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3 PHILADELPHIA Eagles
Paul Zimmerman
September 01, 1997
When your center makes more money than any of your quarterbacks, you're serious about wanting to get people blocked. The Eagles' first free-agent pickup this off-season was center Steve Everitt, who left the Ravens to sign a five-year, $11.5 million contract, immediately lifting his salary past those of quarterbacks Ty Detmer, Rodney Peete and Bobby Hoying.
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September 01, 1997

3 Philadelphia Eagles

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1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 10-6 (Second in NFC East)

Rushing

Passing

Total

OFFENSE

117.6(9)

234.1(4)

351.7(4)

DEFENSE

98.9(10)

186.2(6)

285.1(5)

When your center makes more money than any of your quarterbacks, you're serious about wanting to get people blocked. The Eagles' first free-agent pickup this off-season was center Steve Everitt, who left the Ravens to sign a five-year, $11.5 million contract, immediately lifting his salary past those of quarterbacks Ty Detmer, Rodney Peete and Bobby Hoying.

Two years ago the big-money pickup was running back Ricky Watters. Last year it was cornerback Troy Vincent. The Eagles have always been active in the free-agent market, which is a luxury you can afford when you don't have a lot tied up in your quarterbacks. But a center seldom gets the big deal.

Everitt is that good, though, and coach Ray Rhodes is that concerned with putting a good line in front of Detmer and, particularly, Watters. Three of the five teams in the NFC East are located in cold-weather cities, so it's sensible to want to run the ball. No one knows that better than Rhodes.

Let's take the figure of 123 yards rushing. In two years under Rhodes, the Eagles have hit that number, or bettered it, in 20 games, counting playoffs. They've won 18 of those games. On the 15 occasions they've run for less than 123 yards, they've lost 11.

What's more, the Eagles haven't had a Pro Bowl lineman since Jerry Sisemore, 15 years ago. That means they've been grinding out all those yards without any stars up front, which is a tribute to their determination and, of course, to Watters. But just think what would have happened if the line were anywhere near the caliber of, say, the Cowboys'.

Well, Everitt's a start. He was flirting with Pro Bowl recognition for a couple of years, but last season he tore a pectoral muscle and appeared in only eight games. Now he says, "I'm kind of looking at this like being a rookie again, like having to prove myself. I think that before I hurt myself last year I was playing as well as I've ever played.

"I love this offense," Everitt adds. "It seems like the last few years I've been in an offense where the whole idea was to take what the defense gave you. Here, you make them take what you give them. You dictate from the first play."

Not that the Eagles were operating with a stiff at center last year. Raleigh McKenzie was a respected veteran, but he was 33, and in Everitt they have a player seven years younger. The rest of the line? Hog-type drive-blockers. Philadelphia is solid at guard, with Joe Panos and Mike Zandofsky, but the tackles have only one career start between them. Rhodes will go with Jermane Mayberry, the club's first-round pick in '96, and third-year veteran Troy Drake, who appeared in 11 games last year as a backup. If either falters, Barrett Brooks, last year's left tackle, might break back in.

Watters had more carries than any back in the NFL last season—353, for 1,411 yards—yet he still moaned about not handling the ball enough, even though he wore down noticeably in the stretch. That concern will be addressed with not one but two backups to share the load. Charlie Garner's 5.4 yards per carry in 1995 was the best in the NFL, and he averaged 5.2 yards last year, though on just 66 carries. At 5'9" and 187 pounds, Garner wears down when he gets more than six or so carries in a game. That sets things up for Duce Staley, a 220-pound slasher out of South Carolina, the best-looking rookie runner in Philadelphia since Wilbert Montgomery in '77.

Rhodes must address another problem, though, and that is the shaky way the Eagles ended the '96 season. They staggered into the playoffs and were shut out by the 49ers in the first round. His driving, high-emotion approach had taken them only so far. "We ended up a tired football team," he says. "Maybe there was too much hitting in practice, too many hours on the field. As a coach I've got to look at myself."

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