In order for the Eagles to fulfill their potential in 2009, much will be expected of the team's top players like Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Asante Samuel to name a few. But it will also take some other players to emerge from the shadows and expand their respective roles this season. Who could those players be? Let's take a look at three potential candidates on offense and defense ...
1. TE Brent Celek - There is no question now that he's the starter on offense. Last season, Celek assumed the starting job late in the season and finished with a career-high 27 catches for 318 yards in the regular season. But it was the playoffs where he shined with 19 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns. We all know that he had an outstanding performance in the NFC title game with 10 catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And of course, everyone wants to know about his blocking. Well, his rookie season of 2007 was hampered by a shoulder injury that didn't get fixed until the off-season. With the surgery in January of 2008, Celek wasn't able to effectively workout in the off-season. Now he's healthy, he's spent the entire off-season in Philadelphia and is ready to go.
2. FB Leonard Weaver - He's been in the league for four years already, so why is he considered a candidate? The versatile and athletic Weaver has just 356 rushing yards and 547 receiving in 46 regular season games. Yet, he was offered the chance this past off-season to be more of a feature back in Houston where he would be the big back to complement Steve Slaton. However, Weaver's familiarity with the system used in Philadelphia and the opportunity to be a blocker, a runner and a receiver - in Weaver's words a true "halfback" - was too good to pass up. Weaver displayed his deft ability to catch the ball at the post-draft mini-camp and can be relied on to help shoulder the load in the backfield should Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy falter.
3. WR Jason Avant - This was a tough one. You can't expect a rookie to have a breakout season. And is DeSean Jackson sneaking up on anyone at this point? Offensive line? You could make the case for Stacy Andrews, but he's not all the way back yet. You could say Shawn Andrews if he makes the move to tackle on a permanent basis, but he is a two-time Pro Bowl player. Here's why I picked Avant. He's the top slot receiver. It's not going to be Kevin Curtis after the addition of Jeremy Maclin. Curtis is an outside receiver in Philly. Just because he's white and small, he's not New England's Wes Welker. Curtis, Jackson and hopefully Maclin will be able to stretch the field better this year than in year's past. Avant isn't quick and he's not stellar after the catch, but he is outstanding in his ability to run routes over the middle of the field and will make the tough catches. If defenses have to pay attention to the outside threats more and if Celek and Cornelius Ingram can be effective out of the tight end spot, Avant should be able to clean up any mess defenders leave behind.
1. FS Quintin Demps - With the youth on defense, finding the breakout players are much easier. Demps is the front-runner for the starting spot at free safety vacated with the departure by Brian Dawkins. Demps has the physical tools and the work ethic to be successful. Demps has the speed, range and instincts to cover the field. He's got a nose for the ball to create turnovers. Coming out of college his tackling ability was questioned, but seemed fine his rookie season. Yes, he was burned by Larry Fitzgerald in the NFC Championship. Yes, he laid out Kurt Warner, a cheap shot no question. But with Quintin Mikell alongside him and Sean Jones able to play a hybrid safety/linebacker if needed, Demps will have the opportunity to make game-changing plays.
2. DE Victor Abiamiri - When he's on the field, he's been productive. After spending his rookie season learning and preparing for a bigger role in 2008, he was sidelined for most of the year with injuries - first a dislocated wrist and then a Lis franc sprain. In the 10 regular season games he did play in, Abiamiri had 22 tackles and a pair of sacks. He also forced a fumble. In the two playoff games, he had six tackle and another sack. His size and presence on early downs can make the bevy of pass-rush specialists more effective in passing downs. Abiamiri needs to beat Juqua Parker for the starting job in training camp and allow Parker to do what he does best - relentlessly attack the quarterback. It's a trickle-down effect which could help take the defensive line to another level in 2009.
3. LB Akeem Jordan - He's not the biggest linebacker at 6-1 and 230 pounds. And yes, he was a rookie free agent who played at James Madison just a couple years ago. But Jordan's speed and ability to get physical with opposing fullbacks was pivotal in winning the starting weakside linebacker job from Omar Gaither in the middle of last season. It's an open competition, but Jordan makes it tough with his ability to cover the tight ends as well. He's got to make more game-changing plays, but there's no question the defense headed north the minute he was placed into the starting lineup. With a full season as the starter, could Jordan's impact push the Eagles from the No. 1 defense in the NFC to No. 1 in the NFL?