Expect Westbrook to carry more of the offensive load this season.
at Green Bay
at New England
at N.Y. Giants
at N.Y. Jets
at New Orleans
The King 500
402Kevin Curtis, Wide Receiver
Curtis was previously known as "that other Rams receiver," having been overshadowed by Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Still, he shone when given the chance, with 44 catches and 615 yards in the nine games he started in '05. The Eagles signed him to be a full-time starter. "We thought he was a top-notch receiver," says coach Andy Reid. "He's got good speed and good hands, but he's also very good over the middle."
A rejuvenated quarterback and a retooled linebacker corps have this aging team primed for a run at the Super Bowl
For the second consecutive year and the third time since 2003, the Eagles
will feature a Week 1 starting quarterback different from the one who finished
out the season before. The good news is that the "new" quarterback for '07
should be Donovan McNabb, the man who started the '06 opener. McNabb's latest
injury -- a torn right ACL he suffered in a loss to the Titans last
Nov. 19 -- was projected to take up to a year to heal, but he looked sharp and
agile in training camp, and the Eagles are quietly confident that he'll take the
field on Sept. 9 in Green Bay.
On the other side of the ball Philadelphia has attempted to beef up a feeble
run defense (26th in the league) in part by completely overhauling its starting
linebackers. The Eagles had already acquired 10-year veteran Takeo Spikes from
the Bills for one outside slot and inserted second-year man Chris Gocong into
the other; on Aug. 21 they surprisingly cut veteran middle linebacker
Jeremiah Trotter and handed his job to Omar Gaither, who as a rookie last season
started seven games down the stretch and in the playoffs.
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
Despite scuttlebutt in the Philadelphia media that 2007 might be the
30-year-old McNabb's last shot to bring a championship to the city, coach Andy
Reid says that McNabb is his starter for the duration -- even though some believe
that Reid drafted Kevin Kolb from Houston in the second round to succeed McNabb
sooner rather than later. "People read into it that I'm trying to replace a
quarterback," says Reid. "But my hope is that Donovan has 10 more great
McNabb's quick return has galvanized teammates. "When you see him out there
running around," says tight end L.J. Smith, "it's good for everybody." But even
with McNabb again under center, the offense likely will rely less on the pass
than has been the case for much of his eight-year tenure. That's thanks in large
part to running back Brian Westbrook, who proved once and for all that he's
capable of carrying a feature back's load. Through the fateful Tennessee game,
the Eagles ran the ball 39.5% of the time and went 5-5; that figure spiked to
46.2% in the eight games (two postseason) started by backup Jeff Garcia, six of
which were victories. Amazingly, the Eagles finished the regular season ranked
second in the NFL in total yards.
"We don't care who gets the football, who scores the touchdown," says
offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "Our whole focus is and will be on
winning the next game. If that's running the football, we'll do that. If that's
throwing the football 40 times, we'll do that."
Mornhinweg's unit will have trouble getting enough possessions if the team's
defense can't improve on its one major bugaboo: stopping the run. Last season
the Eagles yielded 136.4 rushing yards a game and allowed foes to surpass 200
yards four times. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson takes umbrage at the notion
that he might have to modify his trademark attacking schemes to contain
opponents' ground games. "The name of the game is getting to the quarterback -- I
don't care what you say -- and creating turnovers," he says.
So Johnson is counting on his retooled corps of linebackers to provide more
run-stopping muscle. But the man constantly mentioned as the key to Philly's run
defense is second-year defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, a 2006 first-round
pick out of Florida State who last season reported two weeks late, had just nine
total tackles and zero sacks, and was said to be surly and unmotivated.
This year Bunkley showed up on time and weighing 306 pounds, some 10 pounds
lighter than in '06. Moreover, "he's a better technique player, he's playing the
run better, he understands the scheme better," says Johnson. "He just became a
pro." Indeed, Bunkley now has a more nuanced feel for what it takes to do battle
in NFL trenches. "You've got to dominate your blocker up front first and then
worry about the ball," he says. "In college it was so easy because I was so much
stronger than a lot of blockers, and all I did was come off the ball and look
for the runner. You can't do that up here."
Beside the D, there are two other major concerns. The first is age: Seven of
the team's projected starters -- accounting for 19 Pro Bowl selections -- are 30 or
older, including McNabb and Spikes. The second is a possible struggle for the
mantle of leadership. In separate press conferences over a three-day span in
early August, the since-released Trotter said, "There's never one leader on one
team. A lot of people lead in different ways"; Westbrook said, "I think I will
continue in that role" of a team leader he assumed when McNabb went down; and
McNabb said bluntly, "I'm the leader of this team."
However, should its veterans stay healthy and harmonious, there's little
reason why the Eagles can't make a serious run at that long-awaited first Super
-- Ben Reiter