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3 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

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."

What he sees might be a coach with one of the NFL's more brutal
and elemental attacks.

--P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER If the line can get in sync, the offense should really open up for Watters (32), Detmer (14) and fullback Kevin Turner (34). [Kevin Turner, Ricky Watters and Ty Detmer in game]

BY THE NUMBERS

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)

Empty Nest

Has any personnel move in the NFL this decade been worse than
the Eagles' decision to waive wide receiver Cris Carter six days
before the start of the 1990 season? Since catching on with the
Vikings, Carter has 578 receptions, second most in the '90s
behind Jerry Rice's 704. The Eagles' leading receiver since
Carter left is Fred Barnett (308 catches), who left for the
Dolphins as a free agent after the '95 season.

Most Receptions after Leaving an NFL Team

First team Rec. New team(s) Rec.

Charlie Joiner Oilers 82 Bengals 668
(1969-72) (1972-75),
Chargers
(1976-86)

Don Maynard Giants 5 Titans-Jets 628
(1958) (1960-72),
Cardinals
(1973)

Charlie Joiner Bengals 82 Chargers 586
(1972-75) (1976-86)

Cris Carter Eagles 89 Vikings
(1987-89) (1990-96) 578

Drew Hill Rams 60 Oilers 574
(1979-82, '84) (1985-91),
Falcons
(1992-93)

SCHEDULE SKINNY

The Eagles could dig themselves into an early hole with four of
their first six games away from home. They open on the road
against the Giants, return home for the Packers, then travel to
Dallas for a Monday nighter; after a bye week they go to
Minnesota, entertain Washington and travel to Jacksonville. The
payback is a three-game home stand starting on Nov.
23--Steelers, Bengals and Giants--but then Philadelphia closes
on the road against the Falcons and the Redskins. The finale
could have serious playoff implications.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 7 (tie) Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .516
Games against playoff teams: 7

The Lineup With 1996 Statistics

Coach: Ray Rhodes

Offensive Backs

QB Ty Detmer 401 att. 238 comp. 59.4% 2,911 yds.
15 TDs 13 int. 80.8 rtg.

RB Ricky Watters 353 att. 1,411 yds. 4.0 avg. 51 rec.
444 yds. 8.7 avg. 13 TDs

FB Kevin Turner 18 att. 39 yds. 2.2 avg. 43 rec.
409 yds. 9.5 avg. 1 TD

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Irving Fryar 88 rec. 1,195 yds. 11 TDs
WR Chris T. Jones 70 rec. 859 yds. 5 TDs
WR Michael Timpson[*] 62 rec. 802 yds. 0 TDs
TE Jason Dunn 15 rec. 332 yds. 2 TDs
PK Chris Boniol[*] 24/25 PATs 32/36 FGs 120 pts.
KR Derrick Witherspoon 53 ret. 24.0 avg. 2 TDs
PR Antwuan Wyatt (R)[*]12 ret. 12.4 avg. 1 TD
LT Jermane Mayberry 6'4" 325 lbs. 3 games 1 start
LG Joe Panos 6'2" 293 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Steve Everitt[*] 6'5" 290 lbs. 8 games 7 starts
RG Mike Zandofsky[*] 6'2" 308 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
RT Troy Drake 6'6" 305 lbs. 11 games 0 starts

Defense

LE Greg Jefferson 23 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
LT Andy Harmon 3 tackles 1 sack
RT Rhett Hall 38 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RE Mike Mamula 52 tackles 8 sacks
OLB Darrin Smith[*] 81 tackles 1 sack
MLB James Willis 77 tackles 1 int.
OLB William Thomas 71 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
CB Troy Vincent 52 tackles 3 int.
SS Mike Zordich 96 tackles 4 int.
FS Brian Dawkins 74 tackles 3 int.
CB Bobby Taylor 62 tackles 3 int.
P Tom Hutton 73 punts 42.6 avg.

[*]New acquisition
Rookie statistics for final college year