The Time Is Now: The Official 2009 Philadelphia Eagles PreviewBy
They lost six games (and failed to win a seventh) during the 2008 season.
Their franchise quarterback temporarily lost his starting job in the season’s most crucial game.
They needed a Sunday of miracles to even qualify for the postseason.
They entered the postseason as the sixth best team in the NFC and left it as the second best.
And now? What about now?
The Philadelphia Eagles are poised to enter the 2009 season as the top team in the National Football Conference.
The offseason for the Eagles’ has been one of the more interesting in the franchise’s history.
Despite the continuous calls for a big-name wide receiver such as Chad Johnson or Anquan Boldin, head coach Andy Reid refused to provide quarterback Donovan McNabb with a proven receiving threat.
He also allowed Brian Dawkins, arguably the most popular player in the history of the franchise, to leave the team and join the Denver Broncos. And he failed to resign two of the more accomplished offensive tackles in the history of the franchise.
However, Reid made what is now being realized as a tremendous splash in both free agency and the NFL draft.
Reid drafted Jeremy Maclin with the first pick in the 2009 NFL draft. The speedy wide receiver from Missouri just turned 21-years-old and is poised to be a legitimate receiving threat for Donovan McNabb. He will also compete with second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson for the position of punt returner.
Fullback Leonard Weaver, a 2008 Pro Bowl alternate as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, replaces converted defensive tackle Dan Klecko, giving the Eagles much-needed depth at an extremely neglected position over the years.
In 2008, the Eagles lost two conference games after failing to convert on a fourth-and-one late in the game.
Weaver will be blocking for 20-year-old LeSean McCoy, who has been described by ESPN as “lightning in a bottle every time he touches the ball.” In May of 2004, McCoy ran a 4.25 40-yard dash at the State College Nike Training Camp. McCoy was 15-years-old. \
By comparison, Michael Vick and Randy Moss, two of the fastest players in the history of the National Football League, never ran a 4.25 in the 40.
Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters was signed from the Buffalo Bills to replace aging three-time Pro Bowler Tra Thomas. Peters suffered through a disappointing 2008 season, but is expected to power the Eagles’ rushing attack next year. Andy Reid has even gone as far as to call Peters the “best left tackle in football.”
Right tackle Stacy Andrews was acquired from the Cincinnati Bengals and will replace Pro Bowl tackle Jon Runyan. Andrews, who can play guard or tackle, will play alongside of his brother on the offensive line. The massive Andrews’ brothers (combined weight: 675 pounds) give the Eagles one of the largest and most successful offensive lines in the NFL.
Sean Jones was signed from the Cleveland Browns in the hopes of replacing the legendary Brian Dawkins at free safety. Jones possesses playmaking ability, as he ranks third among safeties in interceptions since 2006. Jones’s consistency makes him one of just four players in the NFL to intercept four or more passes in each of the past four seasons.
The Eagles’ new acquisitions may provide the much-needed depth to get the Eagles’ over the hump in the NFC.
Although quarterback Donovan McNabb still lacks a legitimate No. 1 receiving threat, his receiving core is significantly above average. It can be argued that no team in history has possessed as much speed as the Eagles. The third fastest wide receiver on the Eagles is Kevin Curtis, who will join DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as big-play threats.
Brian Westbrook turns 30-years-old this season and is coming off a disappointing injury-plagued season, in which he still managed to set a career-high with 14 touchdowns. Westbrook’s injuries last year have left concern for his future, and McCoy was specifically drafted to complement Westbrook in the backfield.
Following a second consecutive disappointing season, the Eagles parted ways with tight end LJ Smith. Likely starting next season will be 24-year-old Brent Celek, who showed his potential late last season with 19 catches and three touchdowns in the postseason, including two scores in the NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Backing up Celek will be rookie Cornelius Ingram, who has been described as one of the steals in the draft. A former quarterback, Ingram switched to tight end, where he will provide the Eagles with a solid receiving target in the red zone.
Joining Jason Peters and the Andrews’ boys on the offensive line will be left guard Todd Herremans and center Jamaal Jackson. Herremans has provided the Eagles with solid depth as a starter over the past three seasons.
Jackson has started 56 consecutive games for the Eagles, the third longest streak among active NFL centers. In 2008, the Eagles’ powerful offensive line set a franchise record by allowing just one sack for every 27.3 pass attempts.
On the defensive line, the Eagles will incorporate a steady dose of the following eight players: ends Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Darren Howard, Victor Abiamiri, and Chris Clemons; and tackles Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, and Trevor Laws.
Cole was voted by his teammates’ as the team’s Defensive Most Valuable Player following the 2007 season, and is the most experienced member of the defensive line.
Bunkley and Patterson anchor the middle of the defensive line, where they have helped the Eagles rank sixth in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game over the past two seasons. Darren Howard led the Eagles with ten sacks in 2008, ranking first in the NFL in sacks among players who didn’t start a game.
Ironically, four of the Eagles’ defensive linemen have scored touchdowns in their career, with Parker and Clemons scoring last season. Parker’s 55-yard interception return sealed a victory against the San Francisco 49ers and is one of the more underrated moments of a roller-coaster 2008 season.
Clemons’ 73-yard fumble return helped the Eagles dominate the Cowboys and clinch a playoff spot in the final game of the season.
Anchoring the Eagles’ linebacking corps will be 25-year-old middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. Bradley possesses an impressive combination of size and speed, with a nose for the football. Last year, he was selected to the Sports Illustrated All-Pro team following his first season as a starter.
Despite losing two Pro Bowl players—Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard—the Eagles’ secondary might be the strongest group of players on the team.
Cornerback Asante Samuel is one of the more accomplished defensive players in recent NFL history. Samuel’s 20 interceptions since 2006 rank second among all NFL players and he is the all-time postseason leader in interception touchdowns. Samuel was selected to his second Pro Bowl following the 2008 season.
Strong safety Quintin Mikell earned All-Pro honors in his first full season as starter, while Sheldon Brown didn’t allow a single touchdown pass in the regular season. Mikell has the potential to step up as the Eagles’ defensive leader during the 2009 season.
Brown, who is currently in the middle of a contract dispute, will likely play next season. Newly acquired Sean Jones will likely beat out Quintin Demps for the starting job.
With Akers and Rocca returning, and the return duties being handled by two of the following four players—Demps, Jackson, Ellis Hobbs, and Maclin—the Eagles’ special teams will continue to be among the best in the league.
In the 2008 season, the Eagles underachieved. There’s no denying the obvious. Teams that outscore their opponents by 127 points should not need a miraculous season finale to earn a playoff spot. The Eagles could very easily have won 15 games, with the blowout to Baltimore being the only loss by more than a single score.
The Eagles’ biggest weakness in 2008 was probably their inability to convert short plays on third and fourth down. Signing Leonard Weaver will prove to be one of the more underrated transactions of the offseason.
The 2009 team has more speed than possibly any team in the NFL. They have strength and size. The best thing about this team is that they have depth at virtually every position, with either a Pro Bowler or a solid starter at each of the 22 positions.
No one player is worth more than the entire team, and while injuries are never a positive factor, the Eagles could stand to suffer an injury or two and still remain extremely competitive next season.
Heading into the 2009 season, the Eagles are considered to be one of the top teams in the NFC. With quarterback Donovan McNabb turning 33-years=old in the middle of next season, the Eagles—specifically their quarterback—are running out of time in their quest for a Super Bowl title.
The time is now.
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