With NFL training camp set to start at the end of the month, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at how the Eagles stack up at each position on offense (the defense will be previewed soon). Obviously, this will change as we get closer to the season and players get cut, injured, or make names for themselves. But here’s the EARLY look at the Eagles offense.
Quarterback: Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Mike Kafka –Love him or hate him, Donovan McNabb provided a measure of stability at this position for his 11 seasons in Philadelphia. While he missed major parts of three season since he was drafted in 1999, McNabb was a rock in the backfield. His interception percentage is impeccable, and he ranks 18th all-time in passer rating, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. While he never delivered the Big One for the Birds, he kept them competitive for most of the decade.
As the Birds enter the 2010 season, the QB position is likely one of their biggest question marks. Kevin Kolb enters the season as the #1 QB on the depth chart. Many people will say that Kevin Kolb looked good in the two games he started last year. In those two games, he completed 64.6% of his passes, threw 4 TD and 3 interceptions, and passed for 741 yards. Not bad stats for a guy who had only thrown 34 passes prior to last season. The problem with just looking at the stats is that Kolb put these numbers up in a game that had already been lost (the Saints game) and a game against one of the worst teams in the league (the Chiefs). This is what makes him the logical #1 for the Eagles? I don’t see it. Obviously, the coaching staff sees him in practice and has faith that he can deliver. However, based on his play last season, I’m not sure that he is ready for prime time.
As for the other two QBs on the roster, I think the Eagles are in trouble. With Vick facing questions surrounding his involvement in a shooting that took place at his 30th birthday party in Virgina Beach, I’m not sure that he can or should be counted on as the backup. I was willing to give Vick a pass when he came out of prison. He had served his time and I hoped that he was a changed man. Clearly this is not the case, as he continues to surround himself with thugs and low-lifes. He continues to make bad decisions, and I think the Eagles need to part ways with the talented, but wayward passer. If the Eagles choose to cut Vick, they would be left with Mike Kafka as the only other QB on the roster. Kafka is a rookie out of Northwestern who spent only 1 season as the starter. While he was the MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, Kafka is clearly not going to be ready to step in should Kolb go down with an injury. The only thing fans can hope is that veteran QBs get cut in camp and the Eagles can pick up a solid backup to replace Vick and allow Kafka time to mature.
Running Back: LeSean McCoy, Mike Bell, Charles Scott, Eldra Buckley, Martell Mallett– This is another spot where the Eagles have had a measure of stability for the better part of last decade. Prior to last season, Brian Westbrook had started 12 or more games every season since 2003 (and that year he was part of a three-headed monster with Correll Buckhalter and Duce Staley). Last season was Westbrook’s worst since his rookie year. A good portion of the RB duties were taken over by LeSean McCoy. McCoy had a strong first season, posting nearly 1000 yards from scrimmage, scoring 4 TDs, and proving to be a good receiver out of the backfield. As with Kolb, the question is whether McCoy is ready to be the full-time starter.
With McCoy as the primary back, the Eagles signed Mike Bell away from the New Orleans Saints to serve as the backup/change-of-pace. Bell played an important role with the Saints, spelling Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush and filling in as a starter for 3 games. Bell ran for 654 yards and 5 TDs. The Bell signing makes some sense to me, as he is more of a power runner than McCoy. Perhaps Bell will help end the Eagles’ poor performances in short yardage situations, something that has been an Achilles’ Heel for the Birds in recent seasons.
Beyond McCoy and Bell, there are no locks to make the Eagles’ roster. While, Eldra Buckley was with the team last year, he didn’t make a major impact. Buckley has been in the league for three seasons, spending two of them on the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad. Buckley made the Eagles’ roster last year ahead of Lorenzo Booker. Charles Scott is a 6th round draft pick out of LSU. He had a great junior season before tailing off as a senior. He is a big, bruising back who could provide the Eagles with an even better short-yardage option than Bell. Mallett is in his first year in the NFL, having played last season in the CFL with the BC Lions, and played his college football at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He was voted the CFL Rookie of the Year, after finishing 4th in rushing.
I can’t see the Birds carrying five running backs on the active roster. It is likely two players out of this group will not make the cut. If I had to guess, I would put money on Buckley making the roster because he knows the offense. Perhaps Scott could stick as a backup to Leonard Weaver at FB or he might be added to the practice squad. I wouldn’t mind seeing Mallet get a shot, as his stats in the CFL were impressive, but he could be destined for the practice squad.
Fullback: Leonard Weaver, Dwayne Wright – Fullback is the first position where the Birds seem to be set. Weaver was awesome last season, rushing for 323 yards on 70 carries for a 4.6 yards per carry average. He also caught 15 passes out of the backfield and is a good lead blocker. Some of the ball carrying responsibilities will fall to Weaver, as I expect him to get more playing time than the Eagles’ third RB, whomever that may be. Weaver will be important to the offense for his pass catching ability and blocking, as both will be essential to Kolb as his enters his first season as the starter. Weaver will also help in short yardage situations and as a sub to give both Bell and McCoy some rest. I believe he will build on last season’s success and should be an integral part of the offense.
Wright was originally drafted by the Bills in the 4th round of the 2007 draft. He played his college football at Fresno State and was on the Giants’ roster last season but didn’t make the final cut out of training camp. The Birds signed him to a two-year contract and will move him from running back to fullback. Given the lack of past success in converting players from a different position to fullback (see Dan Klecko), I am skeptical that this experiment will work. Wright could be bound for the practice squad or could be part of the cuts.
Wide Receiver: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Hank Baskett, Riley Cooper, Dobson Collins, Blue Cooper, Chad Hall, Kevin Jurovich, Jordan Norwood – While there are question marks about the man throwing the ball, there certainly aren’t any about who will be catching it. Going into the season, we all know who the starters are. DeSean Jackson has become one of the best young wideouts in the league. What can you say about DJax? He provides the Birds with a legitimate weapon at WR, something they haven’t had since the ill-fated Terrell Owens experiment. He finished last season with 1156 yards on 62 catches and was dangerous in the return game. His receiving total last season ranks 8th all-time on the Eagles’ list and was just the 3rd season since 1997 that and Eagles receiver had a total of more than 1000 yards. If Jackson can post another season of over 1000 yards, he would be the first receiver since Irving Fryar (1996 and 1997) to post back-to-back thousand yard seasons. The second starter, Jeremy Maclin, was impressive in his rookie season, posting 773 receiving yards on 53 catches. Maclin was so good last season that he made Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis expendable. Maclin will look to build on his solid rookie season and should become even more of a threat as he gets a firmer grasp of the offense and develops chemistry with Kolb. This is the best combination of top two receivers the Eagles have had that I can remember in my 28 years.
Hank Baskett and Jason Avant look like likes to make the roster. Both have played for the Birds for several seasons with Avant really coming into his own last season. Avant posted 587 receiving yards (a career high) and came through in several clutch situations. Baskett knows the offense and returns to the Birds after one season with the Indianapolis Colts. Of the remaining 6 wideouts, I expect 1 to make the active roster with 1 or 2 making it to the practice squad. Collins and Norwood both were on the practice squad last season, while Riley Cooper was selected in the 5th round of the 2010 draft. Blue Cooper, Chad Hall and Kevin Jurovich would all be lucky to even make the practice squad.
Cincinnati in 2007. After playing sparingly his first season and stepping up to the #2 TE spot in his second season, Celek burst onto the scene last year when he posted the second highest receiving total (971 yards) for a TE in Eagles’ history (Pete Retzlaff posted 1190 yards in 1965). Celek is a versatile receiver who is fast enough to stretch the field and tough enough to bruise on the goal line. Arguably, he is the best TE in the NFC and is certainly in the top 5 league-wide. His yards per catch last season (12.8) was the second highest, behind only Antonio Gates.
The battle for the 2nd TE position should be a good one. Martin Rucker, originally drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 4th round of the 2008 draft, was with the team last season on both the practice squad and active roster, though he didn’t have a reception. Rucker is extremely talented, having been selected as the first-team All-American tight end in 2007 during his senior season at the University of Missouri. Ingram was selected by the Birds in the 5th round of the 2009 draft. He was a starter for the University of Florida in 2007, but missed his senior season due to knee ligament damage. Just as Ingram was recovering, he tore his ACL during training camp with the Birds. He has yet to play a game in the green and silver, but certainly has the talent to make and impact. Harbor is a 2010 draft pick, out of Missouri State, who rocketed to prominence at the Scouting Combine. The Eagles selected him in the 4th round and expect good things from the three-time Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) All-American. One TE out of this group will not make the active roster. Rucker and Ingram are better pass catchers than blockers meaning Harbor will likely get a spot due to his blocking ability (it was initially announced that he would be playing FB). Whether it is Rucker or Ingram who gets the final spot probably depends on Ingram’s health.
Offensive Line: The Eagles currently have 17 players listed as offensive linemen on their roster. Base on last season, the Birds carried 9 linemen, roughly half of these players will not make the roster. The starters will likely be: LT – Jason Peters, LG – Todd Herremens, C – Nick Cole, RG – Stacy Andrews/Max Jean-Gilles, RT – Winston Justice. Of the remaining OL listed on the training camp roster, Mike McGlynn, King Dunlap and Dallas Reynolds were all on the roster at the end of the season last year. This doesn’t mean that they are assured of a roster spot, as the Birds have Fenuki Tupou returning from injury and several rookies competing for spots. Center Jamaal Jackson is still recovering from the ACL injury he suffered against the Broncos in week 16 last season. Jackson is expected to be out until at least the middle of the season.
Justice emerged last season as a legitimate RT and I expect him to continue to get better. Peters, much maligned though he is, is still one of the better LTs in the game. Herremens has been nothing but solid since he arrived with the Birds. The question marks are at center and right guard. Cole did not end the season well, as he was thrust into the starting role after Jackson’s injury. Hopefully, an offseason of learning the role of center will make Cole more confident at the position. He will need to be, as the center will be extremely important to Kolb doing well in his first season as a starter. Who will be the started at RG? It’s a toss-up. Jean-Gilles had lap band surgery over the offseason to help control his weight and Andrews was injured for much of last season. Which player will bounce back the quickest and seize the starting spot? That battle will be played out during training camp and will be crucial to the Eagles success. The Birds need a good run blocker in that position to open holes for McCoy, Bell and Weaver. I think we see Jean-Gilles take control of this spot with Andrews, who can play both tackle and guard acting as the first OL off the bench when the Birds need to rest somebody/cover an injury.
Who do you think will step forward for the Eagles on offense? Will Kolb be able to replace McNabb? Will McCoy make us forget about Westbrook? Who wins the roster battles at WR, TE and OL? A preview of the defense will be coming soon, (not sure when, probably Monday, as my home computer is currently on the fritz).