012. Backups Darryl Tapp (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Phillip Hunt (8 tackles, 2 sacks) and Brandon Graham are also expected to be a part of Washburn's rotation up front. Graham, a first-round pick in 2010, has the most to prove and is coming back from injury, hoping to avoid a bust label as a former high draft choice. Rookie Vinny Curry (2nd Round, Marshall) was slowed by an ankle setback in camp, but has a tremendous upside with his size and strength. Since the "Wide- Nine" approach can leave the middle open for opposing runners, the Eagles selected Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round of April's draft. Cox is a big body and could earn a starting nod alongside veteran Cullen Jenkins (40 tackles, 5.5 sacks). Those two, along with Antonio Dixon (4 tackles) and Derek Landri (21 tackles, 2 sacks), are the primary tackles for the Eagles with usual starter Mike Patterson (35 tackles, 2.5 sacks) still recovering from January brain surgery and possibly not available for the season.
LB: Jamar Chaney (92 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) led the Eagles in stops in 2011, but will lose his starting middle linebacker spot to Ryans (64 tackles), who came over from the Texans via a trade and is a proven run stopper who's previously been to the Pro Bowl. Ryans left a major void in the middle for Houston, but hopes to fill one with the Eagles. He wasn't as effective in the 3-4 defense the Texans switched last season, though an Achilles injury he sustained the year prior may have contributed to that as well, but is now back in a 4-3 setting he's more comfortable with. Ryans will most likely be starting in between Brian Rolle (54 tackles, 1 sack) and rookie Mychal Kendricks (2nd Round, California). Rolle has the speed to keep up with running backs and tight ends, while Kendricks was drafted for the same reason. It's also a good idea to have quick linebackers now that Philadelphia will be playing against Washington's Robert Griffin III twice a year. Rolle will be pushed by Chaney for the starting spot on the weakside, though. Casey Matthews (38 tackles, 1 sack) and Keenan Clayton (31 tackles) are young players that still have a lot to learn at this level, and figure to play sparingly on defense barring any injuries to the starters.
DB: The Eagles wanted to play press coverage in Castillo's first season, but that wasn't starting cornerback Asante Samuel's style, so they traded him to Atlanta for a seventh-round pick just prior to the draft. The move allows Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (28 tackles, 1 sack) to go back to his natural position instead of reluctantly playing in the slot, where he struggled last season. Rodgers-Cromartie enjoys playing on the ball and is a physical player that should be better suited to the switch. With his move back to the outside, veteran Joselio Hanson (30 tackles) will resume slot duties, though he'll get pushed by second-year pro Curtis Marsh and rookie Brandon Boykin (4th Round, Georgia). High-priced cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (40 tackles, 3 INT), the biggest of Philadelphia's free-agent signings last season, also played some slot last year, though he may be best off on the line against the opposing team's top wideouts. Asomugha is a four-time Pro Bowler who uses all areas of the field to his advantage. With a full offseason and training camp under his belt, he's expected to rebound after what was viewed as a down first season with the Eagles. Safety has been an issue for the Eagles ever since Brian Dawkins started to decline, and this a make-or-break year for projected starters Nate Allen (59 tackles, 2 INT), and Kurt Coleman (78 tackles, 4 INT). Second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett (17 tackles) has the ability to stand out from the pack at safety, but his slow development has the Eagles hoping they didn't waste a second-round pick on the Temple product. Veteran O.J. Atogwe (60 tackles, 3 INT) joined the team in the offseason and lends insurance on the back end.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Alex Henery replaced fan favorite David Akers a year ago and made 24-of-27 field goal attempts. He was 4-for-4 from 40-49 yards out and 10-for-10 between 20-29 yards. Henery doesn't have the strongest of legs, but showed himself to be very accurate. Punter Chas Henry boomed 66 punts for an average of 42.9 yards and landed 19 inside the 20-yard line during his rookie season, though his job is in jeopardy after the team signed ex-Cowboy Mat McBriar (43.8 avg.) just before the start of camp. Lewis returned 31 kickoffs for a 21.6 average in 2011, but may lose that job to rookie Boykin, a standout return man at Georgia. Jackson averaged just 6.7 yards on his 17 punt returns, and since is one of the Eagles' top weapons on offense, may only be called on in emergency situations as a returner. Rookie Damaris Johnson could be the new primary punt returner if he raises eyebrows in preseason and Maclin has experience at the job as well, though he's in the same situation as Jackson.
PROGNOSIS: Eagles coaches are grateful to have an entire offseason and training camp to get what departed quarterback Vince Young infamously dubbed as the "Dream Team" back in order. Vick got caught up with his confidence as well, however, by labeling the team as a potential dynasty during the summer. He's the quarterback, and how Vick goes, so go the Eagles. Philadelphia had a top 10 offense and top 10 defense, and finished last season on a four-game winning streak. Will that propel the Eagles to new heights and 10-plus wins in 2012? It could, but questions still surround Castillo's defense and his ability to run it. Remember, the Eagles play in a tough NFC East, though they did go a dominant 5-1 inside the division last season, and have dangerous teams such as Baltimore, Detroit and Carolina on the schedule that could prevent getting back to the postseason. Philadelphia still looks like a threat to post double-digit wins, though that may not be enough to prevent the team from missing the playoffs for a second straight year.