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 aswell as it did with Terrell Owens during its '04 Super Bowl run. Though Phillycouldn't solve the top five offenses of Baltimore and Washington, and Reidbenched quarterback Donovan McNabb for the second half of one game, overallthis unit didn't seem to need much of an upgrade.
So why didPhiladelphia spend its first three draft picks on a receiver (Jeremy Maclin), arunning back (LeSean McCoy) and a tight end (Cornelius Ingram); invest millionsin bolstering the offensive line; and sign Michael Vick? "We want to beable to throw a lot of different things at teams," Reid says. "It'sgoing to be a lot of fun thinking of different ways to attack with some of thisnew blood."
That's not theonly reason the offensive transfusion will come in handy. Following the loss ofarguably the top three defensive leaders from last season—safety Brian Dawkins,now in Denver; linebacker Stewart Bradley, out for the season with a torn ACLsuffered 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 productivethan last year's.
It would help ifthe Eagles could develop a premier wide receiver, something the team has beenmissing since Owens was released after the 2005 season. Second-year wideoutDeSean Jackson could be that game-changer. Jackson is only 5'10" and 175pounds, and without pads he doesn't look like much of a threat. But teammatescompare him with Carolina's Steve Smith because of his speed and his ability togo up to get the ball over taller and bigger defenders. "It's hard to tellhow fast he really is until you're running next to him or, more likely, runningbehind him," Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell says. "He's notscared—he's got swagger to him. That's what you need at receiver, no matterwhat size they are."
If Jackson showsmore maturity and becomes a consistent threat, he should take some pressure off30-year-old running back Brian Westbrook, who had arthroscopic surgery on hisleft knee in February and surgery to remove bone spurs in his right ankle inJune. Westbrook has healed quickly and expects to be near 100% when the seasonstarts, but the Eagles want McCoy, the second-round pick out of Pitt, to getsome carries and be prepared to fill in. Coaches were pleased with how quicklyhe picked up blocking schemes and that he displayed better pass-catching skillsthan expected. Maclin, the first-rounder from Missouri, has looked good as areceiver and will also see time as a return man; Ingram, the fifth-rounder fromFlorida, is out for the season with a torn ACL.
The signings oftwo-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (late of Buffalo) and right tackle(now guard) Stacy Andrews (Cincinnati) to contracts worth a combined $100million were meant to improve the run game and cure short-yardage woes."We'll be better in that third-and-one," offensive coordinator MartyMornhinweg says. "We're a little younger and more dynamic [with thenewcomers]. They're big and physical and should help us address what was anissue last year."
With the offensivepieces seemingly in place, few expected Philly to be the team to sign Vick.When the acquisition was announced, reporters pressed Reid to be specific abouthow he'll use the former Falcons quarterback, who cannot play in regular-seasongames until commissioner Roger Goodell lifts the final stage of Vick'ssuspension."He will contribute," Reid said, giving his typically vagueresponse. "You can ask defensive coordinators on other teams if they'reworried about that." That and a whole lot more.
WITH 2008 STATISTICS
97-62-1 in NFL, 11th season with Eagles
Shawn Andrews(back problems) could be replaced at RT by Winston Justice; Weaver's rushingstats in Seattle last year were 30 att., 130 yards.
Second-year LB JoeMays will compete with Gaither for Stewart Bradley's spot in the middle; backupDEs Darren Howard and Juqua Parker combined for 15 sacks in '08.
TTD: Total touchdowns
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2008 RECORD 9-6-1
NFL RANK (Rush > Pass > Total)
OFFENSE 22 > 6 > 9
DEFENSE 4 > 3 > 3
13 at Carolina
20 NEW ORLEANS
27 KANSAS CITY
11 TAMPA BAY
18 at Oakland
26 at Washington (M)
1 N.Y. GIANTS
15 at San Diego
22 at Chicago
6 at Atlanta
13 at N.Y. Giants
20 SAN FRANCISCO
3 at Dallas
NFL Rank: 9
Opponents' 2008 winning percentage: .535
Games against playoff teams: 5
After facing the tough AFC North in '08, against which Donovan McNabb had a65.6 passer rating, Philly gets the AFC West, in which all four defenses rankedin the bottom 10. Throw in some suspect NFC South secondaries, and McNabbshould exceed last year's career high of 3,916 passing yards. The juiciest gameon the schedule? Week 13, when Michael Vick returns to Atlanta.
Quintin Mikell, Strong safety
THE EAGLES lost longtime coordinator Jim Johnson tocancer in the off-season, but his defensive philosophy will live on in a unithe molded. No player embodies Johnson's aggressive, physical style more thanMikell, 28, who went undrafted out of Boise State in 2003 and fought his waythrough the system to become a second-team All-Pro last season. "He's thereason I'm here," Mikell says of Johnson. "He stuck by me when Istruggled. There were games when I was so bad, I thought I'd never play again.But he had faith in me. I think I made him proud."
Philly needs Mikell to provide guidance to a unit thatlost not only its coordinator but also its longtime leader, safety BrianDawkins, who left as a free agent. "Quintin is a natural leader," coachAndy Reid says. "He's not a big screamer. He does it by example. He's a lotdifferent from Dawkins, but Quintin's not afraid to put his personality intowhat he's doing." To take the next step in becoming an elite safety, Mikellwants to improve on his three-interception total of 2008. "I left a lot ofplays on the field last year," he says. "I've been working on mycatching. I overthought it a little bit in the past, but I'm pretty comfortablethis year, and hopefully I can make a lot more big plays."
GREG TROTT/GETTY IMAGES
LITTLE T.O.? Jackson has some of the skills—and the swagger—of Philly's last true No. 1 receiver.
BRIAN GARFINKEL/ICON SMI