The Philadelphia Eagles have worked their way onto many experts’ short lists of contenders for the NFC championship.
And the Eagles have earned this distinction despite the indefinite absence of long-time defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who is battling cancer, the gradual disintegration of the legs of running back Brian Westbrook, who is expected to miss most of training camp and the preseason after undergoing ankle surgery, and the departure of defensive leader Brian Dawkins, who fled for Denver after supposedly being low-balled by the Birds.
The Eagles also are viewed by many to be on the fast-track to a February date in Miami despite a fairly dramatic overhaul along the offensive line. Gone are long-term left and right tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. In their places will go newcomer Jason Peters, who whined his way out of Buffalo, and Shawn Andrews, who pissed and moaned his way out of training camp a year ago.
Replacing Shawn Andrews at right guard is his brother, Stacy, a right tackle in Cincinnati who scored a huge free-agent deal, despite tearing an ACL in December.
Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer takes an extended look at the new-look line. Among other things, Brookover explains that center Jamaal Jackson believes the revamped collection of blockers will help to improve the running game.
Still, Jackson realizes that it will be crucial for the new lineup to learn how to work together.
“The chemistry part of it is going to be a big challenge just because
Stacy Andrews wasn’t able to compete with us during minicamps,” Jackson
said. “But that’s what training camp is for. I felt like Jason picked
things up pretty good as far as how we do things on the offensive line.
Him and Todd [Herremans] worked pretty well together on the left side, and I think
Shawn is doing a good job.”
But while every team can find reason to be optimism when all 32 are residing in the valley of zero and zero, the more we think about the situation in Philly, the more we wonder how in the heck so many people are presuming that they’ll be so thickly in the mix come January.
Let’s face it — this is a squad that most had written off on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, after a devastating loss to the Ravens, during which quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched for the first time in his career, seemed to grease the skids for the exit of both McNabb and coach Andy Reid after the season.
And so the high expectations possibly could lead to that outcome a year later, unless the Eagles can overcome the absence of Johnson, the rickety knee and ankle of Westbrook, the disappearance of Dawkins, and a fairly dramatic shuffling of parts along the wall of beef charged with the duty of keeping McNabb on his feet.