With rookies and selected veterans reporting to Eagles Training Camp at Lehigh University on July 27th, you can almost hear the crack of the pads and Eagles fans expectations souring. To get Eagles fans through the next few days and hours leading up to camp I have put to together my All Inclusive Eagles 2007 Training Camp Guide.
Where : Lehigh University – Bethlehem, Pa.
Reporting Dates : July 27th for Rookies and July 30th for Veterans
Last Day: Aug. 11th for fans with camp officially breaking on Aug. 12th as the team holds a mock game/walk-through prior to its first preseason game Aug. 13 in Baltimore.
2006 Season OverviewGoing into 2007 training camp, the Eagles have re-established themselves as legitimate contenders once again. Their philosophy survived a roll coaster 2006 season, where they were 4-1 in their first five games (Aired the ball out), 1-4 in the middle (Heartbreakers to Tampa Bay and New Orleans and bad home loses to Jacksonville and Tennessee), and an improbable 5-1 to end the season. They showed character when many thought their season had been thrown away with the season ending knee injury to star quarterback Donovan McNabb. The team regrouped and showed their mettle winning the NFC East Championship again led by backup phenom Jeff Garcia. The moxy of Garcia, a change in offensive philosophy going to solid running game (ran over 60% down the stretch), and key turnovers especially ones caused by Brian Dawkins led the team on 6 straight improbable end of season wins including 3 divisional road victories and taking care of business in the playoffs opening round against the Giants. With the gut wrenching end of season “couldn’t stop the run / why did we punt” divisional playoff loss to the upstart Saints, it was hard to see the good of the season for some. But there were some great things that I liked: Westbrook running for over 1,200 yards, the O-Line staying healthy and dominating, Brian Dawkins returning to Pro Bowl form, and Andy Reid embracing the running game to name a few. The team does have some areas that need improvement as well Run Defense and Kick Returns are a couple. Overall did the season quench my undying thirst as a Philly fan for our elusive championship in a word “No”, but the team showed that in today’s NFL any team can get hot and make some noise.
Now that Tom Heckert and Andy Reid have a compiled a group that they believe can compete in the NFC East and NFC overall, it is up to the coaching staff to mold and transform the group of holdovers and new guys into a team. When the best teams in conference are supposed be the inconsistent Bears, the aging Seahawks and upstart Saints, I believe with the right luck with injuries and breaks the Eagles could battle the teams mentioned for the NFC crown.
WR Kevin Curtis – Signed as a UFA from the Rams; $30 Million for 6 yrs, $2.5M Signing Bonus and $5M Roster Bonus in ’07; $1.5M Roster Bonus in ’08. In four seasons with the Rams, appeared in 51 games (11 starts), and posted 136 receptions. for 1,714 yds. and 12 TDs
QB Kelly Holcomb (trade Bills) – Backup Insurance QB, who had best year in 2003, appearing in 10 games (8 starts) for the Browns and set career highs in atts. (300), comps. (193), yds. (1,797) and TDs (10)
DT Montae Reagor – Signed a Free Agent after Colts declined to re-sign him. $8.3Million/3 yrs, $2M guaranteed. Undersized DT (6’3, 285) in the mold of most Tampa 2 D-lineman. A quick penetrating guy, who has health issues arising from a severe car accident in 2006. Recorded a career high in sacks (5.5) in 2005 LB
Takeo Spikes (trade Bills) – Former 2-time Pro Bowl LB that can play all 3 positions. Still rounding into shape after missing most of 2005 with an Achilles Tendon injury. Registered 76 tackles in 12 games in 2006
DT Ian Scott – Run stuffing DT signed (1-year deal) as a Free Agent from the Bears.
LB Shawn Barber: UFA Texans; $5.5M/3 yrs, $2M guaranteed, 49 Tkls, 0 Sacks and Int’s in ‘06.
QB Jeff Garcia: UFA Buccaneers; $7M/2 yrs, SB unknown, 6-2 as a starter including playoffs.
CB Rod Hood: UFA Cardinals; $15M/5 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed, 21 Tackles and 0 INT’s in 2006
S Michael Lewis: UFA 49ers; $30M/6 yrs, $9.8M guar., 2 INT’s, 57 Tkls in ’06 (Bad in Coverage)
WR Donte’ Stallworth: UFA Patriots; $33M/6 yrs, $1M SB, 38 catches, 725 yds, 19.1 ypc, 5TD’s
DT Darwin Walker (traded Bills) – 6 Sacks, 36 Tackles (Not good against the run)
LBs Coach Steve Spagnuolo Named defensive coordinator of the New York Giants
WR Bethel Johnson – Originally was signed as a UFA from the Vikings, but injured his ankle and was released after OTA’s. Recently signed with the Texans. Has not done much since he led the AFC in kickoff return avg. (28.2) and returned 5 kicks for 50-yds.-or-more as a rookie in 2003
DT Sam Rayburn – Signed with 49ers. Cut after another disappointing season (12 TKLS, 0 Sacks). Pleasant surprise in 2004 with 6 sacks, but after receiving an extension he produced 2 sacks in the last two years.
TE/LS Mike Bartrum – Invaluable veteran long snapper retired in the off-season because of a neck injury.
RB Correll Buckhalter: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown, 342 yards rushing w/ 4.2 ypr and 2 TD’s.
CB William James: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown, 7 Tackles and 0 INT’s
S Quintin Mikell: Potential UFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown, 41 Tackles, 0 INT’s
DE Juqua Thomas: UFA; $12.5M/5 yrs, SB unknown, 6 Sacks, 25 Tackles
2nd Rd, QB Kevin Kolb, University of Houston – Young athletic gunslinger out of a spread formation offense, who will be looked upon to be the “quarterback of the future”. Will need to learn in camp from McNabb and quarterbacks coach Shurmur how to run a pro style offense, but barring injuries don’t expect to see him for 2 to 3 years.
2nd Rd, DE Victor Abiamiri, Notre Dame – Abiamiri is a solid two way DE, who is now the Eagles biggest DE (6’4, 267) and should help in run support. He was a solid 3 year player at Notre Dame and he knows how to stay in his rush lanes and dissect plays. Will learn in camp from Kearse and Howard while pushing McDougle. Probably will contribute in preseason, but barring injuries he will be the 4th DE in the rotation.
3rd Rd, RB Tony Hunt, Penn State – Hunt may finally be the “big” back that the Eagles have been looking for the past 3 years since Deuce Staley left. He is the 3rd leading runner in PSU history and he is a willing team player. I think he can make an impact if he learning blocking assignments and how to read his lines blocking scheme. Should push former pick Ryan Moats for playing time in camp.
3rd Rd, LB Stewart Bradley, University of Nebraska – This tall (6’4) linebacker will be counted on to backup starter Chris Gocong at the strongside linebacker position. Should help out on special teams while learning how to cover TE’s.
5th Rd, S CJ Gaddis, University of Clemson – Gaddis is a very athletic player, who is still learning how to a defensive back. He is strong (gym guy) and fast. He should learn under fellow Clemson Tiger Brian Dawkins and contribute on special teams.
5th Rd, TE Brent Celek, University of Cincinnati – Celek is an H-Back type of TE (6’4, 255), who has some athleticism. He will need to work on his blocking in camp to challenge Vickers for the final TE spot on the team. Will also need to contribute on special teams to help his cause.
6th Rd, DB Rashad Barksdale, University of Albany (NY) – Barksdale is still learning how to be a “football player” after being a baseball player for most of his college career and only playing football for a couple years. The Eagles will try him first as a big CB (6’0), but I think he is going to have a tough time making the team.
7th Rd, RB Nate Ilaoa, University of Hawaii – Ilaoa is a clone of former Steelers RB Chris Fu Matafula, a bowling ball on legs. He is a squat big back, who the Eagles will try at FB first. He could be a special teams find, but he first will need to demonstrate that he can block and catch as a FB after being a featured running back in college.
Questions that must be answered in 2007 training camp and in season
- Is Donovan McNabb healthy and what will happen if he is injured for the 4th time in 6 years and will they regret not bringing back Jeff Garcia?
- Will Andy Reid let Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg continue to run the football?
- Will the LB’s improve upon 3 sacks and 2.INTs now that they have added OLB Spikes, jettisoned OLB Dhani Jones, promoted OLB Chris Gocong and made other moves?
- Are core players FS Brian Dawkins, LT William Thomas, DE Jevon Kearse, MLB Jeremiah Trotter too old?
- After letting WR Donte Stallworth leave, can 3rd year WR Reggie Brown take the next step up becoming the Eagles go-to guy?
- With the changes on the D-Line can they stop the run (26th Ranked)?
- Can 2nd year players DT Bunkely, OLB Gocong, WR/KR Bloom, and OT Justice make an impact, especially first round pick Bunkley (9 TKLS)?
- Who will long snap and hold for David Akers this season?
- Can the Eagles cut down on their 96 penalties for 807 yards in 2006 (18th ranked)
- Will potential free agents and quality players LT Thomas and TE LJ Smith receive contract extensions or will leave after the season like past players (ex. Burgess)
- Will any of the rookie players make an impact in 2007 or will they be “redshirted”?
- Will RB Brian Westbrook be healthy again and can he handle 300 touches again?
- Can the Eagles improve on their sack total (40) from last year and will any player reach double-digits?
- Can Sean Considine replace Michael Lewis stay healthy enough to be an every down SS (In the Box)?
- Is there really a battle for the starting jobs at MLB (Trotter and Omar Gaither) and the second CB (Sheldon Brown and William James)?
Philadelphia Eagles – 2007 Schedule
Aug. 13 at Baltimore (ETN)
Aug. 17 Carolina (ETN)
Aug. 26 at Pittsburgh 8:00 p.m. (NBC)
Aug. 30 N.Y. Jets (ETN)
Sunday Sep 9 @Green Bay 1:00pm (FOX)
Monday Sep 17 Washington 8:30pm (ESPN)
Sunday Sep 23 Detroit 1:00pm (FOX)
Sunday Sep 30 @N.Y. Giants 8:15pm (NBC)
Sunday Oct 7 Week 5 BYE
Sunday Oct 14 @N.Y. Jets 1:00pm (FOX)
Sunday Oct 21 Chicago 4:15pm (FOX)
Sunday Oct 28 @Minnesota 1:00pm (FOX)
Sunday Nov 4 Dallas 8:15pm (NBC)
Sunday Nov 11 @Washington 1:00pm (FOX)
Sunday Nov 18 Miami 1:00pm (CBS)
Sunday Nov 25 @New England 8:15pm (FOX)
Sunday Dec 2 Seattle 1:00pm (FOX)
Sunday Dec 9 N.Y. Giants 1:00pm (FOX)
Sunday Dec 16 @Dallas 4:15pm (FOX)
Sunday Dec 23 @New Orleans 1:00pm (FOX)
Sunday Dec 30 Buffalo 1:00pm (CBS)
Offensive Roster OverviewQB’s – Donovan McNabb was on his way to another Pro Bowl season in 2006 when a “fluke” knee injury happened near the Tennessee sideline in week 10. His numbers at the time (2647 yards, w/18 TD’s) showed that he was back from the sport hernia injury in ’05. The question is “Can McNabb continue to play at a high level or are injuries a factor?” At thirty, this question will be asked more and I say he has plenty left in the tank. If healthy, he easily can lead the Eagles offense to great heights and the ACL injury is not the career “death” sentence it used to be. McNabb has attacked his rehab and I fully expect him to be ready for the start of the pre-season. I recently got to spend time with him at his camp and he was well rested and talked very positively about getting off to a good start in ’07. Last year’s season saving play of Jeff Garcia showed that you always need a good bullpen quarterback. AJ Feely I believe will be able to fill Garcia’s role and the risk of paying a 37-year-old player was too great, no matter how great a starter he was down the stretch. Feely looked good against the Falcon’s JV in the last game, but you have to wonder is he the same player he was in Miami and San Diego (ineffective as a starter). 2nd Rd pick Kevin Kolb will be counted on to learn the offense in camp and help McNabb rest by taking extra reps, but remember he is not expected to be a player for a few years. Veteran Kelly Holcomb, who was considered a throw-in from the Spikes deal will be there to provide veteran leadership, but I don’t think the front office views him as much more than a spare part.
RB’s – With Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg going with a more ball control running offense at the end of 2006, the signs for a strong running game are there. The only caveat being, was this change an aberration or a paradigm shift. The ball control offense was able to close games out and setup timely efficient throws for Garcia. With McNabb returning will they stick with this scheme, only time will tell. Last season Brian Westbrook showed he could make it through a season carrying the team. He ran for over 1,200 yards rushing and had an impressive over 300 touches (runs and catches). With his age and the NFL’s new trend of tandems in the backfield as shown by the Colts, Saints, and Bears, the Eagles need to find a partner for Westbrook. Partner choices include the aforementioned Hunt, Ryan Moats (3rd Round – 2005) who has been a disappointment and Correl Buckhalter who is a good story coming back from his knee troubles to have a 4.2 ypc last year. Buckhalter however is question mark, because he is approaching thirty and his knee injury history. The FB starter in 2006 was Thomas Tapeh. He came back from a dislocated hip injury, but he is not a tough blocker or a reliable pass catcher (Saints playoff game). The Eagles recently cut Zach Tuiasosopo from the roster, so look for draftee Nate Ilaoa to get a fair shot. NFL Europa player Jason Davis and Jeremy Cain (Long Snapper) also add depth at the FB position.
WR’s – With the jettisoning of Owens many thought this unit would fall apart in 2006, but we saw how important running the ball is in the NFL. The Eagles started the season going down field for big passing plays, but they only had a 5-5 record. After committing to the run they went 6-2 including the playoffs. The departed Donte Stallworth was explosive (19 ypc) and provided down the field ability, but he only had 38 catches and was too big of an injury risk to bring back at a big ticket price. The signing of Kevin Curtis from the Rams will help. A quick rather than fast guy he will help by catching around 60 passes out of the slot. I like his leadership and I believe third downs are where he will make a difference. Don’t expect him to make a big impact on the outside, because he is smallish and has trouble with press coverage. The key player is Reggie Brown, who is entering into his pivotal 3rd season in the NFL. He had 46 catches for 800 plus yards, but now is the time for him to develop into McNabb’s main target. Hank Baskett (22 catches for 464 yards, 21.1 ypc, w/ 2 TD’s) was a great training camp story last year. He came over to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent via a trade with the Vikings for the underachieving McMullen. Baskett is not a 4.4 or less speedster, but I believe he will challenge for the 3rd receiver spot. Jason Avant now needs to show that he was worth a 4th round pick. At Michigan he was a “go to receiver”, but so far he has reminded me of Wolverine NFL flameouts David Terrell and Marquis Walker. Long time reserve and Super Bowl touchdown scorer Greg Lewis has good speed, but he will have an uphill battle making the team. With the cutting of Bethel Johnson, Jeremy Bloom will be asked to provide the explosiveness need at the KR position. He came into the 2006 training camp season not ready to play football after being away from the game for 3 years. He subsequently injured his hamstring and never recovered. He spent the year on injured reserve working out away from the team and he will need a strong camp to make the team as the 5th WR and return man. Hopefully he will be able to contribute as a KR more than Mahe, Moats, and Hood, who averaged less than 20 yards a kickoff. Remember the impact of Devin Hester in 2006, so Bloom succeeding is a must. The Eagles are high on former free agent Bill Sampy, because he is a guy who knows how to get open and has good hands. Sampy should challenge Lewis and Bloom for the 5th spot. Mike Gasperson is a special teams guy with NFL Europa experience, who is trying to learn how to become an NFL WR, but he will have an uphill battle in camp to advance from the practice squad and make the team. The other WR’s Jermaine Jamison, Zac Collie, and JJ Outlaw are also on the training camp roster.
TE – This group needs to get more consistent in 2007. The TE position is supposed to be a stretch the middle of the field position in the West Coast offense. The Eagles under Reid have not been receiving the big plays from the TE position, while Gates, Crumpler, Heap, Gonzalez and others are proven threats for their teams. Starter LJ Smith again started quickly, but fizzled out at the end of the season. He may have suffered the most from the loss of McNabb, but he finished with good numbers (50 catches for 611 yards and 5 touchdowns). I liked how he cut down on his drops and was a much better blocker. Smith, who was recently operated on for a sports hernia, will have to continue his successful ways, as 2007 is a contract year for him. As a 5-year veteran, he should be one of the cornerstones now on the team. The addition of Matt Schoebel in the off-season from Cincinnati was supposed to be more impactful. Schoebel was solid with 14 catches for 214 yards with 2 TD’s, but he needs to help Smith more in TE sets. The long distinguished career of TE/Long Snapper Mike Bartrum is over. He will be missed, because he was so good at long snapping you didn’t notice. Backup Lee Vickers, UDFA Kyle Hunt, and 2007 5th rd draftee Brent Celek will compete for the 3rd and 4th (if they keep that many) TE spots.
OL – Coming off an injury riddled 2005 season, this group was cohesive, nasty, and stable for the first time in a while. All the members were healthy and played in every game. Former 1st Rd Pick Shawn Andrews led the group. Andrews lost 40 pounds on his way to a dominating Pro Bowl performance at RG. Andrews became a great partner to RT John Runyan and Center Jamal Jackson as the right side led the way to 1984 yards rushing (11th in NFL). RT Jon Runyan will attempt to maintain his consistent level and continue his amazing consecutive game streak to 160 games. Center Jamal Jackson shut down teams bringing pressure up the middle and on running plays, he was a dominant blocker. Jackson is a tough large player that loves to run block and get at LB’s. He is an effort player that plays to the whistle. The LG spot maybe the only position that could be up for grabs in training camp. Todd Herremans the starter last season is a former small college Tackle, who needs to work on his footwork. I like his effort, but he plays “high” sometimes. Herremans will be in a battle with Scott Young and 2006 draftee Max Jean-Giles entering camp. LT William Thomas turned back the clock in 2006 after looking like his Eagles career was coming to an end. The team brought in 2006 2nd Round pick Winston Justice as an insurance policy, but Thomas got his back strong and played well. He is on the last year of his contract and has been with the Eagles since the Ray Rhodes era. Barring injury, look for Thomas to play out his last contract and move on letting Justice take over in 2007. O-Line backups include the aforementioned Jean-Giles and Justice. In camp I will want to see that Jean-Giles has controlled his past weight problems and Justice will need to show that he is the number #1 backup at OT and OG, because the Eagles need a “Swing Player” on the line capable of filling in. Scott Young is very strong, but he is not a finished product. Unfortunately for him everyone saw his largest error as he was called on a false start in the New Orleans playoff game on a converted 4th and 10 play. Young, Nick Cole (Center and short yardage blocker), OT Jonathan Palmer, G Stefan Rodgers, G Jacob Hobbs, G Chris White, C Jasper Harvey, and Pat McCoy (Developmental Tackle) will all be battling to make the squad in camp. Competition will be the key in training camp for this unit to maintain their foundation from 2006, protecting McNabb, and continuing to run the ball with authority.
Defensive Roster OverviewDE – Though the Eagles were respectable producing 40 sacks, they need more from their front 4 especially the DE’s. The DE’s applied some pressure, but they did not get the necessary pressure to help the defensive secondary or play stout against the run. Going into training camp, questions abound with this group. Any talk of the defensive ends starts with Jevon Kearse. Kearse now in his thirties is coming off a major knee injury. Though most people are saying there was minor structural damage, Kearse seemed to be in agony after taking the hit on the joint and was placed on injured reserve. He has returned from rehab looking svelte, maybe too thin at 240 pounds. 2005 Draftee Trent Cole hopes to continue his explosive pass rushing habits after 8 sacks. 2004 1st Rd pick Jerome McDougle will get one last chance to show that he belongs in the NFL, but he is looking like a potential camp cut. Darren Howard in training camp will need to show more than he did in 2006. At times in 2006, he seemed disinterested and was beaten on running plays badly, producing only 35 tackles and 5 sacks. The Eagles drafted the aforementioned Victor Abiamiri in the second round to guard against another let down by Howard. Jacqua Thomas will need to continue his solid play in training camp and push Howard and Kearse after he was re-signed as priority free agent (6 sacks in a limited role). Also look for small college rush end and 2006 draftee SLB Chris Gocong to contribute on passing downs. Marques Murrell is also on the roster and will try to stick in training camp.
DT – With the Eagles giving up an average of 136 rushing yards per game and the playoff game loss against the Saints truly showed a need for this group to make progress (208 yards rushing and had a 10 minute edge in time of possession). In training camp the DT’s will be my most watched group. 2005 1st Rd draft pick Mike Patterson was signed to a huge extension during the 2006 season at a time when many believe he didn’t deserve it. Patterson is a quick but small player, who has worn down in the second half of his two seasons. He has not produced to a 1st round level and needs a partner to help in his development. The biggest bulls-eye of the fans and media in training camp will be on 2006 1st Round draft pick Broderick Bunkley. Bunkely was supposed to be an impact player as a rookie, but he fell into the team’s doghouse after a holdout and only produced 9 TKL’s. In training camp he will need to exhibit his often discussed strength and show that his poor practice/study habits are behind him. The other potential starter at DT next to Patterson is former Bear Ian Scott. Scott is a big physical DT (6’3, 310) and playing next to Tommie Harris routinely clogged up the middle allowing Harris and MLB Brian Urlacher to make plays. An odd story in training camp will be whether Darwin Walker returns after being traded to Buffalo in the Spikes deal. Walker has yet to report to the Bills and probably will be returned to the Eagles for a 6th Rd pick, but I am hearing the Eagles don’t want him back. Walker had a “play for the sack” mentality, which produced 6 sacks, but he routinely ran himself out of plays and left large gaps up the middle. With the cutting of Sam Rayburn, look for a spirited training competition between 2006 6th Round Draftee Lajuan Ramsey and free agent Montae Reagor. Reagor will need to show that he is healthy (car accident) and still has the fire to play after missing most of the Colts’ Super Bowl season. Hopefully he can return to his 2005 form where he recorded a career high in 5.5 sacks. Big (329 pounds) NFL Europa veteran Mauricio Lopez and UDFA Jeremy Clark will also be in camp learning and competing for a spot.
LB – This is the #1 group that needs to show the fans and media something in training camp. The entire linebacking unit only had 3 ½ sacks and 2 Interceptions. The NFL is now built on hybrid players and schemes at the LB area. 4-3 teams often incorporate 3-4 coverage and pass rushing based on the talent at LB. The Eagles biggest problem is in coverage where they are constantly beat on play action and screens. The unit is in flux with former LBs Coach Steve Spagnuolo being named defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and new LB coach Sean McDermott taking over. McDermott will need to utilize Takeo Spikes and bring aspects of the 3-4 into Jim Johnson’s defense. In OTA’s, Spikes has gotten off to a good start. Spikes is a versatile player, who will be the nickel and dime package linebacker. He can play all 3 linebacking positions and should bring much need pedigree (2-time Pro Bowl) and swagger to this group. For the Eagles to take the next step into contention look for WLB Spikes to return from an Achilles Tendon injury that he suffered in 2005. He made it partially of the way back in 2006 posting 76 tackles in 12 games, but he needs to avoid the nagging injuries that slowed him. Another subplot from training camp will be if MLB Jeremiah Trotter still has the legs to play at a high level and if he can hold off up and coming LB Omar Gaither. At thirty, Trotter is no longer the sideline-to-sideline plugger of the past, but he is still a big physical run stuffer (112 tackles). The Eagles must make sure that he does not get worn down badly as he did at the end of 2006 (Reason for Spikes in nickel). Former 2006 3rd Round pick Chris Gocong is another player that will be watched closely in camp. He not only is returning from a “neck stinger” that put him on I\R for the year, but he is also making the difficult jump from small college DE to pro SLB. He has shown good progress in OTA’s and the Eagles may want to take advantage of Gocong’s quickness, by having him rush the passer (double digit sack numbers in college). A player on the bubble is 2005 second round pick LB Matt McCoy. McCoy is an “Effort” player, but he has not displayed the consistently as a weakside linebacker and is best on special teams and spot duty. The aforementioned Gaither was the surprise player of the Eagles LB’s. Gaither has good size at 6’1, 240 lbs and good speed and was considered a long shot to make the team. He showed he has the versatility to play all 3 linebacker positions and he maybe an eventual replacement to Trotter. After he contributed 62 tackles and 1 sack in limited duty and he was on the field more than McCoy in the playoffs. McCoy and the rest of the reserve LB’s needed to pick it up on special teams as well. The rest of the reserves will need to have a strong camp to make the team including Dedrick Roper (Backup SLB, who the Birds are high on as a backup. He will have to earn his way on special teams.), Tank Daniels (Small School UDFA), Akeem Jordan (UDFA), and Craig Kobel (NFLE).
CB’s – The defensive secondary, especially the corners again established itself as the backbone of the Eagles defense in 2006. Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown played in every game and helped to allow the safeties to come forward with confidence. The unit only allowed a little over 3,000 yards passing (9th Ranked in NFL) and had an NFL 2nd best 5 yards per pass play. With a renewed pass rush the corners and safeties should be able to play a more attacking style, which will lead to turnovers. Lito Sheppard returned to his “big play” Pro Bowl form in 2006 picking off 6 passes and returning 2 for touchdowns. His interception and return from the goal line versus Dallas was a pivotal play in the season. Sheppard I believe is also becoming more physical with larger WR’s and teams tend to throw away from him. Sheldon Brown is one of the more physical corners in football, just ask Reggie Bush who was the recipient of his huge playoff game hit. I like his aggressive nature, but he needs to watch his penalties. He is one of the best tacklers in the NFL from cornerback and can blitz (52 tackles). He still needs to concentrate on not dropping easy interceptions and timing his jumps versus larger WR’s like Plaxico Burress. Roderick Hood signed with the Cardinals and now has a chance to start opposite Antrelle Rolle. The Eagles nickel and dime packages will be tested in training camp with him gone. Veteran Will James is expected to compete with Sheldon Brown. After coming to the Eagles as a player with his iffy back and inactivity (out the game in 2005), he used his size (6’1, 200) to play almost as well as he had in his first two seasons for the Giants. With Matt Ware being cut in season and Dexter Wynne not being re-signed there are some depth issues that need to be addressed in camp. Returning players Joselio Hanson and Dustin Fox will be part of a contingent of younger players that will try to fill out the last spots on the depth chart. Hanson played his way onto the roster in training camp, but he struggled during the regular season. Fox is a former draft pick of the Vikings and excels as a tough physical player. He played well for Ohio State as a zone corner and should be a terror on special teams. 6th round pick Rashan Barksdale and undrafted free agent Nick Graham will also be in training camp trying to supplant Fox or Hanson.
Safeties – Last year served as a tale of two safeties as FS Brian Dawkins again showed why he is one of the best in the game, while the SS position was in flux as both Michael Lewis (coverage) and Sean Considine (tackling) struggled. Dawkins avoided the nagging injuries that plagued him in 2005 and led the team’s 2nd half resurrection along with Jeff Garcia (Remember the Giants game – 1 INT, 2 Fumbles Caused, 8 Tkls). Though not the same “all out” player of 5 years ago, Dawkins is the emotion leader of the team and he has learned to be smarter in his reads to compensate for loss of a step. The Eagles will lean on him heavily in training camp to teach the younger players. Departed SS Lewis was a sure tackler, but he had a couple of crucial coverage lapses including letting Joe Horn beat him deep that left him out of favor with the team. His contract situation (final year) may have caused some of his problems with the team and took the 49ers money and ran. Considine is expected to permanently replace Lewis and I have been told that he has packed on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle, though when I saw him I wasn’t too sure. For the Eagles sake, I hope Considine has gotten bigger, because teams understanding that he is an undersized SS run at him constantly. I liked the re-signing of dual position backup Quintin Mikell, because he is a main stay on special teams and is good in coverage. In camp look for 5th Rd draft pick S CJ Gaddis to make an immediate impact. Much like other late round find DE Trent Cole, look for Gaddis to make an impact as a rookie. He is a tremendously gifted athlete, who has just started to scratch his ability. He is capable of helping as a safety and as a corner and he should make a name on special teams. Erick Harris (NFLE), Marcus Paschal, and Chris Smith will be learning and battling for spots on special teams. You may also see CB’s Dustin Fox or Rashad Barksdale get a look as a FS backup.
Special Teams Overview
This group will be led for the first time in awhile by a new coach as John Harbaugh has switched to secondary coach. New coach Rory Segrest will now be tasked with returning the unit back to it’s 2004 form. The Eagles in my opinion took a step back in kick returns and kick coverage (Allowed 1 punt return for a touchdown) in 2006. Segrest will need to build up his Special Teams group with Quintin Mikell and Sean Considine as his building blocks. Look for CB Dustin Fox, WR Mike Gasperson, RB Nate Ilaola, DB CJ Gaddis, and LB Sheldon Bradley to make an impact on kickoffs and punts. Hopefully in camp they will be able to find two or three solid special teams players from the drafted rookies and street free agents that want to be on the team.
Kicker – Kicker David Akers goes into training camp entering his 9th season and is coming off of a solid ’06 season where he connected on 18 field goals in 23 attempts. Hopefully with a full year of health under his belt, Akers will attempt a kick over 50 yards this year. He has the leg strength and a trend is starting in the NFL where guys are making longer kicks. I will be extremely interested to see who will be Akers holder. P Dirk Johnson, P Sav Rocca, and backup QB AJ Feely will get the first look in camp. Developmental kicker EJ Cochrane will also be in training camp to learn and help Akers out.
Punter – The punting position is clearly up for grabs the Eagles have not been happy with the consistency of veteran Dirk Johnson. He had a 34.9 net and had too many touchbacks (11). The Eagles were also not happy with his hang time and they have brought in Australian Rules player Saverio Rocca, who it hoping to become the next Darren Bennett. Rocca has been a little erratic in OTA’s hitting some good punts and some shanks. It should be a good battle and the team will hopefully find a guy who can consistently drop the ball inside the twenty.
Long Snapper – For the past 7 years this position was never a question, because Pro Bowl level player Mike Bartrum manned the position. Bartrum consistently got the job done, but a neck injury forced him into retirement. The Eagles need to find a replacement early in training camp with LS only Jon Dorenbos and FB Jeremy Cain the current leaders and DE Darren Howard serving as their backup.
Returns – The return game is in a state of flux as the team decided that an average of 20.8 on kickoffs and 9.4 on punt returns with 20 fair catches and Reno Mahe as their main KR was not enough. Mahe would secure the ball, but too often teams knew he was unexplosive and most kickoffs resulted in 20 yard or less and fair catches were the order of business on punts. The effect of Devin Hester on the NFL (6 returns for TD’s) is immense. We all know the league is a copycat league, so now every team is looking for someone to make big plays on returns. The team is hoping that Jeremy Bloom (I/R in 2006) will provide the explosiveness needed on returns. Bloom who is returning from a torn hamstring needs to be the guy. Though he was away from the game for 3 years, he truly has a knack for returning the ball. Hopefully he has built his body up (slight frame) and is healthy enough to be the number one guy. Remember Bloom was a former All Big 12 returner before leaving to ski in the Olympics.
2006 Record with Breakdown10-6 Overall Record, NFC East Champions
5-3 record on the road
5-3 record at home
1-3 vs. the AFC
9-3 vs. the NFC
5-1 in Division
Key Stats and Rankings
398 Points Scored, (Ranked 6th in the NFL)
42.1 % – 3rd Downs Converted – (8th Ranked)
28:38 in Time of Possession – (25th Ranked)
24 Giveaways, 9 INT’s, 15 Fumbles – (24th Ranked)
28 Sacks Allowed
Defense328 Points Allowed, (Ranked 15th in the NFL)
29 Takeaways, 19 INT’s, 10 Fumbles – (19th Ranked)
2182 Rushing Yards, 136 per game – (26th Ranked)
Overall96 Penalties for 807 yards (18th Ranked)
+5 in Turnover Ratio – (9th ranked)
Offensive Stats including RankingsPASSING RUSHING
CMP ATT YD YPA TD INT ATT YD YPA TD Total YDS
323 544 4309 7.92 31 9 416 1984 4.77 13 6293
13 8 4 3 1 2 27 11 5 15 2 — NFL Rank
Defense Stats including RankingsPASSING RUSHING
CMP ATT YD YPA TD INT ATT YD YPA TD TOTAL Yards
309 525 3067 5.84 17 19 489 2182 4.46 12 5249
17 23 9 2 8 8 25 26 24 13 15 — NFL Rank
2006 Pro Bowlers: Shawn Andrews (OG), Brian Dawkins (FS), Lito Sheppard (CB)
Att Cmp Yds TD Int
McNabb 316 180 2647 18 6
Garcia 188 116 1309 10 2
Rushing Att Yds Avg TD Long
Westbrook 240 1217 5.1 7 71t
Buckhalter 83 345 4.2 2 20
Receiving Rec Yards Avg TD Long
Westbrook 77 699 9.1 4 52t
L. Smith 50 611 12.2 5 65
R. Brown 46 816 17.7 8 60t
TacklesTrotter 112 (87 Solo, 0 Sacks)
Dawkins 93 (71 Solo, 1 Sack)
Considine 85 (59 Solo, 1.5 Sacks)
M. Lewis 2
J. Thomas 6