Work in Sports
While on the rise, turnaround still on the horizon
The Philadelphia Eagles opened their training camp at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., on July 18. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Eagles this season. SI's season preview will post Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Do you agree with me that Tom Modrak has found some terrific young talent and that the Eagles could be the ultimate sleeper in 2000? You don't? Well, join the pack because nobody else does, either.
2.) In Donovan McNabb's first NFL start last year, the Eagles upset the Redskins 35-28. I want you to tell me who was the last Eagle rookie QB to win his initial start, and in what year. Answer: Mike Boryla, 1974.
3.) Does McNabb, as people are hinting, have a chance to become the best of the fabulous rookie QB class of the past season?
4.) In 1999 the leading Philly receiver, Torrance Small, caught 49 balls, which ranked him 59th in the NFL. The entire Eagles wideout corps caught nine TD passes. How much help can be expected from No. 2 draft Todd Pinkston, the only significant addition to that department?
5.) Last year the Eagles had only five games against teams with losing records. This year they have 10, including meetings with the three worst outfits of '99, Cleveland, New Orleans and Cincinnati. How will this show up in the won-lost ranks?
The Eagles can make the playoffs if ... it were 2002. Andy Reid has the franchise pointed in the right direction, but there just aren't enough quality players in Philly. ...And adding former Green Bay tight end Mark Chmura -- if he returns from legal problems -- is not the final piece to the puzzle. Two good drafts and a few free-agent signings will put the Eagles into contention.
Pivotal games: Philadelphia opens the season at Dallas, but the true test of grit will come Weeks 6-14: Six NFC East divisions games plus a visit by Tennessee. The difference between 8-8 or 6-10 will hang in the balance.
On the hot seat: Free-agent tackle Jon Runyan (Tennessee) was brought in to anchor the offensive line. Duce Staley rushed for 1,273 yards last season -- without the benefit of a dominating force like Runyan. However, Runyan's presence may be most obvious in the passing game; the Eagles' leading receiver [Torrance Small] had just 655 yards in 1999. Philly fans will not show the high-dollar Runyan any brotherly love if the offense sputters.
Up-and-comers: Donovan McNabb, hands down. The second-year quarterback was thrown into the fray last season and responded admirably: 106-for-216, 948 yards, eight touchdowns. The addition of receiver Charles Johnson will make McNabb markedly better, and keep an eye on second-round draft choice Todd Pinkston -- he could emerge as a starter before season's end.