Let's put these pieces together now that they are about to be gathered in one place for the first time in 2009. Now that free agency is largely over, and the draft is finished and the Eagles have an offense that has gone in for a makeover in the prior months, what can we expect from the Eagles -- in terms of personnel and X's and O's -- for the season ahead?
In the big picture, it is far too early to know those answers. The coaches have mapped out their game plan for the post-draft mini-camp, and then and only then will they start to form an opinion on what best to do with all the new players. The upcoming camp is more of a mental grind than a physical test -- the Eagles practice twice on Friday, twice on Saturday and then once on Sunday. There are no pads and there is no tackling. More important than seeing how athletic the players are running around in shorts and a helmet is how they accept new information, then process it and translate it from the classroom to the field.
It isn't too early for us, however, to wonder about the offense. The Eagles did a lot of good things last year with the offense. They scored a lot of points. They found ways to protect Donovan McNabb and score a bunch of points even with starting receivers Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown nursing injuries for much of the year, even with Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews sidelined, even with tight end L.J. Smith hurting, with fullback Dan Klecko learning the position on the go after Tony Hunt didn't work out, and with tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan aging on the edges.
For much of the year, it worked for the Eagles. They moved the ball well, scored points in bunches and reached the NFC Championship Game. They had some success. Not enough, of course, and that is where the dramatic off-season comes into play.
How is this all going to play out? Jason Peters comes in to play left tackle and Stacy Andrews is expected to be the right tackle. He isn't likely to be on the field this weekend, but Andrews is the guy who fits so right into the right tackle spot. He is physical, punishing. A mauler in the run game. Peters is the complete package at left tackle. Shawn Andrews comes back to play right guard, with Todd Herremans at left guard and Jamaal Jackson at center. Nick Cole, Max Jean-Gilles and a crew of other young linemen are in the mix to add competition.
It makes you wonder, doesn't it, with that much bigger, much younger and much more athletic offensive line what approach Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are going to take with the play-calling. I know that having all of these young, talented, fast receivers -- more on that group in a minute -- gives the Eagles decided matchup advantages in the passing game. Having this kind of offensive also gives the Eagles great matchups -- potentially, I know -- in the running game.
Might, then, the Eagles have the opportunity to beat defenses with both the pass and the run and might that mean -- looking into my crystal ball -- an offense that wants to run the ball more and establish the power ground game some? Ask a coach and he says the Eagles are looking to be more efficient on the ground. Understood. Get a first-and-goal situation at a team's 4-yard line as the Eagles did in Chicago and you had better score a touchdown with this line now.
Maybe, though, things are setting up for more variety in the play-calling ways. If this thing works out as planned, the offensive line is going to be outstanding. Defenses can't crowd the line of scrimmage given the weapons the Eagles have in the passing game. So the chances are going to be there for the Eagles to pound the rock behind a line that weighs 330 pounds and with a true, athletic fullback in Leonard Weaver to open holes for Brian Westbrook and Shady McCoy.
I'm not dumb enough to believe for a second, though, that the Eagles are going to be a run-first offense. Maybe at some point in certain points during a game, the Eagles will lean more heavily on the running game. What has to make this offense soar, week in and week out, is the passing game. And this is where it becomes even more exciting for the Eagles.
McNabb faced his pressure last year when blitzes came off the edge. The Eagles compensated many times by keeping Klecko in for protection, asking Westbrook to chip block on his way out to a route and by making sure a tight end was there to help. Ideally, the Eagles are so much better with Peters and Andrews at the tackle spots so that Brent Celek and Weaver and Westbrook and be more involved in the passing game.
Who really knows how things will actually work?
The Eagles have plenty of weapons surrounding McNabb. They are much, much faster on the perimeter of the offense. Younger, faster and stronger. Westbrook is healthy -- knock on wood -- and ready to go in the camp. McCoy is eager to learn the scheme. No. 1 draft pick Jeremy Maclin is going to add immediate sizzle to the wide receiver group already good with Curtis and second-year man DeSean Jackson leading the way. Celek is ready to assert himself at tight end, and he will be supplemented by fifth-round pick Cornelius Ingram, who says he is going to practice this weekend.
Maclin is going to get a chance to play, although Curtis and Jackson go in as the starters, and Jason Avant is the slot receiver with camp nearing. Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett are working hard to get back into the prime picture at wide receiver. Hey, Maclin may not jump right in and start, but he is too talented and too intelligent to keep down for long. He has superstar ability that can change the entire dynamic of this receiving corps and this offense right away.
For the coaches, it is too early to know for sure. For the rest of us, let the dreaming continue. With a new offensive line and some new blood dotting the skill positions, the Eagles have exciting visions. Dare I say this is the most complete -- again, on paper -- the offense has fielded for a post-draft camp? It has a chance to be better than the 2004 version, which was outstanding, and several of the other offenses we've seen in the Reid era.
I think the Eagles can kill ya running the ball or throwing it. I think the matchups Mornhinweg can create with his formation design give the Eagles a decided advantage when this offense lines up and plays. The red zone? A work in progress. An area to improve. No doubt about that. I expect the Eagles to run a whole lot better in there, and I think Celek and Ingram can help with their size and pass-catching talents.
It is tantalizing, no question. The Eagles have a variety of things they can do offensively. I'm dreaming right now. It's late April. It is 90 degrees in Philadelphia. Players don't even have assigned numbers just yet.
But not too far away, we're going to watch the Eagles in action, and I can't remember ever being intrigued by the offensive possibilities quite as much as I am right now with a team that is so young, so fast and so full of promise.