Are the Eagles a better team now than they were in 2008? Is what the Eagles have on paper better than what we saw on the run through the 2008 playoffs? Are the Eagles a Super Bowl-caliber team? A lot of the critics seem to think so, based on the many positive moves the team made since that loss in Arizona. But as it is when the critics don't like the Eagles at this time of the year, nothing from the outside matters. Opinions mean nothing.
Coaches coach day to day. They don't live in the past and they don't look too far ahead. I've spent the days since the draft and then the mini-camp talking, asking questions and learning as much as I can about this team and here are some general thoughts on what the Eagles have at their disposal right now.
- Let's talk about the skill positions on this team, because as the preseason goes on and the regular season nears, the Eagles are going to be presented with plenty of options. Is it different than it was a season ago? Absolutely. Brent Celek has made significant strides and is entrenched as the starting tight end. Cornelius Ingram had an impressive first weekend in the mini-camp and is on his way. He has a lot of work to do, but the natural skills are there. At wide receiver, DeSean Jackson is much stronger physically after a year in the conditioning program, and his routes were run with much greater precision in the post-draft camp. Kevin Curtis cleaned up his sports hernia injury and should be healthy and ready to go for training camp. And Reggie Brown is healthy and trying to win some playing time here. Jason Avant and Hank Baskett are two good receivers and special teams players who fit their roles here very nicely. So you take all of that and add Jeremy Maclin -- who has the skills and who now has to learn to play at this level -- and you include a good fullback in Leonard Weaver, a healthy Brian Westbrook and a promising rookie in LeSean McCoy and it makes for the best set of skill-position players the Eagles have had in the Andy Reid era, in the Jeffrey Lurie era and maybe the best group since the 1980 Super Bowl Eagles. The 2004 Eagles had a superstar wide receiver in Terrell Owens, but that entire core of receivers doesn't rate with the depth here. McCoy, I am going to go out on a limb and say, is going to be a quality contributor as a rookie.
- From what I know, Quintin Demps had a very, very good mini-camp and took major strides in his development as the team's starting free safety. Demps has been diligent in his preparation for the position. He has put in his time, and then he went out on the field and played well in the camp. Now, it's early and we still have a few months to go before training camp begins. Demps is going to be tested in many ways between now and then. And the Eagles still want to see how Sean Jones fits in at strong safety, and how Rashad Baker and Macho Harris work in the scheme, but right now Demps is the guy at free safety.
- We didn't talk much about special teams, largely because there is only so much you can do without contact. David Akers did crush a 57-yard field goal in the bubble, but otherwise it was tough to see too much. New coach Ted Daisher is an aggressive, spirited coach who will demand the best out his group.
- Here is what I'm learning about Ingram, the more I talk to people: Great worker, great kid, and somebody who wants to be an outstanding football player. He is a physical specimen and is the most athletic tight end the Eagles have potentially had in a long, long time. Ingram also showed an excellent, innate feel for the game in the camp and the coaches were pleased with the technique he showed in the blocking game.
- I'm looking forward to seeing how the linebackers improve this year. They had a fine 2008 season, and now they return intact for the first time in years and years. Stewart Bradley has a chance to be a Pro Bowl player in the middle. Akeem Jordan was terrific in camp, and he and Omar Gaither are going to battle it out at the WILL spot. Chris Gocong played the run so very well last year, and he should continue to improve in pass coverage. Is Joe Mays ready to get some time? Any of the other backups going to surprise?
- Keep an eye on the left defensive end position. Seems to me that Victor Abiamiri and Juqua Parker will contend for that starting job. The Eagles need Abiamiri to take the next step. He is such a critical player in the big picture here. This team is one butt kicker up front away from being an awesome defense. Trent Cole is up to 270 pounds and he is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Darren Howard is a weapon in a swing role between end and tackle. Who else is getting to the quarterback?
- Just wondering: Will defenses roll coverages toward Jackson this year? Is he now good enough to command some double teams?
- I think, upon deep review, that the coaching staff is so much smarter than me it isn't even funny. It makes all the sense in the world to use Shawn Andrews at right tackle and see how he plays, and to give Nick Cole the reps at right guard while Stacy Andrews continues his recovery from his knee injury. The Eagles don't have to rush Stacy back onto the field as long as Shawn is improving at right tackle. Shawn has all the skills to play right tackle, and to dominate the position. He has to stay with his technique and become re-acquainted with playing in space and being on the edge. Cole is a proven starter and Andrews is coming back well from injury. The Eagles could use another young tackle to step up and shine to provide some really impressive depth.
- I love all the scrutiny of Donovan McNabb about why he didn't speak at the post-draft camp. Makes you understand just a little bit his decision. And, truthfully, it was good that reporters focused on other, real stories and introduced the fans to some of the other faces on this team.
- So, a little bit of Eagles trivia ... what happened on May 6, 1994, 15 years ago in Eagles history? Answer below.
- Amazing how the perspective changes, huh? With more than 13,000 votes tallied, 70 percent of you have given the Eagles an "A" grade for their off-season efforts and another 27 percent give the Eagles a "B" grade. I wonder what that grade would have been back in mid-March ...
- Any thoughts on the return game if Demps starts and Jackson is the go-to receiver? Yeah, sure. Ellis Hobbs was only the leading kickoff return man in the AFC last year (28.5 yards per return) and Maclin was dynamic in college in the punt return game. It is, indeed, a really good situation for the Eagles.
- I know that Westbrook is the starting halfback, and I know that McCoy ran with the second team at halfback in the mini-camp. All good. Lorenzo Booker was the third-team halfback and he performed well, but the question here is this: Do the Eagles go with three halfbacks who have similar skills -- all can catch the ball, all are quick, all are excellent in space -- or do they keep a third halfback like Kyle Eckel or Eldra Buckley or Walter Mendenhall who has more size and who might be able to play fullback in a pinch? We'll see. I know that the third halfback spot could very well come down to which player handles special teams most effectively.
- Trivia answer: On May 6, 1994, NFL owners approved the sale of the Eagles from Norman Braman to Lurie. Oh, how the years have flown by! And, boy, has this franchise changed its image for the good in the last 15 years.