There are definite areas in which the Eagles need to improve upon in the 2009 season. One of them is the offense in the red zone. Touchdowns, not field goals, is the priority for Andy Reid and his football team. As I provide the Q&A of the second part of my one-on-one interview with the Eagles head coach, the first point of business was the offense in the red zone.
DS: The team wasn't as productive as you wanted in the red zone last year. Do you feel the team has improved in that area, or is that something the team feels the need to address moving forward?
AR: "We've got to do some things better in the red zone. In the red zone, you've got to be able to throw the ball and you've got to be able to run the ball. I know people harp on the throwing and that we need to run it more in there, but we need to run it better in there, and we need to throw it better in there and catch better and block better. It's a whole gamut. Will we cover that? Yeah, we've gone through it and we've looked at that. We tear it apart, and we study other people and look at the teams that had a little success, we study defenses and what they're trying to do to us down in there and then we'll come up and we'll put together a package.
"The red zone has been up and down. We've had great years in the red zone, and then we've had some down years. I'm glad we can narrow it down to just a couple of things from last year that we need to get better at and we can really focus on those areas. If you are going through all of your cut-ups and you've got 20 things (to correct) on there, major-league things that you need to fix, you're probably not a very good football team and you're going to struggle to get all of those things answered. If you can narrow it down to three or four things, man, you can focus in. You've got this whole off-season and you can focus in, dissect it, chew it up and hopefully spit out a great product."
DS: What have the draft preparations been like? How do you look at having 12 draft picks in April?
AR: "It gives you flexibility. We've got two first-round picks and we've got (four) fifth-round picks. There are some things you can do with those fifth-round picks – those are valuable picks right there that people have success with. You're going to have four or five guys on your team that are actually contributors from that fifth round. So whether you use those to trade up, whether you use to trade into next year and maybe gain a fourth-round pick, or maybe you can trade up this year and use it in the third round, second round, first round … that's exciting stuff. It gives you flexibility. Do you use all 12 picks? We'll see how that goes."
DS: How do you look at this group of wide receivers moving forward?
AR: "I like our wide receivers. It was great to get DesSean (Jackson) in the action there (in 2008). I think this is a big year for him because teams are going to do just like we're doing. They're studying our offense and they're going to study DeSean Jackson. They're going to slow it down, watch it, look at his tendencies, his physical abilities, what type of routes we're running him on, so we've got to take it to another level with DeSean. DeSean has to continue to work hard in this off-season, get stronger and more precise in his route running, all of those things. And then we have a big challenge as coaches of coming up with new things to make sure that he has an opportunity to catch the football.
"Kevin Curtis, I think the exciting thing about Kevin Curtis, is, even though he's a little bit older, in NFL years, fairly young. He had gone on a church mission when he was in college, so there is a two-year differential there in his NFL years compared to his age. Kevin is coming off sports hernia surgery that, as we know here, slow you down a little bit. I don't think Kevin was feeling what he normally feels as a football player until probably the last three games of the season and you were able to see that as we went into the playoffs.
"We've got young guys around them – Hank Baskett and Reggie Brown, who is a starting-caliber player and who has started a lot of games for us. We consider him a starter in this mix. Jason Avant, you saw him bloom into this third receiver who was virtually unstoppable as an inside receiver. He just had a phenomenal year, and he was coming off a sports hernia surgery from the year before and was also banged up just a little bit as we went down the stretch. We expect good things from him and for him to take another step up."
DS: You speak glowingly of these players of these players around Donovan. Is the group good enough to win the Super Bowl, as is?
AR: "I think it is as you compare it to other teams, the teams that went to the Super Bowl. Now, you've got Larry Fitzgerald, who is the elite of the elite, and to compare him to our guys – I think Larry is probably the finest receiver in the game right now. But I'll put that group up against other receiving groups in this league, especially with Donovan throwing the football and with the type of offense we have throwing the football."
DS: What does Donovan have to work on in the off-season? What would you like to see him improve in '09?
AR: "He needs to pick up where he left off, is what he needs to do. Look, there's always room for improvement. It's like golfers. A golfer is continuously working on his game. It doesn't matter if it's Tiger Woods. He's coming off this injury and you're like, 'Wow, he's not the best in the world anymore at this moment. Other guys are playing better.' So, Tiger's going back and he's doing the same thing Donovan does during the season – he's analyzing his game, and he's with his coach and he's study, study, study until he can get back to being No. 1. And Donovan does that same thing. Donovan goes in and we dissect it as coaches, we present it to Donovan, Donovan dissects it and then he tries to get better at those things. Maybe his first four years he had to take leaps like that (hands spread apart), Donovan's leaps are like this now (hands close together). They're just little things that he can kind of hone in on to make his game even better than what it is now."
DS: Tra Thomas recently said that maybe you needed to have more of a personal relationship with players, or communicate better with players, that the approach was too business-like. What is your reaction to that?
AR: "I am who I am. I do what I do. We've had a little bit of success here. Can I get better at what I do? I'm always going to strive to get better, just like I mention with the players. But I can't change personalities, because players read through that and they're going to think you are putting on a show. Am I up for suggestions? I'm always up for suggestions. To get better, I'm always up for suggestions. I really respect Tra, too. Tra has been with us here for a long time and helped us win a lot of football games, so I respect the things he says and look at them. But to change, it's hard to change as a person. That's a tough thing to do, and still have players respect you as a whole and the things we've done here."
To reach part one of the One On One With Andy Reid, click here ...