This is what you hear from sources inside the Eagles organization: Michael Vick has been working harder than he ever has before. You hear his grasp of the offense is 100 percent. He's studied non-stop, worked out non-stop, and has reached a point where some with the Eagles believe he will have his best season ever.
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Pete Prisco Pat Kirwan
This is what you hear around the league about DeSean Jackson: If there was any player who might take a major step backward this season, it's him. There are concerns that he isn't working non-stop and that he doesn't care as much.
What happens with these two men will determine the Eagles' season. If Vick is indeed emerging into The Best Vick Ever, the Eagles will be tough to beat. If Jackson isn't falling behind, as speculated, and he's the good DeSean, then the Eagles' offense will practically be unstoppable. Now, it sounds odd to say Vick might have his best season ever when his statistics last year declined in almost every significant passing category. Not to mention he threw a career-high 14 interceptions and had 10 turnovers. Vick, sources close to him say, has worked in the offseason to cut back on his picks. We'll see.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's wide-9 scheme was aptly named. Teams could drive a truck through the wide open defensive front and could get nine yards a play. A slight exaggeration but not by much. The Eagles faced the duality that they had a bad scheme manned by mediocre players. The defense was ravaged by opposing backs and burned in the secondary forcing the Eagles to retool personnel (but not scheme). So here they are again, again rebuilt, again saying they solved their problems, and again, having an army of doubters.
What was most surprising about the Eagles' implosion last season was the hemorrhaging came from unexpected places. Corner Nnamdi Asomugha, once as dominant as it gets, was torched repeatedly. He also tackled like opposing uniforms were covered in strawberry jam. It was shocking to watch. It's true Asomugha was sometimes used incorrectly in a zone scheme when he's a cover corner but that only partially excuses him (and doesn't account for the missed tackles). Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will pair with Asomugha this season and you'd have to think the secondary would play better. They'd have to, right?
X-Factor: LeSean McCoy
He's one of the NFL's X-factors. He takes pressure off every component of the Philadelphia team. If Vick is indeed going to be Super Vick, McCoy will make him even better. If Jackson gets his act together, McCoy will make him better. The problem last season was that between Vick's injuries and his inconsistency, along with Jackson's sudden inability to stretch the field, defenses could focus their energies much more on McCoy. If McCoy is more freed up this season and the trio of Vick-Jackson-McCoy is on, the Eagles could have the best offense in the sport.
'The Dream Team'
It was an unfair moniker put on the Eagles basically accidentally by Vince Young, though the fact it stuck was not. Teams, including the rival Giants, used the moniker purposely as a motivating force. I'm told it came up several times in position meetings as a tool for mocking the team and firing up New York's players. I believe the unfortunate name played a real factor in the team's demise. It added undue pressure on the Eagles; raised both expectations and blood pressure. That pressure is gone now and should make the team a lot freer.
Reid's last hurrah?
Been at his post since 1999, which in the coaching life is like three decades. Maybe more. Some in football privately believe this will be Reid's final season. They have no proof, just instinct, and the belief that if Reid doesn't win, both sides will mutually agree it's time to go. My guess: Reid isn't going anywhere any time soon. He's won too much.
Yet ... it is fair to wonder if Reid's time in Philadelphia is coming to a rapid close. It's been a prosperous, incredible ride, but also, there's been just one Super Bowl appearance. It's possible (though I'm still not convinced) both Reid and his bosses are thinking maybe it could soon be time to part ways.
Filling the Jason Peters void
A five-time Pro Bowler at left tackle is gone for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon. Demetress Bell steps in his place and this will be interesting to watch. Peters was a physical beast and Bell is also less experienced.
From an AFC scout: "I don't think Mike Vick can last the season. What I saw last year was a guy take brutal shot after brutal shot. It's what I've seen happen to Vick every season since he's been in the league. The difference now is he's older and more fragile. That's not going to change because he runs and still holds onto the ball a little too long. When he's explosive, he can be great, but the problem is he's a smallish guy that takes massive shots and big shots to the head, too."
Xs and Os
By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider
The Eagles offense is explosive, Michael Vick. He promised his teammates he would play the game with an eye toward staying healthy all 16 games. That means he's trying to change habits that are decades old. Vick hasn't had a 16-start season since 2006 and defenses aren't buying there's a different No. 7 under center. He's been sacked once for every 11 throws for his career (244 total sacks), and that takes a toll. Throw in the fact he has run the ball 729 times for 5,219 yards and the truth is Vick has been hit or tackled well over 1,000 times.
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2012 Preview Schedule
Cowboys @ Eagles: 11/11 (4:15 p.m. ET)
Eagles @ Cowboys: 12/2 (8:20 p.m. ET)
2012 Preview Schedule
Giants @ Eagles: 9/30 (8:20 p.m. ET)
Eagles @ Giants: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)
2012 Preview Schedule
Redskins @ Eagles: 12/23 (1 p.m. ET)
Eagles @ Redskins: 11/18 (1 p.m. ET)
As one defensive coordinator said to me, "I don't care what Mike says about playing safe, we aren't playing any man under two deep with his wheels on the field." Man under two deep commits too many defenders turning their back on Vick and running with receivers.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has balanced up this offense since the emergence of LeSean McCoy. McCoy has more power than most would think at 5-foot-11, 208 pounds but 580 of his 1,309 rushing yards in 2011 came after contact. Defenses have to worry about him as a receiver, too, though his reception total dipped from 78 in 2010 to 48 last season. The Eagles are an extremely dangerous 11 personnel team (one RB, one TE, three WRs) with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Brent Celek and McCoy on the field. Teams can't match up with this group and contain Vick.
I expect the Eagles to run the ball more with McCoy on third down to take some pressure off Vick (17 third-down rushes in 2011). McCoy had 25 carries on third down at 5.8 yards per carry. By comparison, Texans RB Arian Foster ran 41 times on third down.
This 4-3 defense got its act together in the second half of the 2011 season, especially the last four games when they gave up 46 points (11.5 per game). In the second of two division games against the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins they gave up a grand total of 27 points (9.0 per game). The offseason acquisition of MLB DeMeco Ryans gives DC Juan Castillo much more flexibility to check stunts, blitzes and coverages.
I spoke with DE Jason Babin who had 18 sacks last year in the Eagles' "wide 9" look. He thought too much was made of the "wide 9" and that the Eagles aren't in that call exclusively. This defense will use more press man coverage this season than last, and that may raise the number interference calls but it will help their overall play.
I expect a repeat of last season when Trent Cole and Babin combined for 29 sacks (11 other players also recorded sacks). In 2011, only Tom Brady threw for more than 300 yards, but 10 teams rushed for more than 100 yards on the Eagles.
By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
In the first two rounds of the draft, Philadelphia added three future starters along the front seven with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive end Vinny Curry. However, fourth-round cornerback Brandon Boykin could have the most immediate impact.
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Boykin was projected as a top 75 draft pick before a broken leg during Senior Bowl week sidelined him for the remainder of the pre-draft process. Boykin's injury combined with a few other concerns made him available on the draft's third day. And the Eagles, who were looking for a potential slot corner, were more than happy to see the ex-Bulldog available in the fourth round.
Boykin possesses special tools with the foot speed to cover a lot of ground and fluidity to burst in any direction, making him a natural fit in nickel and inside coverage. He needs to continue and develop his coverage skills and awareness to improve his "feel" in the secondary, but his gifted athleticism hides some of his instinctive shortcomings.
The largest obstacle in his way might be his inconsistencies as a tackler. At 5-10 and 182 pounds, Boykin appears maxed out physically and his lack of strength shows in run support, struggling to finish and break down in space. He doesn't shy from contact and is extremely aggressive, but often needs the help of his teammates to bring down the ballcarrier. Boykin's lack of size also leads to strong durability concerns as he was often beaten up in college.
Boykin has the natural ability to contribute right away as a nickel back and return man with starting cornerback potential if he continues to develop mentally. With only a fourth round price tag, it wouldn't be surprising if he turned out to be one of the best values from the 2012 NFL Draft.
The rest of the Eagles' picks:
1st Round - No. 12 overall - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
2nd Round - No. 46 overall - Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California
2nd Round - No. 59 overall - Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
3rd Round - No. 88 overall - Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
4th Round - No. 123 overall - Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
5th Round - No. 153 overall - Dennis Kelly, OT, Purdue
6th Round - No. 194 overall - Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
6th Round - No. 200 overall - Brandon Washington, G, Miami (Fla.)
7th Round - No. 229 overall - Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State