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Eagles needs: CB would help, but OL always wanted

by | Senior Writer

 (US Presswire)  

After the Eagles bowed out of the playoffs, I had a south New Jersey radio station ask me if it was time to get rid of coach Andy Reid. Wow. I've always insisted there's no such thing as a dumb question, but I might make an exception there.

Get rid of him? Entering the 2010 season, Reid's starting quarterback was gone, his star running back was gone and hopes for a big season were gone, with most people predicting the Eagles to finish in the middle of the pack with an unproven Kevin Kolb as their quarterback.

Only they were wrong. Kolb wasn't their quarterback; Michael Vick was. And the Eagles weren't an also-ran. They won the NFC East, reaching the playoffs for the ninth time in Reid's 12 years as head coach, and found their next quarterback in the process.

That should've qualified Reid for Coach of the Year acclaim. Instead, someone wants to know if it's time to fire him. Get real, people.

So Reid lost his only playoff game for the second straight year. I understand. He wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. Besides, he came this close to catching Green Bay, and this just in: Nobody else beat the Packers, either. In fact, the Eagles' 21-16 loss was the closest call for Green Bay in the playoffs.

By no means is Philadelphia ready to challenge the Packers for NFL supremacy. Not yet, it's not. But give these guys time. Reid is weighing deals for Kolb, and the club figures to make offseason changes. Already, Reid has shaken up the coaching staff, adding two of the best line coaches in the business (Jim Washburn on defense; Howard Mudd on offense) and making an out-of-the-box hire by naming his offensive line coach, Juan Castillo, the defensive coordinator.

Five possibilities: Eagles
Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: There are never enough tackles in Philadelphia. The club allowed 50 sacks. Michael Vick is its star player. Connect the dots.
Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: Granted, the club needs a right tackle, not a left one, but Sherrod is a smart, athletic guy, so he can adapt. If there's a quality OT on the board, Philly can't pass on him.
Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida: He can play guard or center, and the Eagles need help everywhere on the offensive line. Pouncey would help solidify the inside of a line so desperate it could qualify for a federal bailout.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple: He's another linebacker who would be an upgrade. He has a lot of speed, which coordinator Gregg Williams loves.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: Cornerback is a position of need, and Harris could be there when they choose. He has size, decent speed and he's good in man coverage.
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The idea is never to stand pat, and the Eagles haven't. The question is: What's next?

QB: There are few teams stocked as well at this position. Michael Vick is coming off a career year that made him an MVP runner-up. Once in line to become an unrestricted free agent, he's now the Eagles' franchise player with a decent shot at gaining a long-term contract from the club. Kolb was the starter until he was hurt, yielding to Vick, and there's a lesson there: Never get hurt. Most expect the Eagles to trade him in the offseason and gain draft picks in return. If they don't, he still has a year left on his contract and can step in and win if ... when ... Vick gets hurt. Third-stringer Mike Kafka is a project but a quarterback the Eagles like.

RB: LeSean McCoy is Brian Westbrook, only bigger and younger. He led all running backs in catches and his average of 5.2 yards per carry was the best in franchise history. Essentially, McCoy plays the same role as Westbrook, gaining critical yards with his feet and making timely catches out of the backfield. An all-purpose weapon, he's a threat to score from anywhere. Jerome Harrison is the backup, and he had his moments, but the Eagles might want to upgrade at the position -- particularly for an inside back who can move the pile. For the moment, Leonard Weaver serves that purpose, but he's coming off a career-threatening knee injury. As I said, I'd want to upgrade that position.

WR: DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are a solid 1-2 punch on the outside, with Jackson making critical plays all over the field -- as his league-best 22.5 yards per catch average attests. But Maclin's no slouch, either. All he did in his sophomore year was produce 70 catches for 964 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. Jason Avant produced a career-high 51 receptions and developed into a legit slot receiver, while rookie Riley Cooper gained Vick's confidence as last season wore on. In fact, he gained so much that it was Cooper, not Jackson or Maclin, Vick looked for when he tried to beat Green Bay with a last-minute playoff pass that was intercepted. Chad Hall is the fifth option, and while he's small he can play receiver, running back and special teams.

TE: Donovan McNabb relied on Brent Celek as a safety net, but Vick not so much. In fact, almost not at all. Where Celek had a team-high 76 catches in 2009, he dropped to 42 a season later. But that had more to do with Vick than it did Celek. It also had a lot to do with the Eagles' offensive line. Celek spent more time blocking than normal because the Eagles couldn't keep pass rushers off his quarterback. Celek still can be a big part of the passing game, particularly in the red zone, but the offensive line must improve its pass blocking. Backup Clay Harbor is an athletic receiver whose blocking seemed to improve as the season wore on.

OL: Every season, it seems, the offensive line is a subject of debate, so why make this the exception? Vick's ability to scramble masked one of the Eagles' biggest needs -- an offensive line that can pass block, because last year's group could not. Even with Vick dodging traffic, the Eagles still managed to surrender 50 sacks, the worst one-season total during Reid's tenure. They can use help everywhere, but I'd start with right tackle where Winston Justice was replaced during the second-half of the team's playoff loss to Green Bay. Granted, he was dealing with a knee injury. But Justice is OK, and the Eagles need something more than OK players here. Getting Jamaal Jackson back at center is a step in the right direction, but I want more protection for my franchise player -- which means I want more pass-blocking tackles. The club is high on King Dunlap, who took over for Justice in the Green Bay game, and thinks Austin Howard might have potential. The club could use an upgrade at right guard, too. All I know is the Eagles can use help everywhere along the offensive line, and already have taken steps to address their needs -- by hiring Mudd.

DL: Trent Cole is the biggest name here, though defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon are solid inside. But Cole and Juqua Parker make the sacks, and sacks make reputations. Only one problem: Both wore down as the season wore on, with the Eagles producing just 15 sacks in the last eight games. That better change ... and it might if defensive end Brandon Graham is the player the Eagles envision. Graham struggled some as a rookie before tearing knee ligaments, but the club thinks he could be an impact pass rusher. The Eagles can only hope, though Graham probably won't be ready for the start of the season. One reason opponents torched their secondary was that the pass rush was ineffective. There is depth here with defensive tackle Trevor Laws and defensive end Darryl Tapp, but Graham is the key. If he improves, the Eagles' pass rush relies less on Cole and Parker, taps into a promising talent and doesn't wilt down the stretch. Plus, keep this in mind: Washburn will work on different pass-rushing techniques -- like splitting his ends wide -- that should make the Eagles more effective. It worked in Tennessee; there's no reason it can't work here.

LB: The minute middle linebacker Stewart Bradley went down with a dislocated elbow late last year I had a feeling the Eagles were in trouble, and, yes, that's how much he meant to this team. Bradley missed the entire 2009 season, and Philadelphia never found an adequate replacement. They held up a year later with stand-in Jamar Chaney, and that might mean Bradley gets moved to the strong-side linebacker spot or gets moved, period. My guess? Bradley stays, and he stays inside. Either way, the Eagles are set in the middle. It's on the outside where there's a need, and I'll start with Ernie Sims. I thought he was a steal for Philadelphia when it traded for him. I was wrong. The guy didn't make plays, and I can't imagine he's long for the team. On the other side, you have Moise Fokou, but he could move if Bradley takes over on the strong side. I say could. It's not likely, mostly because he's not great in coverage. Plus, after he regained his spot as the strong-side starter a year ago he played fairly well. Meaning? Look for former nickel backer Keenan Clayton at the weak-side position. Guaranteed, there will be changes ... because there are always changes at linebacker with these guys.

DB: I think we all agree that Asante Samuel is secure at one cornerback spot, right? Now, what about the other? Good question. Scratch Ellis Hobbs. He's expected to retire after a horrific injury last season. Scratch Dimitri Patterson, too. He had his moments last year, but, mostly, he demonstrated he's better suited to a backup role. Joselio Hanson is OK as an emergency starter, but he doesn't have the size of speed to challenge outside receivers. He's better suited as a nickel back covering the slot receiver. Maybe Trevard Lindley can help at cornerback, but he played sparingly last season -- and wasn't all that consistent when he did play. I think you get the idea: A starting cornerback is a priority. There are reasons the Eagles were burned for a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes during the season, then another three by Green Bay. Part of it has to do with the pass rush, and part of it has to do with the secondary. Neither was satisfactory. Safety Nate Allen was terrific until rupturing his patellar tendon late in the season, while veteran Quintin Mikell might have played his last game with Philadelphia. He's a free agent, and listening to him after the playoff loss to Green Bay it didn't sound as if he was coming back. Kurt Coleman should be his replacement. Marlin Jackson returns after missing the season, but after two knee injuries and a ruptured Achilles I don't know what he has left.

Photo by US Presswire


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