Kirwan: Eagles "Keep Pushing" Ahead

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by AJM1613, Aug 5, 2004.

  1. AJM1613

    AJM1613 New Member

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    You wanted an unbias training camp report?

    LEHIGH, Pa. (Aug. 5, 2004) -- Let me first set the scene for you at Eagles camp. It is an already hot and humid morning. Lehigh University is a good hour ride or more for many diehard Eagles fans, and the parking lot resembles a game day. There are close to 10,000 fans, all in Eagles clothing, all geared up for a morning practice. The whole scene reminded me of the expectations for the Philadelphia franchise this year: Super Bowl or nothing.

    With every pass thrown to Terrell Owens, the crowd would roar, and T.O. loved it. After practice when most of his new teammates were already showered and on their way to lunch, Owens was still out signing autographs and having his picture taken with fans. I know he's excited because during the practice, I watched the Eagles call six straight pass plays in a team period, and on all six he sprinted down field and cleared out the secondary to open up an underneath route for another receiver. In the old days, that might have infuriated him, but not at this practice. Later in the morning, he hooked up with Donovan McNabb a number of times against the inexperienced Eagles corners and it looked like a deadly combination.

    As for the rest of the Eagles offense, there was lots to be impressed with, and an area or two for concern. Let's start up front with the offensive line. The Eagles have two 6-foot-7 tackles in Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, which gives them the bookends most teams dream about. Inside, Hank Fraley is the blue-collar center who is a favorite of head coach Andy Reid. Jermane Mayberry, who can also play some tackle, has one guard spot, and rookie first-round pick Shawn Andrews, at 6-4 and 320 pounds, has the other spot. Every coach I spoke with before practice had something good to say about Andrews, so I spent a lot of time watching him work. He is a very good athlete who will make the offensive line one of the best in the NFL this year but he needs more work. In his one-on-one pass blocking, he worked against DT Corey Simon, and on the first rush Andrews got his hands on him, squared him up, dropped his weight and the rush was over on the spot. Andrews looked like an All Pro. On the next rush, Simon gave him a quick head fake and a change-of-direction rush, and Andrews missed him completely and ended up blocking air as Simon was in the backfield. What impressed me most as it happened was how Andrews handled the situation. No hanging his head, no immature outburst, just eyes on his coach listening to what he did wrong and going to the sideline to work on the instructions. He will be a great one sooner rather than later.

    The Eagles receivers have always been thought of as an average to below-average group, and that has changed with the addition of Owens. I must report that T.O. isn't the only area of improvement; Freddie Mitchell finished strong last season and Todd Pinkston looked very good in practice. I suspect both will have over 40 receptions as the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, respectively. The other receiving dimension that is ready to explode is tight end L.J. Smith. He is a vertical threat at 250 pounds, and with the new emphasis on pass interference, he could become a very dangerous threat -- especially in the red zone.

    The running backs concern me as I watched the short-yardage/goal-line live drill. Correll Buckhalter didn't participate on this day and the offensive coaches were quick to point out he will be in there come game time. But there really isn't another inside pounder who can get the tough yards and move the chains. The defense dominated the Eagles' short-yardage run game and it's not the best place to feature the talents of Brian Westbrook. As I stood there, I couldn't help but think how much a guy like the Raiders' Zack Crockett would fit nicely. Crockett only rushed for 145 yards last year but he scored seven times in the goal-line run package. The Eagles have the cap space to pick up a guy like that late in August after the last cuts if one should appear.

    The Eagles offense in the open field or in the two-minute situation is ready to go with what appears to be some extended use of the shotgun formation. Based on what I saw in practice, they will give real problems for every opponent. Let's not forget about the 240-pound McNabb, who is a tremendous running threat and already has 2,237 yards and 17 touchdowns in his five-year career. The Eagles would prefer to keep him in the pocket but they have very capable backup quarterbacks in Jeff Blake and Koy Detmer, and more importantly, McNabb is not going to leave anything on the table this year to win a Super Bowl. As good as the Eagles defense is, when Donovan took off in practice, he gained yardage in big chunks.

    As for the defense, coordinator Jim Johnson is already in midseason form. During one team period, every linebacker, nickelback and safety blitzed at least once. He has the athletes up front to look like they're rushing and then drop into coverage while the others blitz in his "fire-zone scheme." Jevon Kearse was very impressive all practice, chasing run plays down from behind when the offense tried to run away from him. He also held up well when Runyan blocked him and the run game came right at him. Defensive tackle Darwin Walker sat out practice but Hollis Thomas clogged up the middle and Simon was very disruptive in the live team periods. A key player on the Eagles defense will be N.D. Kalu, who is listed as a defensive end but can line up as a linebacker and quickly turn the Eagles package into a 3-4 front, especially in nickel and dime packages. Philly has five linebackers who can start in the NFL with Mark Simoneau, Jeremiah Trotter, Nate Wayne, Dhani Jones and Ike Reese all practicing well. I was very impressed with how quickly Simoneau can key and diagnose plays. Coach Johnson can't play them all but I'm sure the special teams coach, John Harbaugh, is happy to have that many quality players to work with this year.

    Everyone at practice wanted to point to the cornerbacks as the weakness of the team. Philadelphia isn't playing a lot of press man coverage, which Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent excelled at in earlier years when they were healthy. Sure, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown have just 12 career starts between them and it's easy to point at them as a liability. The safeties, Michael Lewis and Brian Dawkins, are excellent; the Eagles will get pressure on the quarterback and the scheme will help them. As I reminded one observer on the sideline at practice, the Panthers almost won the Super Bowl with Ricky Manning and Reggie Howard on the field at cornerback. What struck me at practice was how much quality work the young Eagles corners were getting going up against Owens.

    It's common knowledge that the Eagles have one goal this season, and that's getting to Jacksonville to play in the Super Bowl. It's a realistic one. Everyone also knows they have upwards of six or seven Pro Bowl players on their roster. But what I walked away from practice with was the core of backup utility players that make the depth on this roster exceptional. In addition, they have no real contract situations for 2005 and they already have 11 picks in next spring's draft. As long as they've been humming into the playoffs, this team could stay at the top for a while longer yet.

    I said to Reid after practice that I was very impressed with his team and how hard they worked for two-and-a-half hours and he just stared at me and said, "We just have to keep pushing." If they do what he tells them, they will make it to Jacksonville in February.
  2. My Problem Is Obvious

    My Problem Is Obvious Benched

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    Dude.....seriously......1300 posts? On a Cowboys board? And you're an Eagles fan?

    Ever seen that Twisted Sister video where the dad screams at his son "WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO WITH YOUR LIFE?"

    That was you, man.
  3. BrownSugar

    BrownSugar One Classy Lady

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    LOL, good one!!
  4. FoldedSpace

    FoldedSpace Member

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    Low self-esteem. And Junior High School doesn't start until next week...

    On topic, this should be in the NFL news forum
  5. AJM1613

    AJM1613 New Member

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    Nope, never heard of Twisted Sister...
  6. AJM1613

    AJM1613 New Member

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    Thanks for the heads up... :confused:

    No it directly involves the Cowboys, two games and possibly a playoff spot/loss.
  7. kmp77

    kmp77 Active Member

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    Who is the girl in your avatar?
  8. DezBRomo9

    DezBRomo9 Not enough blitzing..

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    From watching Andrews at college and the highlight reel on draft day is seems Andrews would be a much better guard than RT do to his size. He is athletic but he still is slow for a RT, IMO. But like our line this is camp and if he whiffs on a blocking drill, dont get PO'ed just understand he is young and like our own Peterman and Rogers have coaches and fans on their side to get better. Hell, even back in high school a fast rusher could do a quick swim move and get by me. Young O-Lineman are just adjusting to the speed of the game. So, dont expect Andrews to play at a Jon Ogden level, yet.

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