> For thesecond consecutive year and the third time since 2003, the Eagles will featurea Week 1 starting quarterback different from the one who finished out theseason before. The good news is that the "new" quarterback for '07should be Donovan McNabb, the man who started the '06 opener. McNabb's latestinjury--a torn right ACL he suffered in a loss to the Titans lastNov.¬†19--was projected to take up to a year to heal, but he looked sharpand agile in training camp, and the Eagles are quietly confident that he'lltake the field on Sept.¬†9 in Green Bay.
On the other sideof the ball Philadelphia has attempted to beef up a feeble run defense (26th inthe league) in part by completely overhauling its starting linebackers. TheEagles had already acquired 10-year veteran Takeo Spikes from the Bills for oneoutside slot and inserted second-year man Chris Gocong into the other; onAug.¬†21 they surprisingly cut veteran middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotterand handed his job to Omar Gaither, who as a rookie last season started sevengames down the stretch and in the playoffs.
> Despitescuttlebutt in the Philadelphia media that 2007 might be the 30-year-oldMcNabb's last shot to bring a championship to the city, coach Andy Reid saysthat McNabb is his starter for the duration--even though some believe that Reiddrafted Kevin Kolb from Houston in the second round to succeed McNabb soonerrather than later. "People read into it that I'm trying to replace aquarterback," says Reid. "But my hope is that Donovan has 10 more greatyears."
McNabb's quickreturn has galvanized teammates. "When you see him out there runningaround," says tight end L.J. Smith, "it's good for everybody." Buteven with McNabb again under center, the offense likely will rely less on thepass than has been the case for much of his eight-year tenure. That's thanks inlarge part to running back Brian Westbrook, who proved once and for all thathe's capable of carrying a feature back's load. Through the fateful Tennesseegame, the Eagles ran the ball 39.5% of the time and went 5-5; that figurespiked to 46.2% in the eight games (two postseason) started by backup JeffGarcia, six of which were victories. Amazingly, the Eagles finished the regularseason ranked second in the NFL in total yards.
"We don't carewho gets the football, who scores the touchdown," says offensivecoordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "Our whole focus is and will be on winningthe next game. If that's running the football, we'll do that. If that'sthrowing the football 40 times, we'll do that."
Mornhinweg's unitwill have trouble getting enough possessions if the team's defense can'timprove on its one major bugaboo: stopping the run. Last season the Eaglesyielded 136.4 rushing yards a game and allowed foes to surpass 200 yards fourtimes. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson takes umbrage at the notion that hemight have to modify his trademark attacking schemes to contain opponents'ground games. "The name of the game is getting to the quarterback--I don'tcare what you say--and creating turnovers," he says.
So Johnson iscounting on his retooled corps of linebackers to provide more run-stoppingmuscle. But the man constantly mentioned as the key to Philly's run defense issecond-year defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, a 2006 first-round pick out ofFlorida State who last season reported two weeks late, had just nine totaltackles and zero sacks, and was said to be surly and unmotivated.
This year Bunkleyshowed 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, heunderstands the scheme better," says Johnson. "He just became apro." Indeed, Bunkley now has a more nuanced feel for what it takes to dobattle in NFL trenches. "You've got to dominate your blocker up front firstand then worry about the ball," he says. "In college it was so easybecause I was so much stronger than a lot of blockers, and all I did was comeoff the ball and look for the runner. You can't do that up here."
Beside the D,there are two other major concerns. The first is age: Seven of the team'sprojected starters--accounting for 19 Pro Bowl selections--are 30 or older,including McNabb and Spikes. The second is a possible struggle for the mantleof leadership. In separate press conferences over a three-day span in earlyAugust, the since-released Trotter said, "There's never one leader on oneteam. A lot of people lead in different ways"; Westbrook said, "I thinkI will continue in that role" of a team leader he assumed when McNabb wentdown; and McNabb said bluntly, "I'm the leader of this team."
However, shouldits veterans stay healthy and harmonious, there's little reason why the Eaglescan't make a serious run at that long-awaited first Super Bowl title.
9 at Green Bay
30 at N.Y.Giants
14 at N.Y.Jets
25 at NewEngland
9 N.Y. GIANTS
16 at Dallas
23 at NewOrleans
NFL RANK ...T18
Opponents' 2006winning percentage ... .500
Games againstplayoff teams ... 9
AN OPPOSING TEAM'SSCOUT SIZES UP THE EAGLES
> It comesdown to, How good is Donovan McNabb going to be? If he's real good, they'll befine. If not, they won't go anywhere. . . . There's always a lot of pressure inthat city, especially after the way Jeff Garcia played last year. It's going tobe interesting to watch what happens if they get off to a lousy start. . . .The offensive line is respectable. I like Shawn Andrews at guard; left tackleWilliam Thomas is getting along in years and he's a little beat up at thispoint. . . . I don't think they're strong at receiver, which is another problemfor McNabb. . . . On defense you have to wonder if Jevon Kearse can come allthe way back. . . . The whole team is built for making another run now. If itdoesn't happen this year, or maybe next year, they might have to startover.
THE KING 500
Curtis waspreviously known as "that other Rams receiver," having beenovershadowed by Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Still, he shone when given thechance, with 44 catches and 615 yards in the nine games he started in '05. TheEagles signed him to be a full-time starter. "We thought he was a top-notchreceiver," says coach Andy Reid. "He's got good speed and good hands,but he's also very good over the middle."
Instant access tothe latest and best Eagles stories, stats, and blogs from across the Web,handpicked by SI's editors.
COACH ANDY REID(80-48 in NFL), ninth season with Eagles
KEVIN CURTIS (NEWACQUISITION)
HT 6' 7"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 6"
HT 6' 7"
TAKEO SPIKES (NEWACQUISITION)
SACKS 3 1/2
SACKS 1 1/2
SACKS 23 1/2
SACKS 1 1/2
NEW ACQUISITION*2005 College Stats
> 2006 RECORD10-6 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 11/3/2 DEFENSE 26/9/15
¬†HEAVIERDUTY¬†Expect Westbrook to carry more of the offensive load thisseason.
DREW HALLOWELL/GETTY IMAGES