THE EAGLES' offense is coming off its best statistical season of the 10-year Andy Reid era. In 2008 the team set a franchise record for points (416) and moved the ball as well as it did with Terrell Owens during its '04 Super Bowl run. Though Philly couldn't solve the top five offenses of Baltimore and Washington, and Reid benched quarterback Donovan McNabb for the second half of one game, overall this unit didn't seem to need much of an upgrade.
So why did Philadelphia spend its first three draft picks on a receiver (Jeremy Maclin), a running back (LeSean McCoy) and a tight end (Cornelius Ingram); invest millions in bolstering the offensive line; and sign Michael Vick? "We want to be able to throw a lot of different things at teams," Reid says. "It's going to be a lot of fun thinking of different ways to attack with some of this new blood."
That's not the only reason the offensive transfusion will come in handy. Following the loss of arguably the top three defensive leaders from last season—safety Brian Dawkins, now in Denver; linebacker Stewart Bradley, out for the season with a torn ACL suffered at the start of training camp; and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who died of cancer in July—the offense might have to be even more productive than last year's.
It would help if the Eagles could develop a premier wide receiver, something the team has been missing since Owens was released after the 2005 season. Second-year wideout DeSean Jackson could be that game-changer. Jackson is only 5'10" and 175 pounds, and without pads he doesn't look like much of a threat. But teammates compare him with Carolina's Steve Smith because of his speed and his ability to go up to get the ball over taller and bigger defenders. "It's hard to tell how fast he really is until you're running next to him or, more likely, running behind him," Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell says. "He's not scared—he's got swagger to him. That's what you need at receiver, no matter what size they are."
If Jackson shows more maturity and becomes a consistent threat, he should take some pressure off 30-year-old running back Brian Westbrook, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February and surgery to remove bone spurs in his right ankle in June. Westbrook has healed quickly and expects to be near 100% when the season starts, but the Eagles want McCoy, the second-round pick out of Pitt, to get some carries and be prepared to fill in. Coaches were pleased with how quickly he picked up blocking schemes and that he displayed better pass-catching skills than expected. Maclin, the first-rounder from Missouri, has looked good as a receiver and will also see time as a return man; Ingram, the fifth-rounder from Florida, is out for the season with a torn ACL.
The signings of two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (late of Buffalo) and right tackle (now guard) Stacy Andrews (Cincinnati) to contracts worth a combined $100 million were meant to improve the run game and cure short-yardage woes. "We'll be better in that third-and-one," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says. "We're a little younger and more dynamic [with the newcomers]. They're big and physical and should help us address what was an issue last year."
With the offensive pieces seemingly in place, few expected Philly to be the team to sign Vick. When the acquisition was announced, reporters pressed Reid to be specific about how he'll use the former Falcons quarterback, who cannot play in regular-season games until commissioner Roger Goodell lifts the final stage of Vick's suspension."He will contribute," Reid said, giving his typically vague response. "You can ask defensive coordinators on other teams if they're worried about that." That and a whole lot more.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
WITH 2008 STATISTICS
COACH: ANDY REID
97-62-1 in NFL, 11th season with Eagles