By Rob Maaddi
The Philadelphia Eagles have all the ingredients of a rebuilding team.
Overhauled roster? Check.
Unproven quarterback? Check.
Young nucleus? Check.
Coach Andy Reid disagrees.
“I don’t look at it that way,” Reid said. “I don’t look at it as a rebuilding year. I’ve never approached it that way. That doesn’t enter my mind. We have some young guys. Hey, you’re young, learn from the other guys, let’s get in and let’s play; play your heart out. Do what you did in college and if you’re going to make a mistake, we’re going 150 miles an hour and normally good things happen.”
The Eagles dominated the NFC East for much of the past decade. They reached the playoffs eight times, won five division titles, went to five conference championship games and lost a Super Bowl by a field goal.
But most of the players who helped them achieve that success are gone now. Donovan McNabb, the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, was traded to Washington. Longtime starting cornerback Sheldon Brown was dealt to Cleveland. Running back Brian Westbrook and offensive lineman Shawn Andrews were released. Many others also were let go.
None of the projected starters on offense or defense are 30, and the team’s average age is under 25.
“I think it’s a great challenge for the coaches and for the players,” Reid said. “There are some big-name players that have been proven players on this football team that aren’t here. It’s important that the young guys step up and they go. That, to me, is exciting.”
The biggest change is Kevin Kolb replacing McNabb, who spent 11 seasons in Philadelphia. Kolb has started just two games in three years, but teammates and coaches don’t expect a drop-off. Kolb has strong leadership skills, is well-liked and his talents are suited for Philadelphia’s version of the West Coast offense.
“We always have the same expectations to be one of the best in the league, to get further than we did last year and to compete for a Super Bowl and I think that Kevin is going to put us in that position and I really believe this team has the talent to win it,” wide receiver Jason Avant said.
Last year, the Eagles finished 11-5 and fell one win short of securing a division title and a first-round playoff bye. Instead, they were eliminated by Dallas in a wild-card game after losing to the Cowboys in the regular-season finale.
The consecutive losses to Dallas exposed Philadelphia’s deficiencies, particularly on defense. So, they made massive changes.
Scoring points might not be a problem for this team, even with McNabb and Westbrook gone. They have several talented players at the skill positions.
Kolb threw for 300 yards in the two games he filled in for McNabb—the only player in NFL history to do that in his first two career starts. Wideout DeSean Jackson, a Pro Bowl pick last year, is one of the most dangerous players in the league. Jeremy Maclin had an excellent rookie year. Tight end Brent Celek is coming off a breakout season, and second-year running back LeSean McCoy has plenty of potential.
“We are young and inexperienced. However, I do think we have excellent talent on this football team,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We have great teachers here coaching positions. So, that part is important and then that mindset that a player has to have. There’s no substitute for the hard work and preparation, there’s just none. They have to put that part in and then they have to get the work in on the field, in the classroom and on the field. And then, a little bit of it is just a little bit of fortune. They have to stay healthy.”
On defense, the Eagles have room for improvement. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has a year under his belt after replacing Jim Johnson, who passed away right before training camp last summer.
McDermott is counting on a pair of rookies to fill big holes. The Eagles need first-round pick Brandon Graham to bolster the pass rush upfront, and second-round pick Nate Allen to solidify the free safety position.
“We went back and really tried to simplify things, knowing we would have quite an influx of young and new faces,” McDermott said. “I want these guys to get up to speed as quickly as possible, so they can play, and play fast and contribute. Now with that said, I’m taking some of it on myself, some adjustments I’ve taken out, coverage checks, some of the details of the defense, so that our players can just go out there and just play, and execute, and run, and hit and play emotional football.”