So much of the Eagles' offense depends upon the production of Brian Westbrook, the multi-talented running back who is one of the game's best. So much of the Eagles' off-season, it seems, revolves around Westbrook and the projection the team is making for his 2009 season.
Contrary to many opinions out there, the Eagles are counting on Westbrook to be Westbrook this season. His knee "procedure" was a success. Westbrook reported feeling great after his surgery, and the Eagles are moving forward with the expectation that he is going to have a Pro Bowl-caliber season and that the swelling in his knee should no longer be an issue and that it is full steam ahead with optimism.
That said, Westbrook needs some help. And the Eagles are serious about giving it to him. They signed offensive lineman Stacy Andrews in free agency and they expect Andrews to be ready to get on the field in training camp. They are welcoming back to the starting lineup Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews, who could stay at right guard or who could move to a tackle position. Signing free agent fullback Leonard Weaver is a plus for Westbrook, too, and for the first time since the days of Jon Ritchie, Westbrook will have a fullback in front of him who has a genuine feel for opening a hole and playing the position.
What's next for Westbrook? Well, the draft should address the offense fairly heavily as the Eagles look for upgrades and players to bolster their depth. Maybe they will draft a lineman early. Maybe they will get a physical tight end to help Brent Celek in the blocking game. Most certainly they will draft a back to complement Westbrook, to learn from Westbrook and to provide some young, fresh, power out of the backfield.
The best role for Westbrook in 2009 is the one he has had for years, with just a couple of minor tweaks. An excellent between-the-tackles runner, Westbrook could stand to skip a turn or three on some third-and-short running situations. He can still get his touches -- 20 to 25 every week sounds right -- but Westbrook can reduce the wear and tear on his body by catching more passes, by splitting out and being used as a receiver and by letting another back -- Weaver or a draft pick -- do some of the dirty work in the trenches.
I don't think the offense is going to change dramatically, necessarily, but the Eagles have an opportunity to tweak things here and there based on their personnel. Weaver gives them a dimension they haven't had in the Andy Reid era. Celek earned a lot of confidence last year. The Andrews brothers instantly make the offensive line younger and more robust.
And Westbrook is healthy. Feeling great. From day one, he is going to be good to go, which is a much different scene than the Eagles witnessed last year as Westbrook gamely limped his way to 15 total touchdowns (including playoffs) but simply wasn't the same superstar that we've come to know and love.
The Eagles are counting on big things from Westbrook this year. And just to make sure, they are improving the pieces around him, making the possibilities for Westbrook and the offense limitless. The picture is not yet complete, of course. The draft is going to change the dynamic of this team. But it revolves around Westbrook, and around Donovan McNabb, and around an offense that was good last year, but certainly has many ways to improve.