The news that Kevin Curtis has a sports hernia was just what Eagles fans didn't want to hear. The team has had some minor injuries to this point, but Curtis is the first starter to go down for a sizable amount of time.
Curtis was our most reliable and consistent receiver last year. He's going to be out ""a while"" according to head coach Andy Reid. Whatever the amount, it will be tough on the passing game.
This will mean more playing time for Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett. I hope it means more time with the starting offense for DeSean Jackson. Curtis can be replaced while he's out. It won't be easy. We need guys to step up in a big way to replace him.
When he does return, there is no guarantee that Curtis will be anywhere near 100 percent. We'll have to deal with that down the road. For now let's focus on the beginning of the season. Lewis has played well in the preseason and looks ready for the extra duty. Jackson has been very good so far. He's got all Eagles fans excited about his future. Baskett is the guy who needs to play well on Friday against New England and send a signal that he can be counted on.
The real key to all of this is Reggie Brown and whether he can get healthy by the season opener. Reid expects him to be ready. If we have to play without Brown and Curtis things will get interesting. New assistant coach Mark Whipple will have to get out the power running playbook from his days with the Steelers.
FULLBACK A JOB FOR THE TAKING
The fullback situation has been interesting all offseason long. The Eagles let Thomas Tapeh leave as a free agent without showing any signs of wanting him back. This made it seem like the team was ready for Jason Davis to take over the job. Davis has been with the organization for a couple of years, so the move made sense.
The Eagles threw us all a curveball when they signed Dan Klecko as a free agent. They were making Davis' main competition for the job a defensive tackle/linebacker with some experience in short-yardage offense. This experiment ended in mini-camp when it became apparent that Klecko didn't move well enough to start at fullback.
Jed Collins was signed as an undrafted free agent. The team traded for Luke Lawton of the Colts. Both guys had the potential to fit in the West Coast offense, as well as being solid special teams players.
After training camp and a couple of preseason games, the Eagles were still waiting for one of the players to really step up and win the job. A lot of fans are confused by exactly what is going on.
Thomas Tapeh was a solid fullback in 2007. He did a good job as the lead blocker for Brian Westbrook. Tapeh caught nine passes and ran five times. He didn't score any touchdowns. He wasn't expected to be a playmaker. The team wanted a blocker and solid receiver. The one area where Tapeh was a major disappointment was on special teams.
In the offseason head coach Andy Reid and special teams coach Rory Segrest decided that they needed more special teams production from the fullback. The player could be good on offense, but that wasn't going to be enough. The guy who won the fullback job would have to show up on special teams.
Jason Davis has looked good enough on offense to win the job. The problem is that he's been missing on special teams. Jed Collins is up and down on offense, but he's played well in kick coverage. Luke Lawton has fallen to third place and needs to really pick up the pace.
On Monday, the Eagles made the announcement that Tony Hunt would take snaps at fullback. Some people see this as a panic move. I don't see it that way at all. Hunt played his best game as an Eagle in the win over the Panthers. The coaches met over the weekend and must have started thinking about how they could keep Hunt on the roster. Keeping four running backs isn't going to be likely this year. There is no clear leader at fullback. Why not give Hunt a look there and see if he can handle the job?
Hunt made a pair of tackles in kickoff coverage last Thursday. That is the kind of special teams play the Eagles are looking for out of their fullback. If he plays that well again on special teams, that will be a big plus for Hunt.
Can he play fullback? Hunt is certainly good enough as a short-yardage runner to handle the few running attempts a fullback normally gets. He's a solid receiver on screens and short throws. Hunt caught 88 passes at Penn State, seven last year in the preseason and already has a couple of catches this year. The big mystery is whether he can be an effective lead blocker.
We won't know the answer to that question until Hunt plays fullback in a game. There are some reasons to think he can. In the 2005 season, Penn State ran a quarterback draw play for Michael Robinson. Hunt was the lead blocker on those runs. He was a good lead blocker. That was college and this is the NFL. There is no guarantee that skill will carry forward when Hunt would now be taking on big-time pro linebackers.
Blocking isn't all that complicated. All the fullback has to do is run into his target with enough power to draw a stalemate or push his defender backward. It isn't complicated, but it also isn't pleasant, unless you enjoy painful collisions. Hunt is a physical runner. He lowers his shoulder and gets into the defender. This running style is similar to blocking. That should help Hunt as he tries to make the switch. The biggest adjustment for Hunt will be choosing the correct target to attack. As a running back he's used to looking for daylight. The fullback has to go take on his defender. There are subtleties to blocking. The fullback has to use proper position, so that he seals the defender inside or outside. He has to block with good pad level. The fullback also has to know when a cut block is the way to go. That is something that will likely be foreign to Hunt. Rarely do you see running backs making cut blocks.
Hunt meets a lot of the criteria to be a good fullback. One area where he will come up short is weight. The average NFL fullback is more than 250 pounds. Hunt is somewhere in the 230 range. Some players have been effective lead blockers at less than 250 pounds. You just don't see many fullbacks that small anymore.
I do think Tony Hunt could make the transition and handle the job of fullback. He should get a lot of work on Friday night against the Patriots. Focus on how well he does as a lead blocker. Remember that Hunt also needs to show up on special teams. Being good on offense isn't enough for him.
If Hunt struggles, the Eagles will need to decide whether to go with him, Davis or Collins. Hunt has the most overall potential, but is newest to the position and is somewhat undersized. Davis is fine on offense, but hasn't shown the desired special teams ability. Collins needs work as a blocker, but looks good on special teams.
DEMPS TAKES OVER AT KICKOFF RETURNER
Rookie Quintin Demps has looked very good as a kickoff returner. He is fast. He explodes up the field and isn't hesitant at all. He catches the ball smoothly. Quintin has returns of 23 and 28 yards. On Friday night, Demps will get the chance to be the main kickoff returner. He's earned that opportunity. Hopefully Demps will look good against the first-team special teams unit. His success hasn't been due to great blocking. His return style and speed have been the real keys. That should carry over to facing better coverage. As strange as it may sound, Demps should help improve the blocking with his style of returns. Because he catches the ball and gets going quickly, blockers know they don't have to hold blocks for a long time. That should help them to be more effective and build up some confidence.
Demps has been up and down as a safety. Only the coaches know if he's handling his assignments correctly. He looks like a player who makes good reads and gets to the ball. Demps has shown good range and athleticism. I don't know that he's earned time in the nickel or dime defense, but he has certainly proven that he deserves a shot to be the main kickoff returner.
LONGSHOT LOOKING GOOD
Andy Studebaker is a very interesting rookie. He's making the transition from Wheaton College to the NFL and from defensive end to linebacker. So far, so good. Studebaker has shown that he definitely has the athletic ability to play pro football. He's also making plays. He has five tackles, a forced fumble and a batted pass.
Before we get too excited, we have to understand that Studebaker is playing against third stringers. In 2006, Tank Daniels was the small-school linebacker who looked good in the preseason. Last year, Akeem Jordan had that role. Only Jordan made the initial 53-man roster and that was for a brief time before the Eagles claimed Pago Togafau off waivers. Jordan last year was ahead of where Studebaker is this year, based on what I've seen. In the 2007 preseason finale, Jordan played a great game. He flew all over the field and made a lot of tackles. We'll see if Studebaker has a game like that in him.
The Eagles will have to consider putting Studebaker on the roster. They can't count on him making it through waivers and getting to the practice squad. Studebaker has better size than either Daniels or Jordan. He is a natural pass rusher. Teams running the 3-4 defense could easily be interested in claiming Studebaker. Right now Rocky Boiman is slated to be the backup strongside linebacker. He better not relax with the way that Studebaker is playing right now. The kid from Wheaton College might just make the team.