> 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.
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
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."
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."