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News » 2008 team previews: Philadelphia Eagles

2008 team previews: Philadelphia Eagles

2008 team previews: Philadelphia Eagles
Two of the biggest reasons the Eagles missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons in '07 was an offense that was terrific between the 20s but inept in the red zone, and a defense that had trouble coming up with quarterback sacks and turnovers.

While they think they will be better in those two areas in '08, they're still not sure. The offseason acquisition of opportunistic Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, who had 16 interceptions the last two years with New England, should help improve their takeaway total, which was a league-worst 19 last season.

2008 NFL season previews

The new season is almost ready for kickoff ... get the scoop on every division.


  • Patriots: Another run for perfection
  • Bills: The no-name challenger
  • Jets: There's a new QB in town
  • Dolphins: Rebuilding in Tuna's image


  • Cowboys: Super Bowl or bust
  • Giants: D-line strength to weakness
  • Eagles: Not just Westbrook anymore
  • Redskins: New coach, yet again

But Samuel and the rest of the Eagles' secondary need help from a pass rush that was very inconsistent last year. The Eagles had 37 sacks, but 24 of them in the first seven games, including 10 against the Detroit Lions. They had three or more sacks in just two of their last nine games.

Pro Bowl right end Trent Cole had 121/2 sacks, but just 31/2 in the last nine games. Undersized left end Juqua Parker had five sacks, but only two in the last 13 games.

The Eagles had hoped for a significant contribution from 6-4, 280-pound second-year left end Victor Abiamiri, whom defensive coordinator Jim Johnson had planned on using much like the Giants used Justin Tuck last season, moving him inside to tackle on passing downs. But Abiamiri dislocated his wrist in training camp and will miss at least the first month of the season.

They also signed pass-rushing end Chris Clemons, who had eight sacks last season for the Oakland Raiders. But Clemons has been hurt most of the preseason with a calf injury and probably wouldn't even make the team if the Eagles hadn't given him a $4 million signing bonus in March.

After finishing sixth in red-zone offense in '06, the Eagles slipped to 24th last year, converting just 45.1 percent of their trips inside the 20 into touchdowns. The Eagles are hopeful that the return-to-health of quarterback Donovan McNabb and one of his key red-zone weapons, tight end L.J. Smith, will change that. But the rest of their receiving corps, which many felt wasn't playoff-caliber in the first place, took some hits in the preseason.

Their top wide receiver, Kevin Curtis, who became just the second wideout in the Andy Reid era to notch 1,000 receiving yards last season, had surgery to repair a sports hernia in mid-August, and will miss at least the first month of the season and probably more. Their other starting wideout, Reggie Brown, suffered a hamstring injury in the second preseason game, and it's still not certain whether he'll be ready for the Sept. 7 season-opener against St. Louis.

The good news is McNabb appears to have completely recovered from his '07 torn ACL and looked extremely sharp in the preseason. More good news: rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson, a second-round pick in the April draft, had a lights-out preseason and likely will be a season-opening starter.

COACHING: Andy Reid, 10th year, 10th with Eagles (96-62).

REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 8-8 (4th in NFC East).

PREDICTING: 2008 regular-season record: 10-6 (2nd in NFC East); lose in NFC title game.

Notes and Quotes

  • The Eagles have moved running back Tony Hunt over to fullback. Hunt, a third-round pick in the 2007 draft, started there against New England and played well. He picked up two first downs on third-and-short situations and had a nice block that sprung wide receiver DeSean Jackson for a 23-yard gain on a bubble screen.

    "He did some good things," coach Andy Reid said. Hunt was running fourth on the depth chart at running back behind Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker. If the Eagles are happy with him at fullback, they likely won't carry another fullback, which will give them some roster flexibility at another position. Hunt also is playing on all four special teams units.

  • The Eagles reduced their roster to 77 players Saturday when they cut receiver Frantz Hardy, fullback Luke Lawton and guard Cameron Stephenson.

  • Wide receiver Kevin Curtis underwent surgery for a sports hernia Thursday, although there was no immediate timetable for Curtis' return. Coach Andy Reid said on Wednesday that Curtis will "for sure" be back this season, but said it "will probably be a little bit longer" than the start of the regular season. "I'll know better after they get in and take care of it," Reid said. "This happened in the game, in our last game. He tried to work through it, but he's unable to function very well with it during practice, so it looks like we'll go this direction." Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis are expected to rotate in Curtis' spot.

  • Rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson continued his impressive preseason play. He had seven catches for 71 yards in the Eagles' 24-13 win over Carolina, and also had a 27-yard punt return. A week earlier, he had five receptions for 51 yards against Pittsburgh.

    With both Reggie Brown and Jason Avant sidelined with injuries, Jackson has been getting a lot of work with the first-team offense.

    "I feel pretty comfortable with everything," said Jackson, a second-round pick out of Cal where he played in a pro-style offense. "Coach Marty (Mornhinweg, the Eagles' offensive coordinator) has a lot of things in the offense for me. I'm just trying to do my best and get open as much as possible."

  • Defensive end Victor Abiamiri, who is recovering from a broken wrist, expects to play again soon.

    When Abiamiri had surgery on the wrist two weeks ago, coach Andy Reid said a worst-case scenario would have the second-year lineman sidelined for four months. But the 6-4, 287-pounder thinks he'll be back much sooner than that.

    "I'm trying to prepare myself by going to all the meetings and staying mentally sharp," Abiamiri said. "There's are looking good. I feel that things have gotten progressively better since the first day it happened. A lot of things, as far as doing every-day tasks like going in and lifting, I can definitely tell how my body functions and how much better I am getting."

    Before the injury, Abiamiri was projected to be the team's starting left end. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson also planned to move him inside as a pass-rusher in the team's nickel package.

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    At least two spots on the Eagles' season-opening 53-man roster are expected to be taken up by players who probably will miss at least the first three or four games. DE Victor Abiamiri is recovering from surgery to repair a dislocated wrist. The Eagles expect him back sometime in the first half of the season, but they don't know when. They won't put him on injured reserve. That's also the case for WR Kevin Curtis, who is recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia.

    Another dilemma for them is DE Chris Clemons. They signed Clemons, who had eight sacks for the Raiders last year, in March and gave him a $4 million signing bonus. But he's missed most of the preseason with a calf injury and may not be available by Week 1. WR Reggie Brown (hamstring) also remains iffy for Week 1.

    PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Joe Mays - The rookie out of North Dakota State was taken in the sixth round, but caught everyone's eye in training camp and the preseason with his hitting ability and knack for always being around the ball. He won't crack the starting lineup but is expected to back up Stewart Bradley at MLB and be a big part of their special teams units.


    Rd. 2/47, DT Trevor Laws, Notre Dame -- Laws had a solid camp and preseason and will be part of the Eagles' four-man rotation at defensive tackle. He'll back up starters Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson.

    Rd. 2/49, WR DeSean Jackson, Cal -- Jackson was expected to help the Eagles right away as a punt returner, but he's quickly become a key member of their receiving corps as well. With injuries to starters Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, he will be the team's starting Week 1 flanker.

    Rd. 3/80, DE Bryan Smith, McNeese State. -- Smith is undersized and raw, but the Eagles like his pass-rushing skills. He'll make the 53-man roster and be used mostly on special teams early on.

    Rd. 4/109, G Mike McGlynn, Pittsburgh -- He's the Eagles' fourth guard right now behind starters Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews and top backup Max Jean-Gilles. McGlynn likely will be a game-day inactive most of the season unless somebody gets hurt.

    Rd. 4/117, S Quintin Demps, Texas-El Paso: Demps will have an immediate impact as the Eagles' primary kickoff returner. He had a 101-yard return for a TD in the preseason. The Eagles worked him at both corner and safety in training camp. He'll be the fourth safety and play on special teams this year.

    Rd. 4/131, CB Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin -- Might've been a first-round pick if he didn't tear up his knee last January. Eagles took him with the idea that he wouldn't play at all this season. They've placed him on the reserve-non football injury list. He could be activated between Weeks 6 and 9, but that isn't likely.

    Rd. 6/200, LB Joe Mays, North Dakota State -- Eagles love this kid. A big hitter who's always around the ball, he'll back up Stewart Bradley at MLB and play on special teams.

    Rd. 6/203, LB Andy Studebaker, Wheaton -- Studebaker was the best pass-rusher in Division III as a defensive end. Eagles moved him to OLB and also use him as an edge-rusher. He's a smart kid with great speed and long arms. But he's still got a lot to learn. Probably headed for the practice squad initially.

    Rd. 7/230, OT King Dunlap, Auburn -- Once considered a first-round pick, he played poorly his last year at Auburn and his stock plummeted. But the 6-9, 310-pounder had a nice camp and preseason and could eventually succeed 33-year-old Tra Thomas at left tackle. He's not ready yet though. If Thomas were to get hurt, LG Todd Herremans would move outside.


    QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Donovan McNabb. Backups - Kevin Kolb, A.J. Feeley.

    At 31, McNabb still is one of the league's top quarterbacks. The key question with him is his ability to stay healthy. He has missed 17 of the Eagles' last 41 games with injuries, including a torn ACL in '06. But he has regained most of the mobility he lost when he injured the knee and is coming off an impressive preseason. The Eagles are high on Kolb, their top pick in the '07 draft. But he doesn't have any experience.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Brian Westbrook. Backups - Lorenzo Booker, Correll Buckhalter, Tony Hunt, Jason Davis, Jed Collins.

    Westbrook has developed into one of the league's best and most versatile running backs. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season and has erased any questions about his ability to be a carry-the-load running back. With nearly 700 touches in the last two years, though, the Eagles need to lighten his load a bit. Booker, acquired in a Draft Day trade with Miami, is a similar type of running back to Westbrook, who can be flexed out wide to exploit coverage mismatches in the passing game. Look for the Eagles to use both together in the passing game, especially early on with WR Kevin Curtis out. The Eagles moved Hunt, an '07 third-round pick, to fullback late in the preseason. But his blocking skills are primitive.

    TIGHT ENDS: Starter - L.J. Smith. Backups - Brent Celek, Matt Schobel, Kris Wilson.

    Smith is a solid receiving tight end, who can be flexed out wide. He spent all of last season injured, first with a groin injury, then a knee injury. Without him healthy, the Eagles struggled badly in the red zone, finishing 24th in the league. That should change with him back this year. Smith's injuries allowed Celek to get a lot of rookie playing time, which should benefit him greatly this season. Wilson was signed primarily to provide special teams help but may not survive the final cut.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Kevin Curtis, Reggie Brown. Backups - DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Greg Lewis, Bam Childress, Hank Baskett.

    Curtis, who became just the second wideout in the Andy Reid era to notch 1,000 receiving yards last season, will miss at least the first four games, and probably more, as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. Brown is iffy for the season-opener with a hamstring injury that bothered him most of the preseason. That's the bad news. The good news is that Jackson, the team's rookie second-round pick, had a sensational preseason and could have an immediate impact on the Eagles' passing game if he can keep his scrawny 5-9, 170-pound frame in one piece. The 6-4 Baskett, a former state high jump champion, could be a valuable red-zone weapon on fades. Avant is a tough inside route-runner but doesn't have much speed.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Tra Thomas, LG Todd Herremans, C Jamaal Jackson, RG Shawn Andrews, RT Jon Runyan. Backups - Max Jean-Gilles, Winston Justice, Scott Young, Nick Cole, King Dunlap, Mike McGlynn.

    Thomas and Runyan are entering their ninth season as the Eagles' tackle tandem. Runyan is 34 and Thomas is 33, but both still are playing at a high level. Where the Eagles need better play this season is inside at the guard and center positions. Andrews got his second Pro Bowl invitation, but it was on reputation not merit. He was up and down the entire season and then missed much of training camp battling depression. Herremans and Jackson both had disappointing years and need to improve. Jean-Gilles is a 365-pound masher who filled in for Andrews when he was out. Good run-blocker, but isn't in Andrews' league as a pass-protector. Justice, the team's '06 second-round pick, who was supposed to be the heir apparent to Thomas at left tackle, has thus far been a bust and was moved over to the right side, where he'll back up Runyan. The Eagles like the potential of the athletic 6-9, 310-pound Dunlap, who could be Thomas's eventual replacement.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LDE Juqua Parker, LDT Mike Patterson, RDT Brodrick Bunkley, RDE Trent Cole. Backups - Chris Clemons, Victor Abiamiri, Darren Howard, Jerome McDougle, Bryan Smith, Trevor Laws.

    In an attempt to improve a pass rush that has notched more than 40 sacks just once in the last five years, the Eagles signed Clemons, a pass-rush specialist who had eight sacks in a part-time role with the Raiders last season. But he's missed most of the preseason with a calf injury. Abiamiri, who was going to be their left end on first and second downs and then slide inside to tackle in nickel a la the Giants' Justin Tuck, will miss the first several games recovering from a dislocated wrist. Pro Bowler Cole had 121/2 sacks last season but just 31/2 in the last nine games. Bunkley, a disappointment as a rookie, improved dramatically last season but needs to continue to improve as a pass-rusher.

    LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Chris Gocong, MLB Stewart Bradley, WLB Omar Gaither. Backups - Akeem Jordan, Rocky Boiman, Joe Mays, Andy Studebaker, Pago Togafau.

    Jim Johnson is excited about his young linebacking corps. Gaither, who started at WLB as a rookie but moved to MLB last year, has been moved back to WLB to make room in the middle for Bradley, whose physicality and speed reminds Johnson of a young Jeremiah Trotter. Gocong, a college defensive end, figures to be used a lot more this year as a pass-rusher. Eagles are high on sixth-rounder Mays, who will back up Bradley at MLB and play on special teams.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Asante Samuel, RCB Sheldon Brown, FS Brian Dawkins, SS Quintin Mikell. Backups - Lito Sheppard, Sean Considine, Joselio Hanson, Quintin Demps, J.R. Reed, Marcus Paschal, Nick Graham.

    Samuel's arrival has technically made a backup of Pro Bowler Sheppard. But defensive coordinator Jim Johnson says Sheppard, Samuel and Brown will be on the field together 50 to 60 percent of the time. As long as Sheppard can deal with his lesser role and stay healthy, the Eagles will have one of the best cornerback quartets in the league. It remains to be seen what the Eagles will get from Dawkins. He is 34, coming off an injury-plagued year and suffered a foot strain in the Eagles' third preseason game that could keep him out of the season-opener. Mikell has replaced Considine, who is coming off his second major shoulder injury. The Eagles worked Demps at both corner and safety in training camp, but his future is at safety.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: PK David Akers, P Sav Rocca, PR DeSean Jackson, KR Quintin Demps, LS Jon Dorenbos.

    Akers has long been one of the league's most accurate kickers. But he is coming off a disappointing season that saw him convert just 2 of 10 field goal attempts from beyond 39 yards. Rocca, a former Australian Rules football player, has a strong leg but needs to work on consistency. Jackson and Demps both are home run threats who should give dramatic boosts to the Eagles' return game.

  • Author:Fox Sports
    Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
    Added: August 29, 2008

    Rocky Boiman Name: Rocky Boiman
    Position: LB
    Age: 28
    Experience: 7 years
    College: Notre Dame
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