Tag Archives: Football

You Have Got to be Kidding Me!

I wish this were the US bid's logo, but clearly the Qatari's must have put more money in Sepp Blatter's bank account.

First, I want to thank Earbud DJ, for his guest post on Federer and Nadal.  I was a well written post, and I am appreciative of his periodic contributions on tennis. Second, I am fully aware that I haven’t written anything for nearly a month, and nothing substantive for at least 6 weeks, and I promise I will be back to posting more regularly after I finish my classes this semester.  While, I probably don’t have the time to be writing this (with a 15-20 page paper for my graduate history class, and work for my job looming), I just couldn’t ignore the announcements of the host nations for the next two World Cups.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’m indignant (at best) at the selections of both Russia for WC2018 and Qatar for WC2022.  Ravi Ubha over at ESPN calls the two picks bizarre, and I couldn’t agree more.  The selection of Russia and Qatar smacks of the charges of corruption, bribery and backroom politics that have dogged FIFA for years.  Before the selection, there were rumors that the Portugal/Spain WC2018 bid and the Qatar bid were in collusion regarding votes.  BBC television program, Panorama, reported that three top FIFA officials are reported to have taken bribes, totaling nearly $100 million, in the 1990s.  Why would we think that something like this didn’t happen this time?

Russia received the 2018 World Cup, beating my favorite - England.

For the 2018 selection it could be argued that the Russian bid, which was quite good – with all the oligarchs’ cash, a strong domestic league, decent national team, was the strongest.  Still, Russia would have to build or finish construction on all but one of the proposed stadiums.  England’s proposal, for comparison purposes, included just 3 unbuilt stadiums, and was centered on the expansion of current stadiums.  While, I believe the 2018 World Cup should have gone to England, the Russian selection was certainly competitive.

The same cannot be argued for the Qatari bid (Sorry no link, because the Qatar bid site is down.  Vengeance by some crazed US soccer techie? we may never know).  With 7 of the proposed 12 stadiums needing to be built and all but 1 of the remaining 4 needing significant expansion, 100+ degree temperatures during the summer, a small population, a barely competitive domestic league, and a national team with a FIFA ranking in the 100s,  Qatar just doesn’t seem like a logically place for the World Cup. Unless you are thinking about all the oil/natural gas cash the Qataris possess.

The 1994 World Cup was and remains the most successful World Cup ever held.  It spurred support for the creation of a national soccer league in the United States and drew some of the largest crowds to attend soccer matches (since stadiums became all-seaters).  There is no reason to believe that the proposed 2022 World Cup in the U.S. would have been any less successful.  If the U.S. had been given WC2022 the growing interest in soccer, demonstrated at this year’s World Cup, would have continued to mount.  Doesn’t FIFA want to tap the most lucrative market in the world, and turn the US into a soccer mad nation?  Wouldn’t turning a country where soccer was, at best tolerated into a footballing nation be as great a legacy as putting a World Cup in the Middle East? Clearly, money in pockets now was more important than more money in pockets later.

For more on the process, I direct you to Soccer by Ives, a fantastic site run by Ives Galarcep, a soccer writer for Fox Soccer.  He provides information on the vote breakdown and more for the World Cup selection process.  His site is also a wealth of  information on U.S. and world soccer.


Random Thoughts on the NFL and MLB

NFL: Wednesday, I was sitting at the bar waiting for a friend to show up for dinner when I saw on Pardon the Interruption that the NFL is thinking of installing German microchip technology in footballs to help with goal line/first down calls.  Michael Wilbon argued that the NFL needed to embrace the technology.  He said that if there is technology to improve the product that sports should use it.  I, wholeheartedly, agree.  The NFL needs to make this change, and they need to make it soon.   I remember in the 1996-1997 playoffs, the Eagles were playing the 49ers in the Wild Card round.  During the game, which the Eagles lost 14-0, there was what looked like a sure first down taken from them when the officials placed the ball at an incorrect spot.  In addition to the poor spot, it seemed that the referee tilted the marker to deny the Eagles a first down.  While this could just be the clouded memory of a bitter fan, this scenario could not happen if the current technology existed at the time of the game.

Tennis already uses technology to help the chair umpires and lines people with in/out calls.  The “Hawk-Eye” technology uses high-speed video cameras to capture the flight path of the ball and comes up with a composite picture of where the ball landed on the court.  This has helped to eliminate some of the arguments, though not all, on calls during the match.  FIFA has toyed with the idea of installing this technology on the goal line, which would have helped during this year’s World Cup when Frank Lampard scored against Germany but neither the referee or the assistant saw the goal. FIFA has also explored adding the chip technology to their soccer balls, but again has been slow to accept the new technology.  I suspect that we may see changes soon due to the controversy generated following the World Cup.  While the technology the NFL is looking at is not Hawk-Eye technology, the principle is the same:  determine where the ball was at a given time and determine whether it crossed a line or not.

I am glad to see that the NFL is exploring the technology and I hope that FIFA and MLB will follow suit and embrace technology.  Think of all the controversial calls in the last few months that could have been avoided.  The Lampard “goal”. Armando Galarraga‘s “perfect game”.  There was even a call in last night’s Phillies/Marlins game (Gaby Sanchez‘s “hit” that was called foul) that might have gone the other way if MLB used chip or even replay technology.  Like Wilbon said, if there is technology to improve the product, use it!

MLB: The Red Sox found out yesterday that first baseman, Kevin Youkilis, will miss the rest of the season following thumb surgery.  This is a huge blow for a team that is trying to make up 5.5 games in the standings over the final 2 months of the season.  Going forward, I expect a platoon of Victor Martinez and Mike Lowell to cover the first base duties.  Neither is as good defensively as Youk, and Lowell’s bat is a shadow of its former self.  In addition, if Martinez plays first, somebody else will have to catch. With Varitek still on the DL, will we see newly acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia called up?

This injury changes everything, as Youk has become the heart and soul of the line up.  With his bat missing, and Dustin Pedroiaweeks” away from being activated, the Sox are missing a good deal of their power potential.  While Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, and Martinez are still in the line up, it has just become exponentially more difficult for the Sox to catch the Yankees and Rays.  This weekend’s series with the Yankees takes on even greater importance with Youk out.  The Sox have to hope that their rag-tag bunch of fill-ins can keep up their collective magic because the team can ill afford a poor series in the Bronx.

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Gang Green Part II: Eagles Pre Training Camp Preview – Defensive Backs and Special Teams

Last Thursday, I previewed the offense and this past Tuesday, I previewed the defensive line and the linebackers for the Birds.  Today we cover the rest of the defense and the special teams.  As with the rest of the team, there are a number of questions surrounding the secondary entering the season.  Will the Birds finally find a successor to Brian Dawkins at free safety?  Who will start opposite Asante Samuel at cornerback?  And will Nate Allen, rookie and likely starter at free safety make it to training camp on time?

Cornerback: Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Joselio Hanson, Macho Harris, Geoffrey Pope, Dimitri Patterson, Trevard Lindley, David Pender – Entering the season, the only certainty is that Asante Samuel will be on the field and the focus of the secondary.  Samuel has 13 interceptions during his two season with the Eagles, 9 coming last year.  He should continue to be one the best corners in the league meaning that teams will focus their air attack across the field where the Eagles do not have an entrenched starter.  With Sheldon Brown roaming the defensive backfield in Cleveland, the starting job opposite Asante Samuel is an open competition.  One of the three Hs: Hobbs, Hanson or Harris, will likely win the position.  Hobbs played in only 8 games last year before being put on injured reserve following a neck injury.  He will look to rebound from that  injury and is probably the favorite to win the 2nd CB position.  Hanson, third on the team in interceptions last season with 2, has been with the team for 4 seasons and knows the defense, making him a legitimate competitor for the starting job.  Macho Harris played last season at free safety, starting 8 games.  This season he has been taking most of his reps at corner and cannot be discounted.  I think that Hobbs will win the position to start the season, but he may not be able to hold it for the entire season.

Trevard Lindley, a 4th round pick in 2010, has been impressive during mini-camps and looks likely to make the roster.  Patterson and Pope, both on the roster last season, along with rookie free agent Pender will struggle to make the roster, as the Eagles only carried 5 corners last season.  Given the injury to safety, Marlin Jackson, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that Harris will be moved back to safety, freeing up a corner spot for one of the three Ps.

Will Nate Allen (#5 in green) make it to camp on time, and will he be able to fill the role vacated by Briand Dawkins?

Safety: Quintin Mikell, Quintin Demps, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Ryan Hamilton, Brett Johnson – Last season, the first without Brian Dawkins, produced a lot of uncertainty for the Birds at the free safety position.  The two players who split time at free safety, Sean Jones and Macho Harris are no longer options.  Jones, who started 9 games last season is now with Tampa, and Harris has moved to corner.   The Eagles moved to address this void by drafting Nate Allen out of South Florida.  Allen started 12 games last season for the Bulls and picked off 5 passes.  He is expected to be the starter at free safety, but has yet to sign with the Birds.  If he holds out into training camp there will be more uncertainty surrounding the position.  How quickly will Allen be able to pick up the defense, and if he needs more time who will start in his place?  The Eagles thought they had this answer when they signed Marlin Jackson, but his knee injury will keep him out for the season.  Demps, who was named the successor to Dawkins last season, was unable to grab the job and will have to prove himself if he is to compete for the free safety job this season.

Strong safety is secure, with Quintin Mikell returning after starting 16 games in each of the last two seasons.  He was a 1st time Pro Bowl selection last season and there is no reason to believe he will not continue to play on a high level.  As for the rookies other than Allen, one of them will likely make the roster assuming the Eagles carry 4 safeties the way they did last season.

Special Teams: David Akers, Jon Dorenbos, Sav Rocca, Ken ParrishThis area is one of the few without any questions marks for the Eagles.  The starters from last season all return, with Akers and Dorenbos earning Pro Bowl nods last season.  David Akers is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, and had a great season last year making 32 out of 37 field goals, and 43 out of 45 extra points.  Over the past two seasons, Akers has made 84.4% of his field goal attempts and there is no reason to think he will drop off significantly.  I expect him to post another solid season and be in contention for a Pro Bowl spot at place kicker.  Dorenbos, the team’s long snapper, has been excellent since joining the Eagles in mid-2006.  Having made his first Pro Bowl last season, expect Dorenbos to continue to play at a high level.  The only competition on special teams (other than for kick/punt return duties) will be between Rocca and Ken Parrish.  Before the start of the 2009 season, Parrish, an East Stroudsburg grad and life-long Eagles fan, was brought in to compete with the former Australian Rules Football player.  Rocca ultimately won the position, but after a middle-of-the-pack 2009, Parrish will be given the chance to win the spot.  I would be surprised if Rocca doesn’t win the competition, but stranger things have happened.  The biggest question mark in this area will be who will return kicks?  DeSean Jackson was the primary punter returner last season, and was a true threat to take it to the house every time he touched the ball.  With his role in the offense sure to expand, will D-Jax keep returning punts?  He led the league in punt return average, punt return TDs, and had the longest punt return in the NFL.  The Eagles need to keep him on punt return duty.  D-Jax is, simply, the most dangerous weapon they have.   As for kick return duties, those will likely be split between several players.  The top returner from last season, Ellis Hobbs, returns.  Hobbs holds the record for the longest kick return in NFL history, a 108 yarder in 2007 against the Jets; however, he is in contention for the 2nd starting CB spot and if he wins the position he may be removed from kick return duty.  Quintin Demps had the highest kick return average last season, he could be the answer for the Eagles.

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Football at Fenway

A ticket from the first soccer game at Fenway park in over 40 years.

Fenway Park: hallowed ground for many American sports fans; site of many dramatic baseball events, some good (Fisk’s home run), some bad (Bucky “F-ing” Dent’s home run); soccer pitch?  Wednesday, the historic venue, played host to a sport looking to capture the hearts and minds of Americans the way the Red Sox have captured those in New England.

Gone was the pitcher’s mound, replaced by penalty spots. Gone were line drives into the corner, replaced by corner kicks. Gone was “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, replaced by soccer chants rendered almost unintelligible by the enthusiasm with which they were sung. For non-soccer fans, the game was a novelty. For those who are fans of the beautiful game, this was a chance to see two storied European clubs face off, and it just happened to be taking place in “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark”.

Wednesday marked the first time a soccer ball has touched the Fenway grass since 1968 when the Boston Beacons of the NASL used the field at the corner of Yawkey Way and Brookline Ave.  as their home ground.  The match up between Celtic FC and Sporting Clube de Portugal, while lacking the cache of a Manchester United or Real Madrid, still presented the fan the opportunity to see high level soccer.  Celtic is one of the most storied clubs in Scotland, having won the Scottish League 42 times and the European Cup (the predecessor to the Champions League) in 1967.  Sporting, one of the “Big Three” soccer clubs in Portugal along with FC Porto and Benfica, has won 18 Portuguese League titles and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1964.

You have got to admire this woman's fervor. (Picture courtesy of Jon Couture)

The whole experience was a tad surreal.  The Fenway area was nearly as busy as when the Sox play, bared out by the announced attendance of 32,162, with tables at many of the area restaurants hard to com by.  As I was walking toward Fenway to meet my friends for dinner before the game, I was surrounded by a sea of green, horizontal stripes (both Celtic and Sporting use a green and white striped jersey as their main kit) instead of the ubiquitous Red Sox jerseys and “Yankees Suck”  t-shirts.  Replacing the pink hats were women with green wigs (some of them riding power scooters).

Once I entered the park, the entire surreal experience continued as a good portion of the infield and parts of the warning track had freshly laid sod over the dirt.  The pitcher’s mound was gone but it’s specter remained, as you could clearly see the outline of where the mound had been on Sunday.  While the pitch seemed a little smaller than normal, the transformation was astonishing.  The center circle was just past 2nd base in shallow right-center.  One goal was where third base used to be, the other goal in RF.  It was a such a crazy site, one accompanied by fans with Portuguese flags tied around their necks in the right field bleachers and fans with the Scottish lion or St. Andrew’s Cross nestled next to the Green Monster.

The game followed usual protocol, with both teams entering the pitch and lining up while the national anthem was played.  Both teams fielded their B+ teams, some of their usual starting eleven were in the game, but many started on the bench or did not even accompany the team on their North American tours.  One of Sporting’s best players, João Moutinho, was transferred to Porto prior to the tour but, Portuguese internationals,  Pedro Mendes (started) and Liédson (off the bench) both played roles in the game.  Celtic without former starting keeper Artur Boruc, now with Fiorentina, but did start Georgios Samaras and captain Scott Brown .

Once the game got started, the first half was less than beautiful.  The type of soccer played in the first 45 minutes belied the fact that both teams are in preseason, and fed into every stereotype Americans have about soccer.  While there were a couple of half-chances, neither team looked like they were going to score.  The game did pick up in the second half, with both teams attacking more, but still not looking comfortable on the makeshift pitch.  Several corner kicks, mostly by Sporting, were sent flying over the 18 yard box, much to the consternation of the Sporting fan sitting next to me.  Liédson, introduced at the beginning of the second half, looked dangerous and provided a near goal with a well placed header.

Celtic prepare to take a corner kick.

Celtic drew first blood in the 71st minute thanks to a penalty kick by Samaras.  Samaras created the chance when he was taken down in the box on what looked to be a bit of a flop, but by the rules of the game, it was a penalty and the ref made the right call.  Samaras fooled the keeper, Rui Patrício, sending the ball to the Patricio’s right as he dove left.  The goal drew a hardy roar from the Celtic fans and prompted chanting from both sides.  Sporting was able to level 10 minutes later when Hélder Postiga, who had been subbed on just minutes prior, nodded home a rebound off the crossbar.  Following the goal, the Sporting fans had Fenway rocking with intense cheers and flag waving.  There were several other good chances, but the game ended regulation in a 1-1 draw.  Since the Fenway Football Challenge Trophy was at stake, there had to be a winner.  Rather than playing the usual 30 minutes of extra time, the game went straight to the penalty shootout, much to the delight of the crowd.  While soccer purests may dislike the shootout, you cannot deny the intensity it creates.

Hélder Postiga scoring the first PK of the shootout.

The entire stadium was on its feet as Hélder Postiga stepped to the spot to takethe first PK, which he was able to put past keeper Łukasz Załuska despite Załuska getting a hand on it.  The clubs alternated scoring until Liédson stepped to the spot for the 6th PK.  As he stepped to the spot, I turned to one of my friends and mentioned how Liédson was probably the best player on the pitch and that he should easily make the spot kick.  Apparently, I jinxed him, as he sent his shot high over the bar and into the bleachers.  Paul McGowan, then stepped to the spot and won the game for Celtic 6-5 on penalties.  The mostly pro-Celtic crowd erupted as the team celebrated on the field. As “Dirty Water’ blared in the background, I consoled my pro-Sporting neighbor and left the park hoping that Football at Fenway would become a yearly tradition.

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Gang Green – Eagles Pre Training Camp Preview – Defensive Line and Linebackers

My wife knows a few things about sports; she has picked them up via osmosis over our 9+ years as a couple.  One of those things is “defense wins championships.”  She likes to throw this out whenever we discuss sports. In this case I believe it to be true.  If the Eagles want to win a championship, things will have to start with their defense.  In addition, the Eagles need to cut down on their penalties this season.  Last year, they gave the opposition 35 first downs via penalties, the second highest in the league 1 behind the Packers.  It doesn’t do the team any good to have a team that performs well defensively only to allow the opposition extra chances to score.

Trent Cole will lead an Eagles defensive line looking to pressure the quarterback and create turnovers.

Defensive Line:  Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Trevor Laws, Antonio Dixon, Victor Abiamiri, Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Ricky Sapp, Eric Moncur, Boo Robinson and Jeff Owens The 2009 d-line crew was solid, if not spectacular.  The Eagles finished 9th in the league in rushing yards surrendered, and but were in the bottom half in terms of yards per carry.  On the passing side, the Eagles sacked the opposing quarterbacks 44 times last season, good enough to finish tied for third in the league.  It was obvious from the Eagles’ draft strategy that they were looking to continue to pressure the quarterback this season.  The Birds traded up in the first round to draft Brandon Graham out of the University of Michigan.  Graham played linebacker in college, but the Eagles see him as a left-sided Trent Cole clone.  The Eagles could do much worse than finding a clone of Trent Cole.  Last season, Cole had 12.5 sacks and was selected to his second Pro-Bowl.  Graham, who as of writing was still unsigned, needs to get into camp in order to make in impact.  Observers believe that Graham will be an impact player for the Birds this year, with ESPN blogger Matt Mosley considering Graham as his preseason defensive rookie of the year.  Graham will likely split time with Juqua Parker who had 8 sacks last season.  Beyond Graham, the Birds also drafted Ricky Sapp out of Clemson and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim out of Washington to bolster the current crop of defensive ends.

In the middle of the line, the Birds are set with Bunkley and Patterson.  While neither has lived up to the hype that surrounded them when they were drafted, both are solid and are locks to be in the starting lineup.  Returning players Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon will likely be their backups.  In a further effort to strengthen the d-line, the Eagles traded for Darryl Tapp from Seattle.  Tapp had fallen out of favor in Seattle, but should fit in nicely with the Birds.  Given the Eagles’ strategy of rotating their d-linemen, I suspect Tapp (who can play at defensive tackle on passing downs) will play a big part in the Eagles’ defense.

With 14 players in training camp for no more than 11 spots (based on last year’s roster), at least 3 of the players listed will be cut.  Locks to make the roster: Cole, Parker, Bunkley, Patterson, Abiamiri, Tapp, Graham.  That leaves 4 sports up for grabs based on my projections.  I suspect that Laws and Dixon will make the squad based on their familiarity with the Eagles defense.  As for the rookies, expect Sapp and Te’o-Nesheim (who can play defensive tackle) to fill out the roster.

Can Stewart Bradley rebound from a torn ACL? His presence will be important for the Birds.

Linebacker: Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims, Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan, Alex Hall, Moise Fokou, Joe Mays, Simoni Lawrence, Jamar Chaney and Keenan ClaytonThe linebacker position was in a constant state of flux last season.  The Eagles lost their starting middle linebacker, Stewart Bradley, before the season even started and then lost his replacement (Gaither) during the season.  The Eagles saw 7 different players start a game at linebacker.  Going into 2010, the Eagles are looking for more stability and production from their linebacking corps.  The Birds traded a 5th round pick to the Lions for Ernie Sims in an effort to solidify the weak-side.  Sims, a former first round pick, had a productive first three seasons, averaging 124 tackles per season.  Last year, Sims started only 8 games and fell out of favor with Lions’ management.  Still just 25, Sims has not lived up to his potential as a dynamic defensive weapon.  If the Birds can get a 100 tackle season out of him they’ll be happy.  In the middle, Stewart Bradley is due to come back from his ACL injury and, if healthy, should provide the Eagles with a great quarterback for the defense.  Bradley was very good in 2008, racking up 108 tackles.  A return to that form would provide the Eagles with two solid backers.  On the strong-side, the early favorite to start is Moise Fokou.  Fokou, a 7th round pick in 2009, started 4 games last season and racked up 28 tackles.  It remains to be seen whether Fokou is ready to start an entire season at linebacker, but he showed promise in his cameo last season.  Gaither will provide cover for Bradley and Sims, while Akeem Jordan will provide cover at both outside positions.  Alex Hall, added via trade with the Cleveland Browns, will also be in the rotation at linebacker and can play defensive end as well.  Last season, the Eagles carried 8 linebackers, so expect 2 of the players listed above to not make the cut.   Joe Mays will likely make the roster, as he started one game last season and appeared in 11.  He knows the defensive system and is just 25.  As for the rookies, my guess is that 4th round pick Keenan Clayton will make the roster.

Just as with the offense, there are several questions marks about the Eagles’ defense.  How will the linebackers fair after an injury filled 2009?  Who will make the final cut?  What kind of impact will Brandon Graham have?  The final part of my pre training camp preview will be posted later in the week.

Tomorrow look for a post on Football at Fenway, as Celtic FC takes on Sporting Clube de Portugal in the first soccer game at Fenway Park since 1968.

You might also be interested in: Are You Ready for Some Football? – Eagles Pre-Training Camp Preview – Offense

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Are You Ready for Some Football? – Eagles Pre-Training Camp Preview – Offense

Do you trust this man to lead the Eagles?

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 KafkaLove 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.

Can LeSean McCoy replace Brian Westbrook?

Running Back: LeSean McCoy, Mike Bell, Charles Scott, Eldra Buckley, Martell MallettThis 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 WrightFullback 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.

Tight End: Brent Celek, Cornelius Ingram, Martin Rucker, Clay HarborThe Eagles found a diamond in the rough when they drafted Brent Celek out of the University of

Brent Celek was 2nd in the NFL, among TE, in yards per catch last season (12.8 ypc).

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).

You might also be interested in:

Gang Green – Eagles Pre Training Camp Preview – Defensive Line and Linebackers

Gang Green Part II: Eagles Pre Training Camp Preview – Defensive Backs and Special Teams

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Gang Green Part II: Eagles Pre Training Camp Preview – Defensive Backs and Special Teams