PHILADELPHIA -- Almost everything about this year's Philadelphia Eagles is new. A new quarterback. A new running back. New wide receivers. New defensive linemen. New defensive backs. New assistant coaches. Even coach Andy Reid's director of security is new.
You name it, the Eagles may take it out for a spin, and that usually defines a reconstruction project. But let's get something straight: These Philadelphia Eagles are not rebuilding.
|First-round pick Brandon Graham leads the 'reloading' project for Philly's D. (AP)|
He has that right. There's DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy on offense, and Trent Cole, Broderick Bunkley, Mike Patterson and Asante Samuel on defense. But it's not so much who was at this weekend's minicamp that was noteworthy as it is was who was not, and I'll start with Donovan McNabb. He was shipped off to Washington, leaving the quarterbacking to Kevin Kolb.
Kolb is young, accurate and promising. In his two starts a year ago he was 1-1 -- throwing for more than 300 yards in each game -- but those are his only two starts in three seasons, and to say the Eagles are assuming a risk is an understatement. Kolb is replacing a seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback who took the club to five conference championship games in eight years and their only Super Bowl in nearly three decades.
But the Eagles believe in Kolb. If they didn't they wouldn't have sent McNabb off -- to a division opponent, no less -- and they wouldn't have extended Kolb's contract.
"We brought him here to play," said Reid. "That's how we looked at it. When we drafted him we did it with the thought that he could be a starter in the National Football League. And he's had three great years of training, so he's right where he needs to be in terms of the maturation process.
"There will still be some growing because he's never had this load on him. So he has to learn how to do that. But we all have the confidence he will."
They must. No sooner had the club peddled away McNabb than Reid announced that Kolb was the starter and that Michael Vick -- the guy who hadn't played backup to anyone until last year -- would carry his clipboard. Vick seems OK with that, and I think you can guess where Kolb stands on the subject.
"It means a lot," Kolb said. "You never want to let anybody down, and you especially don't want to let somebody down whenever they put that much faith in you and they've made those moves to make you 'the guy.' That's a driving force for me, and it gives me more energy and more emotion to go out there and make this thing right. That's my No. 1 focus: Going to get a Super Bowl and proving everybody right."
I don't know that the Eagles are going to a Super Bowl. But I do know the time was right to get Kolb on the field. It reminds me a little of what San Diego did with quarterback Philip Rivers, sitting him for two seasons behind Drew Brees before giving him the ball.
The difference, of course, is that Brees was an unrestricted free agent coming off a serious shoulder injury and that Rivers had two seasons -- not three, as in Kolb's case -- to sit and learn.
"I think in terms of the intangibles they're very similar," Reid said. "But Philip has done it. We have to see what lies ahead. We think Kevin can do it, too. But we have to see it."
The Eagles have to see it from several new players -- including linebacker Ernie Sims, defensive end Darryl Tapp, running back Mike Bell and rookies Brandon Graham and Nate Allen -- but that's what happens when you turn over a roster, and the Eagles turned theirs upside down.
Their average age is 24.8 years. A year ago the opening day roster averaged 26.8, and that team limped to the finish, with Dallas hammering it the final two games by a combined score of 58-14.
Something had to change, and it was the roster. The Eagles shed four starters from last year's playoff loss, and that doesn't include star running back Brian Westbrook, one of the team's most effective and consistent playmakers the past decade.
OK, but remember what Gaither said: This is no teardown in the works. The Eagles had gone as far as they thought they could with McNabb & Co. and decided a turnover was necessary. So McNabb and Westbrook left. So did Chris Gocong and Sheldon Brown. And Shawn Andrews, Sean Jones, Kevin Curtis, Will Witherspoon, Reggie Brown, Chris Clemons, Darren Howard and Jeremiah Trotter.
Now the Eagles are back to try it all over again with a younger and less experienced roster, and I would be careful not to underestimate these guys or their head coach. In eight of Reid's 11 seasons the Eagles have reached the playoffs, and you heard Kolb: He's already talking about what it takes to reach the Super Bowl.
"At the end of the day we're talented," Gaither said. "We have guys who may not have played a lot, but they have proven themselves as able playmakers. I believe in what John Wooden said, which was he'd rather have talent over experience any day -- and we sure have a lot of talent. We expect nothing less than to win."