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2006 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Donovan McNabb
Backup(s): A.J. Feeley, Kevin Kolb [R], Kelly Holcomb

Starting QB: At this point in his career, there are two certainties about Donovan McNabb. One, when he's healthy he is among the league's elite signal callers; having shown steady improvement in his completion percentage and ability to read defenses while maintaining his propensity to limit turnovers. Two, he has difficulty staying healthy. McNabb has failed to finish the season three of the last five seasons, including last year when a torn ACL caused him to miss the team's final X games and its playoff run.

Backup QB:

Running Backs

Starter: Brian Westbrook
Backup(s): Correll Buckhalter, Ryan Moats, Tony Hunt [R]
Fullback(s): Thomas Tapeh

Starting RB: Brian Westbrook entered the 2005 season unhappy. He felt, after his breakthrough 2004 season, he deserved a new contract but the Eagles and his agent appeared far apart. Despite his unhappiness, Westbrook came to camp ready to contribute, which was a good thing considering he’s the team’s most versatile and explosive offensive weapon. While not the kind of back that will give you 300+ carries and grind out the clock, Westbrook is always a big play waiting to happen who can contribute 100+ yards from scrimmage game in, game out. He’s caught 134 receptions in the last two seasons, to go along with 10 receiving touchdowns. His route-running ability and open field vision make him an impossible matchup for opposing linebackers when lined up in the slot or out wide. Rewarded with a new multi-year contract last season, the only issue with Westbrook is health. In four seasons, he’s yet to play a full 16-game slate; including missing four games last year. Presuming he can shake off his latest injury (a sprained left foot), Westbrook should rank among the NFC’s best tailbacks in total yardage and be at the top of his position in terms of receiving yards and receptions.

Backup RBs: Ryan Moats is, in many ways, a Brian Westbrook clone. Moats, too, lacks ideal size (5’9”, 208 lbs.) and played at a small school (Louisiana Tech). Unlike Westbrook, Moats isn’t a natural receiver (four receptions in seven games last year), but did look explosive at times with the ball in his hands. Averaging better than five years a carry, Moats will be given the chance to expand on his role from a season ago. As difficult as it may be to fathom, Correll Buckhalter is embarking on his third comeback from major knee surgery. It was only a season ago when Buckhalter was rehabbing from his second torn ACL, and now he’s coming back from a third. Shockingly, Buckhalter has not only played in the preseason, but played well enough to break camp as the team's RB2. The Eagles continue to leave their options open, having interviewed Stephen Davis in August; but Buckhalter may be the surprise contributor particularly in the early going.

Fullback: Thomas Tapeh is the nominal fullback on the roster, but played sparingly last season and failed to show an ability to make plays as a receiver.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis
Backups: Hank Baskett, Greg Lewis, Jason Avant, Bethel Johnson

Starting WRs: The Eagles receiving corps lacks star power, something not altogether unwelcome given the maddening drama that was Terrell Owens. With Owens out of the picture, second-year receiver Reggie Brown is thrust into the role of the team’s top pass catcher. Brown played well in a limited role last year but must make a major leap forward in order to return the Eagles to prominence. He’s by far the team’s most well-rounded returning pass catcher, having good size and speed to go along the best hands on the team. After spending much of training camp starting undrafted rookie Hank Baskett alongside Brown, the Eagles traded for Donte Stallworth who will assuredly become a starter as soon as Stallworth absorbs the detailed playbook. Stallworth, coming off his best season in New Orleans, was persona non grata with the Saints new coaching staff and became available. Stallworth, who possesses rare physical ability, has been inconsistent at times during his career but brings a familiarity with the West Coast offense. He's unquestionably a better option than anyone on the Eagles roster prior to the trade.

Backup WRs: Jabar Gaffney is the Eagles most experience backup, coming over from Houston where he was a part-tim starter. He was hardly the sexy free agent signing Eagles fans had hoped for, but Eagles management believes he was underutilized in Houston. Gaffney is a possession receiver (11.7 career yards per catch), but is sure-handed and willing to make plays over the middle. Greg Lewis, last year’s nominal starter, returns to the backup role he's more suited for. The surprise of training camp has been the play of Hank Baskett, an undrafted free agent from New Mexico. Baskett, too, lacks speed but has showed an uncanny understanding of the nuances of the position. He got valuable experience as a "starter" in camp and could not only make the roster, but could be part of the rotation. Rookie Jason Avant is yet another possession receiver and could figure into the team’s plans in a year or two.

Tight Ends

Starters: L.J. Smith
Backups: Matt Schobel

L.J. Smith acquitted himself well in his first season as the Eagle’s top tight end. His 61 receptions tied for the team lead, while his blocking improved by leaps and bounds. Smith’s principle value is as a pass catcher, and the team will need him to produce more than last year’s three touchdowns if the Eagles hope to re-establish themselves after a disappointing 6-10 year. The backup situation is on solid footing with the offseason acquisition of Matt Schobel. Schobel, a four-year veteran, may not be a major offensive force (18 receptions last year) but is a powerful in-line blocker and will see the field often.

Place Kicker

David Akers : After five straight years in the top ten in kicker scoring, the Eagles fell to 23rd last year. Akers had his own problems, missing four games due to injury. Even before getting hurt, he uncharacteristically missed field goals. He finished the year 16 of 22 (72.7%), after having ranged from 82.8% to 88.2% the previous five years. After hitting a stellar 17 of 21 from 40+ yards in 2004, he was only 6 of 11 last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jeremy Bloom, Bethel Johnson

RB Bruce Perry looked good in the two games he played (10 returns, 27.3 avg.) last year, and entered training camp as the leading candidate for the job. CB Roderick Hood led the Eagles in kickoff returns last year with 38 returns (23.7 avg), but will likely be more involved on defense and less on returns this year. Hood stepped into that role when safety J.R. Reed, their top KR in 2004, suffered a severe leg injury during an off-season fence climbing accident. Olympic skier and fifth round draft pick WR Jeremy Bloom was stripped of NCAA eligibility in 2004 for accepting skiing endorsements. He averaged 25.1 yards on kickoffs, 14.2 on punt returns, and scored three TDs in his two years at Colorado. Unfortunately he was placed on injured reserves toward the end of training camp. The top punt returner is once again available as a backup on kickoffs: RB Reno Mahe (1 return, 19 yards).

Punt Returners: Jeremy Bloom, Bethel Johnson

In 2004, Dexter Wynn took over punt returns for injured Mahe and put up better numbers. In 2005, the reverse was the case. Wynn averaged only 5.0 yards on 22 returns, while Mahe averaged 12.8 on 21 returns to lead the NFL. Wynn was released at the end of pre-season. Given his potential, Jeremy Bloom would have been given the opportunity of becoming the Eagles return specialist, however a strained hamstring got in the way. He has since been placed on injured reserve and won't play this year. RB Brian Westbrook is probably still the most explosive punt returner on the team; however he is busy doing other things so he is not utilized often on special teams (8 returns, 7.5 avg. last year). CB Lito Sheppard is available as a backup (2 returns, 4.5 avg.).

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Jon Runyan, RG Shawn Andrews, C Jamaal Jackson, LG Todd Herremans, LT William "Tra" Thomas
Key Backups: G Max Jean-Gilles, T Winston Justice, C/G Scott Young, T Pat McCoy

The Eagles offensive line is led by long-time Eagle Tra Thomas who is entering his ninth-year as the Eagles starting left tackle. He has surprising agility for a big man and his technique, once a liability has become a positive. He is amongst the best offensive tackles in the game today and is still in the prime of his career. This will be the 7th season that Jon Runyan has started at right tackle for the club and he is also a very good lineman. He brings a tireless work ethic and a nasty streak to the table and he gives his all on every play. Together they form a daunting combination, one of the better tandems in the league. To make it even better the Eagles drafted tackle Winston Justice from USC who will learn from the sidelines this year. He is very athletic and could be dominant with improved work ethic. At right guard, 2nd-year player Shawn Andrews learned his craft on the fly last season and got better as the year wore on. He has unbelievable power and is a force in drive blocking but must continue to work on his technique and watch his weight in order to become an elite player. At left guard veteran Todd Herremans will start. Like Andrews, Herremans was a collegiate tackle and could be a starter on the outside in years to come. Backing up Herremans (and pushing for a starting job in the future) will be rookie Max Jean-Gilles who is the prototypical road-grader at 356 pounds. He’s limited athletically and in space but will blow defenders off the ball. Finally at center, Jamaal Jackson outplayed Hank Fraley and earned the starting center role; which precipitated Fraley's trade to Cleveland in early September. Fraley had been the Eagles starting center for five years, but Jackson played well in his stead the last 8 games of 2005. Add to this coach Juan Castillo who is back for his 10th season and the Eagles offensive line is in great shape for ’06 and beyond.

Team Defense

After five straight seasons finishing in the top-10 in points allowed, the Eagles defense collapsed in 2005 and finished the year ranked 27th. The dropoff can be attributed to an inability of the defensive line to generate consistent pressure, a lack of talent at the linebacker position, and an offense that played most of the season without their two best players. The Eagles appear to have fixed the first problem by adding DE Darren Howard in free agency and DT Broderick Bunkley on draft day. There are still some concerns at linebacker though. While Jeremiah Trotter remains a fixture in the middle, Dhani Jones is undersized for the SLB spot and WLB Shawn Barber is 31 years old and missed last season with an injury. The secondary sent three starters to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and remains a major strength of this unit. A healthy McNabb will have a dramatic effect on the offense, which should help the defense by keeping them on the field for fewer snaps and allowing them to be more aggressive. Don't expect elite numbers, but this unit should be able to rebound in 2007.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Jevon Kearse, DE Darren Howard, DT Mike Patterson, DT Brodrick Bunkley
Backups: DE Trent Cole, DT Montae Reagor, DE Juqua Thomas, DT Sam Rayburn, DE Lajuan Ramsey, DE Jerome McDougle

Starting DL: The Philadelphia Eagles offensive struggles in 2005 were well documented, including the T.O. sage, Donovan McNabb's injury and the team missing the playoffs a year after making it to the Super Bowl. What all of this helped cover up is the fact that the Eagles just didn't play very well on defense, ranking 23rd overall after being a regular member of the top 10 during the previous five seasons. One area where their futility was most evident is team sacks, having averaged 48 from '00-'04 and picking up just 29 in '05. When the Philadelphia Eagles made DE JeVon Kearse the highest paid defensive lineman in league history, signing him as an unrestricted free-agent entering the 2004 season, they were expecting to receive the player that averaged 12 sacks during his first three years in the NFL. While relatively healthy, Kearse has been very un-freakish during his two years in Philadelphia, averaging 32 solo tackles and 7.5 sacks. He turns 30 this year meaning that his best is likely past, although I'm not ready to write him off just yet. He retains a quick first step, speed around the edge and a watchful eye from opposing offenses. The addition of a complementary defensive end, something that he hasn't had the luxury of in Philly, may be just what he needed to re-track his career. That complement arrives this year in the form of Darren Howard. Oft-injured during the past three seasons in New Orleans, Howard was valuable enough to play under the franchise tag a year ago, but not valuable enough to keep Will Smith and Charles Grant from becoming bookend cornerstones of the franchise. Like Kearse, Howard too turns 30 later this year and should be playing with a chip on his shoulder, trying to resurrect a career that's scattered with Pro-Bowl play in the past. A solid run defender as well as a pass rusher, Howard has the ability to slide inside on third downs to maximize the Eagles pass rush potential. There is an issue with his knee that may come to light, it's forced him to miss time in each of the past two seasons, but he (and obviously the Eagles) doesn't think that it'll be a problem. DT Mike Patterson, a rookie first round pick a year ago, took over the starting job from Hollis Thomas during the seasons final month and appears to be a star in the making. Nicknamed "Baby Sapp" coming out of USC, Patterson had some very Warren Sapp-like moments during his first season. In his seven starts, Patterson recorded 24 solo tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Very respectable numbers for any defensive lineman, let alone a rookie defensive tackle. At 6'0 292 he has a great first step and an ability to penetrate the backfield that DC Jim Johnson looks for in his linemen. Lining up next to Patterson to form a formidable tackle combination is rookie Brodrick Bunkley. If you watched any of the draft day coverage, you’ve seen all of the highlights. This guy looks like a flat out beast. Chiseled at 6’3 307, Bunkley is explosive with quickness and tremendous strength. He should make an immediate impact on the interior of the Eagles defense, whether it be collapsing the pocket or freeing up teammates to make plays. Baring any issues he should be able to unseat Darwin Walker for a starting job.

Backup DL: Even with the players that the Eagles have lost over the last two years (Derrick Burgess, ND Kalu, Corey Simon), they continue to field quality depth along the line. On the end, the primary backups will be Trent Cole and Jerome McDougle. Many fantasy hearts were broken when Philadelphia signed Darren Howard because there were many who jumped on the Trent Cole bandwagon. Undersized at 6'2 260, the rookie 'tweener started the final seven games of the season and picked up 26 solo tackles with five sacks during a three game stretch. With his size he's better suited in a situational role, keeping him from getting run down in the running game. Jerome McDougle has recovered from gunshot wounds that forced him to miss the entire '05 season. A first round pick in 2003, McDougle has played in just 19 during over his two active seasons with very little impact. Not much is expected from him this year and his time has all but run out in Philly. DT Darwin Walker returns for his sixth season, a starter during the past four. He's not a huge tackle by today’s standard (6'3 294) but he gets a good push inside (21.5 career sacks) and can slide outside on occasion to bulk up the Eagles run defense. Also providing depth inside will be Sam Rayburn and Ed Jasper. Previously an undrafted free-agent in 2003, Rayburn didn't have near as much success last year as he had in 2004 (28 solos, 6 sacks) but the coaches like his ability against the run and at penetrating the pocket. Jasper turned 33 this year and is on the downswing of his career, nothing more than rotation filler at this point.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Jeremiah Trotter, WLB Takeo Spikes, SLB Chris Gocong
Backups: LB Omar Gaither, OLB Stewart Bradley, LB Matt McCoy

Starting LBs: The Eagles are all about giving second chances, with HC Andy Reid making a habit of bringing former Eagles back into the mix, and two of their starting linebackers have done just that. A rising star during his first stint in Philadelphia, MLB Jeremiah Trotter averaged 94 solo tackles with nine sacks and five interceptions from 99-01. One of the top young linebackers in the league, and he wanted to be paid as such. A franchise tag, later revoked, couldn't keep Trotter from seeking greener pastures although his heart remained with the Eagles. Signed back in 2004 after two seasons with the Washington Redskins, it was believed that he'd be limited to short-yardage and goal line duty, but to say that his return to Philly has been a success would be an understatement. Since returning to his role as starting MLB midway through the '04 season, Trotter has averaged over six solo tackles with two sacks and a pick in 23 games. At 29 years old, he is the heart and soul of this defense. The Eagles were hoping that Keith Adams would make the transition from special teams ace to starting weakside linebacker, but he was overwhelmed at 5'11 223 and is currently an UFA. . Dhani Jones returns for his third season as the Eagles starting SLB, a position which has produced an average of just 55 solo tackles with 5.5 sacks and three interceptions over the last six seasons (Carlos Emmons 00-03, Jones 04-05). Not good, in terms of fantasy, but that's more a reflection of the position that they play rather than their talent. At 6'1 240 the 28 year old Jones seems to get the job done whether he's on the football field or dancing in the streets. There's a chance he will be released this offseason in a salary cap move. McCoy, a second round pick in 2005, struggled to pick up the defense and spent much of the year as a weekly inactive, appearing in just four games (special teams). He made big strides in the offseason, however, and quickly passed Shawn Barber on the depth chart.

Backup LBs: Depth at linebacker and nickel experience will be provided by Shawn Barber. Shawn Barber left the Eagles after the 2002 season regarded as one of the games best all-around linebackers, adept at the point of attack, rushing the passer and in coverage. He took his game to Kansas City, had a monster year in '03 (93 solos, 5 sacks), tore up a knee and spent the last two years mainly watching from the sidelines (11 games played with minimal impact). Released in the offseason, he found his way back to Philadelphia. Now 31 years old, it's left to be seen if he resembles the player that he once was, but he says that he's healthy and ready to give 100%. His development is crucial with Shawn Barber's health issues. Another player in this system may be Greg Richmond, a practice squad player as a rookie in 2004 who missed last year with a herniated disc in his back. Before the injury he was opening eyes with his play in practice, working his way to a backup SLB job. Omar Gaither is a 5th round selection who lacks great measurables but is noted for his intelligence and instincts. With decent size at 6’1 233, Gaither is more quick than fast and always seems to be around the ball. He’ll likely make an impact on special teams and may be a player to watch down the line. The Eagles third round pick, Chris Gocong, is a solid athlete with a non-stop motor. At 6’2 264 he’s a ‘tweener who probably isn’t fast enough to be an edge rusher and he doesn’t have experience at linebacker in typical 4-3 sets. His early impact will probably come on special teams although his future looks to be as Dhani Jones’ replacement at SLB.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Lito Sheppard, CB Sheldon Brown, SS Sean Considine, FS Brian Dawkins
Backups: S Quintin Mikell, CB Joselio Hanson, CB William James, CB C.J. Geddis [R]

Starting DBs: The secondary in Philadelphia is considered one of the top overall units in the game, stacked with big name personnel and big game potential. Cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown go hand in hand, both drafted in 2002 (Sheppard 1st round, Brown 2nd), both sitting aside for two years while incumbents Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor ran out their string and both taking opportunity by the horns when the time arrived, transforming themselves into one of the leagues most formidable CB duos. Excellent athletic ability, good coverage skills and willing run support. Sheppard has really improved his ball skills since entering the league, picking off eight passes over the last two years, but his season was cut short a year ago with a high ankle sprain that sent him to the IR after just 10 games. He expects to be ready for training camp. Sheldon Brown has become a complete cornerback, using his skills as a blitzer off of the edge to compile four sacks over the last two years while developing into one of the leagues best at defending the deep ball. He hasn't missed a game since entering the league, often playing through minor injuries, compiling a very impressive total of 27 passes defended in 2005. Strong safety Michael Lewis, another member of that 2002 draft class, took his game to new heights a year ago. A starter since his second season, Lewis hasn't missed a game in three years. Possessing a very impressive all-around game that includes size, speed, bone-crushing hits and better than average coverage skills, he posted a career high 91 solo tackles with a sack and two interceptions. Still only 26 years old, his ceiling appears to be limitless. Last but definitely not least is free safety Brian Dawkins. Hits like a linebacker, covers like a cornerback. That may not be true anymore of the 10 year vet as he approaches his 33rd birthday, but the stats don't lie. After building a career on a reputation that usually outweighed his production, he appears to be making up for it. Playing like a safety 10 years younger, Dawkins posted a career high in solo tackles (70), sacks (3.5) and passes defended (24). The emotional leader of this secondary, what Dawkins has achieved over the last couple of years is amazing. Can he keep it up?

Backup DBs: The Eagle depth at cornerback hasn't changed much over the last few years, with one exception...the addition of Donald Strickland. A starter in Indianapolis during the 03-04 seasons, Strickland joined Philadelphia during the '05 season and stepped in as the #3 corner. A physical cornerback, he can match up well against larger receivers and has experience at safety. Rod Hood is the talented nickel back who possesses a nice size and speed combo while the 6’2 210 Matt Ware rounds out the position. Backing up Lewis and Dawkins at safety Quintin Mikell, a three year vet with 16 career tackles. Sean Considine, a rookie fifth round pick last year who ended the year on the IR with a shoulder dislocation, is viewed as a future ballhawk. Tabbed as Dawkins' eventual replacement, he's yet to see time in an NFL game. J.R.Reed may also be in the mix at some point. A rookie special teamer in 2004 who appeared to be on the right track, Reed damaged a nerve behind his knee while jumping a fence last offseason and his long-term prognosis is uncertain.

Last modified: 2007-04-30 16:07:15



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