Don't look for a fast start, though. Quarterback Rodney Peete was slowed by a sprained left knee late in preseason. Mayberry isn't ready to start yet. His spot will be filled by three-year veteran Joe Panos, a sturdy drive-blocker. But the schedule lightens up over the last six games, during which the Eagles face only one opponent who reached the playoffs last season.
One team that could take advantage of an early date with Philly is the Washington Redskins, who open the season against the Eagles at RFK Stadium. In the preseason Gus Frerotte won the great Washington quarterback shoot-out over Heath Shuler, who cost the Redskins a $19.25 million contract when he was taken as the third pick in the 1994 draft.
For a read on Frerotte, let's go back to a game last year against the Giants. New York won 24-15, but Frerotte never stopped coming, never stopped pushing the ball deep. Afterward, an exhausted pair of Giants cornerbacks, Thomas Randolph and Phillippi Sparks, slumped by their lockers, too tired to dress. "Man, I never want to go through a night like that again." Randolph said. "That guy never let up. I thought it would never end."
Frerotte is an attack quarterback, a guy with a mean streak. Shuler remains a prospect, a fellow who tries to execute the game plan as ordered. He's as nice a young man as you would want to meet, but he doesn't quicken the pulses. End of debate—at least for now—and so much for all that off-season talk about Frerotte's being trade bait. Give Redskins coach Norv Turner a little credit for knowing something about NFL quarterbacking.
So will Washington ride Frerotte's strong right arm to glory? The offense certainly has some weapons: wideouts Henry Ellard, Michael Westbrook and Billy Brooks; 1,000-yard rusher Terry Allen; and Jamie Asher, who looks like an honest-to-goodness pass-catching tight end. The problem has been the Redskins' defense, particularly against the run, and that can mean curtains in the NFC East.
Enter former St. Louis Rams tackle Sean Gilbert, 6'5", 310 pounds of...well, of what? He cost Washington the sixth pick in last spring's draft, but if he's anywhere near his 1993 Pro Bowl form, he will be worth it. The Rams moved him to end last year and then gave up on him. Some observers thought Gilbert lost his intensity after he became a Christian in '94. Three arthroscopic knee operations didn't help. If Gilbert finds his old fire and if his former Rams buddy, tackle Marc Boutte, also helps to slow the opposition, who knows?
The New York Giants' camp, on the other hand, has turned paranoid. Take this episode: Coach Dan Reeves starts Tommy Maddox at quarterback instead of Dave Brown in exhibition game number 2. Maddox has a rough night, the fans boo, the press rips. The fans read about it, and when Maddox relieves Brown the following week, he hears it before he takes his first snap. Two days later Maddox is cut. Reeves, in effect, is saying, O.K., you got what you wanted. He offers this shocking quote: "Maybe they're trying to get rid of both of us. They're 50 percent of the way there. They ought to be happy because they're getting closer to 100 percent."
Lost in this furor was the fact that Brown and Maddox were working behind a line that was getting shoved back in their faces; they had no pocket to step into. The young line, with four new starters, is built for run-blocking—for power backs Rodney Hampton and Tyrone Wheatley, who is questionable with a stress fracture of his right fibula. Brown, in his first outing after his benching, was spraying the ball. He seemed to have regressed on an offense that ranked next to last in the league last year.
The Giants' talent erosion has been insidious. Their No. 1 draft choices since 1991 have been fullback Jarrod Bunch (gone), tight end Derek Brown (gone), Dave Brown (functional but shaky), wideout Thomas Lewis (a starter but just barely), Wheatley (injured most of the time) and defensive end Cedric Jones (not ready to start).
On the plus side there's Sparks, the best young cornerback in the NFL, but he's working on a defense that finished fourth from the bottom in stopping the run last year. Maybe Reeves has seen the future, which is why he has declared himself, in effect, a lame-duck coach for 1996.