|Jackson has some of the skills -- and the swagger -- of Philly's last true No. 1 receiver.
|Greg Trott/Getty Images |
13 at Carolina
20 NEW ORLEANS
27 KANSAS CITY
11 TAMPA BAY
18 at Oakland
26 at Washington (M)
1 N.Y. GIANTS
15 at San Diego
22 at Chicago
6 at Atlanta
13 at N.Y. Giants
20 SAN FRANCISCO
3 at Dallas
Quintin Mikell, Strong safety: The Eagles lost longtime coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer in the
off-season, but his defensive philosophy will live on in a unit he molded. No
player embodies Johnson's aggressive, physical style more than Mikell, 28, who
went undrafted out of Boise State in 2003 and fought his way through the system
to become a second-team All-Pro last season. "He's the reason I'm here," Mikell
says of Johnson. "He stuck by me when I struggled. There were games when I was
so bad, I thought I'd never play again. But he had faith in me. I think I made
Philly needs Mikell to provide guidance to a unit that lost not only its
coordinator but also its longtime leader, safety Brian Dawkins, who left as a
free agent. "Quintin is a natural leader," coach Andy Reid says. "He's not a big
screamer. He does it by example. He's a lot different from Dawkins, but
Quintin's not afraid to put his personality into what he's doing." To take the
next step in becoming an elite safety, Mikell wants to improve on his
three-interception total of 2008. "I left a lot of plays on the field last
year," he says. "I've been working on my catching. I overthought it a little bit
in the past, but I'm pretty comfortable this year, and hopefully I can make a
lot more big plays."
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
The defense took some big hits, but a high-scoring offense that got younger and better can crank it up one more notch.
The Eagles' offense is coming off its best statistical season of the
10-year Andy Reid era. In 2008 the team set a franchise record for points (416)
and moved the ball as well as it did with Terrell Owens during its '04 Super
Bowl run. Though Philly couldn't solve the top five offenses of Baltimore
and Washington, and Reid benched quarterback Donovan McNabb for the second half
of one game, overall this unit didn't seem to need much of an upgrade.
So why did Philadelphia spend its first three draft picks on a receiver
(Jeremy Maclin), a running back (LeSean McCoy) and a tight end (Cornelius
Ingram); invest millions in bolstering the offensive line; and sign Michael
Vick? "We want to be able to throw a lot of different things at teams," Reid
says. "It's going to be a lot of fun thinking of different ways to attack with
some of this new blood."
That's not the only reason the offensive transfusion will come in handy.
Following the loss of arguably the top three defensive leaders from last
season -- safety Brian Dawkins, now in Denver; linebacker Stewart Bradley, out for
the season with a torn ACL suffered at the start of training camp; and defensive
coordinator Jim Johnson, who died of cancer in July -- the offense might have to be
even more productive than last year's.
It would help if the Eagles could develop a premier wide receiver, something
the team has been missing since Owens was released after the 2005 season.
Second-year wideout DeSean Jackson could be that game-changer. Jackson is only
5' 10" and 175 pounds, and without pads he doesn't look like much of a
threat. But teammates compare him with Carolina's Steve Smith because of his
speed and his ability to go up to get the ball over taller and bigger defenders.
"It's hard to tell how fast he really is until you're running next to him or,
more likely, running behind him," Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell says.
"He's not scared -- he's got swagger to him. That's what you need at receiver, no
matter what size they are."
If Jackson shows more maturity and becomes a consistent threat, he should
take some pressure off 30-year-old running back Brian Westbrook, who had
arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February and surgery to remove bone
spurs in his right ankle in June. Westbrook has healed quickly and expects to be
near 100% when the season starts, but the Eagles want McCoy, the second-round
pick out of Pitt, to get some carries and be prepared to fill in. Coaches were
pleased with how quickly he picked up blocking schemes and that he displayed
better pass-catching skills than expected. Maclin, the first-rounder from
Missouri, has looked good as a receiver and will also see time as a return man;
Ingram, the fifth-rounder from Florida, is out for the season with a torn
The signings of two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (late of Buffalo)
and right tackle (now guard) Stacy Andrews (Cincinnati) to contracts worth a
combined $100 million were meant to improve the run game and cure
short-yardage woes. "We'll be better in that third-and-one," offensive
coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says. "We're a little younger and more dynamic
[with the newcomers]. They're big and physical and should help us address what
was an issue last year."
With the offensive pieces seemingly in place, few expected Philly to be the
team to sign Vick. When the acquisition was announced, reporters pressed Reid to
be specific about how he'll use the former Falcons quarterback, who cannot play
in regular-season games until commissioner Roger Goodell lifts the final stage
of Vick's suspension."He will contribute," Reid said, giving his typically vague
response. "You can ask defensive coordinators on other teams if they're worried
about that." That and a whole lot more.
-- Andrew Perloff