Jaws Sees More Energy... What About Wins
By Lance Epstein
The disheartening, sickening and frustrating feelings about the bitter end to the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles season forced the franchise to look in the mirror. Head coach Andy Reid and new general manager Howie Roseman were forced to ponder the idea of sticking with a club that was perennially in the playoff hunt, but not necessarily a Super Bowl Contender or move into a new wave of Eagles football.
With the end of an era on the horizon and very much in sight, many fans and media members were calling for the Donovan McNabb age to be over. The common belief was that the six-time Pro Bowler would never be able to carry or inspire his team to the promise land. He was transformed from a Moses character to a Judas villain in the span of the final two weeks of football season.
However many did not fully trust Kevin Kolb or his abilities; even after his two impressive starts in ‘09. Some enthusiasts deemed that the major injuries [Stewart Bradley, Jamaal Jackson and countless others] doomed McNabb and the team. More feared that trading McNabb away signaled at least two more years of rebuilding; something that fans do not want to hear since they have lost year-after-year for 50 years.
Despite those two factions, the most concerning issue coming out of the two embarrassing and lopsided defeats to the hated Dallas Cowboys was the lack of energy, desperation and the appearance of just going through the motions. An Eagles team, which lost its hunger and focus for a championship.
Of course, the Eagles finally made the bold decision to turn the page on its 11-year veteran quarterback, do-it-all running back in Brian Westbrook and the other aging veterans. Today, the roster is full of fresh legs, new faces and a rekindled spirit for the game of football. Former Eagles' great, Ron Jaworski notices a significant difference in the team's atmosphere.
"I've spoken to a number of players, a number of the coaches, and the one thing I sense that was probably missing over the last couple years is energy," Jaworski said in a interview on 97.5 The Fanatic with with Mike Missanelli. "There's almost that little-kid enthusiasm right now within the organization because of the changes they've made."
Jaworski strongly believes that the new additions along with the 13 draft picks are a chief reason for the drastic changes in attitude amongst the team. In fact, he claims the clubhouse is more upbeat than it has been in recent years.
"When you get those young, enthusiastic players in the locker room, it's amazing how they raise the spirit, and even of Andy Reid and the coaching staff. And the feeling down at the Novacare Center is real positive now," Jaworski said.
Jaworski and rest of the league understands that the Eagles will encounter some growing pains due to their youth, but there is a enormous amount of potential and possibly even a pot of gold at end of the rainbow.
"They know they've got a young team," he said. "They know they're going to make mistakes, but as they grow together, this has the chance to be a real good football team down the road. I think that's the part that's exciting."
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the youth movement might have been better served with last year's schedule. In 2009, the Eagles were blessed to face only four playoff teams and had one of the easiest their schedules in the entire league.
This year's opponents are a far tougher task. The 2010 schedule includes 12 games against quarterbacks that are in the upper echelon of the league [Eli Manning twice, McNabb twice, Tony Romo twice, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and possibly Brett Favre]. Additionally, they face the much-improved Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers.
Without doubt the Eagles have plenty of great young talent on offense. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant could become one of the best corps in the entire NFL, if they are not already. Tight end Brent Celek had a breakout season last year and seems to have good chemistry with his new quarterback.
Furthermore, LeSean McCoy was a better back during the 2009 season than the aging and injury prone Westbrook. McCoy set an Eagles rookie rushing record with 637 yards. With a whole off-season of strength training and reps with the starters, he should continue to flourish into a premier back. The so-called "young guns" bring a lot of energy and firepower, which many teams will have difficulty matching up with every Sunday.
Nonetheless, the Eagles offensive line and growth of their new quarterback might overshadow the emergence of the positive energy. The Eagles still failed to adequately prove that Mike McGlynn or Nick Cole can be a highly effective center in the absence of Jackson. Also, Jason Peters and Winston Justice must be more consistent at the tackle positons.
In addition, Kolb might have been the first player to ever throw back-to-back 300-yard games in his first two career starts, but he has shown a propensity for forcing the issue and this ultimately creates turnovers. Moreover, he has never gone through the rigors of a full 16-game slate. Both of these questions will loom large and could eliminate the optimistic energy.
Unfortunately, the offense is not the only concern. The defense has its array of holes as well. In OTAs, the team lost starting free safety Marlin Jackson to a ruptured Achilles tendon. This means for the second straight season, the Eagles will ask a rookie [last year Macho Harris and this year Nate Allen] to step into the starter's role.
Safety is not the only fear or concern in the secondary. Ellis Hobbs is attempting to replace the team's most consistent defender over the past five seasons in Sheldon Brown. One of the weakest links on defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's defense in 2009 was the defensive backfield. Now, the Eagles are relying on a player who has not made it through an entire season in two years [or an OTA practice this off-season] and has to overcome a severe neck injury. Can Hobbs do it? Certainly, but it is far more likely he falters for the club then makes fans forget about Brown.
At linebacker, the Eagles have even more questions. They do not know whether Stewart Bradley will be the player and stud he was before he tore his ACL in training camp. Also, Ernie Sims must demonstrate that he is not the bust that the Detroit Lions thought when trading him to Philadelphia for a fifth-round pick [was selected ninth overall a few years ago].
On the other hand, there is a ton of hope and built up energy in the retooled defensive line. A revamped defensive line can make all the difference for a mediocre defense. When first-round pick Brandon Graham lines up with Trent Cole, the line instantly gets an infusion of renewed energy. Cole and Graham should become one of the best tandems in the league at getting pressure on the quarterback. Additionally, their relentless motors should infuse energy into a defense that was in dire of a spark since losing former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
If the acquisition of Graham was not enough, Ricky Sapp, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Darryl Tapp were all brought in and should give a boost to the Eagles defensive line rotation. This is something the team has lacked over the past couple of years. The fresh and youthful speed rushers should give Cole more breathers throughout the season, so that he can be rejuvenated heading into the stretch run. All three of these defensive linemen should help keep the energy level on high throughout the entire game.
The newfound energy Jaws talks about guarantees that the club will be extremely competitive. Although if the team can answer their question marks and grow up faster than experts believe, the Eagles might be Super Bowl contenders and not just in the hunt for a playoff spot.