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Truths, Myths And General Chatter Before Camp

There are some general conceptions and misconceptions about this team that need to be cleared up right now, with only a handful of days remaining before training camp remains. What we know about the Eagles is only what we learned during last season's disappointing 8-8 campaign and then what information the players provided the coaching staff during the spring camps.

In other words, as Andy Reid says time and again, it is a completely new team and a completely new year.

With that in mind, I wanted to have some fun and offer my perspective on some of the common points made about the Eagles. No, not the "We have to have a No. 1 wide receiver to win the Super Bowl" argument, because history has shown that statement isn't true. There are a bunch of others, some that are more valid than others, open for conversation here ...

1. "The Eagles need a big RB for short-yardage situations"

Fact: The Eagles converted 69.3 percent of their third-and-short opportunities (defined as third and fewer than four yards) last year, second-best in the NFL. Brian Westbrook was 10 of 13 converting third- (or fourth) and-1 opportunities.

So what do the numbers mean? They mean that the offensive line surged enough to make the offense go in short-yardage situations. When you have a player like Westbrook in the backfield, you just don't need to go too often to a "bigger back" simply for the change of pace. Westbrook changes his own pace. The perspective here is also this: The Eagles aren't going to keep a player like Tony Hunt simply because he is a "bigger back." He is going to have to earn a roster spot, and playing time, as an all-around player. The specialized thing just doesn't fly here.

It's always been my belief that if the offensive line creates holes, good running backs -- large or small -- get through those holes. The Eagles have good backs. They have the ability to go after a defense with bigs and smalls in the backfield.

Hunt and Correll Buckhalter give the Eagles a more powerful look when Westbrook and Lorenzo Booker aren't in the game. All four players figure to have opportunities -- led by Westbrook, of course -- in this offense.

2. "It can't work out with three starter-caliber corners on defense"

Look around the league and understand how in demand good cornerbacks are for every team. If you have a chance to stock up, you do so. The Eagles, who have had success in the past with three "starting" cornerbacks when they teamed Al Harris with Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, are trying to do the same with Asante Samuel, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown.

Certainly, Sheppard's approach to the situation is the key to success here. Sheppard showed for the mandatory post-draft mini-camp and then stayed away from the June camps. He is expected in with the veterans late next week. Assuming Sheppard has his arms wrapped around the idea in the secondary, the defense can only benefit from all the talent at cornerback.

To summarily say "it can't work" isn't fair, nor is it accurate. It has worked in the past in Philadelphia, and it is working around the league. How the Eagles shape the depth chart, how they list the starters, how they divide the playing time, all of that remains to be seen. Good talent is a premium at cornerback, and the Eagles have as much as any in the league.

3. "The Eagles stunk in the red zone last season"

This is only partially true. In their first six games, the Eagles struggled inside opponents' 20-yard lines. They scored six touchdowns in 20 trips, a 30 percent touchdown efficiency. In the final 10 games, the offense scored 17 touchdowns in 31 trips, a success rate of 54.8 percent.

The Eagles averaged 4.8 points per red-zone visit in the final 10 games versus 3.6 points per trip in the opening six games. They scored 87.1 percent of the time in the red zone in those final 10 games.

So … the Eagles improved a great deal in the final 10 games. What happened to make the offense better? I don't know. For sure, the Eagles have to be good from start to finish this season, as they have been in years past.

4. "This defense played well enough to win a Super Bowl in 2007"

While the defense played better than a lot of people expected last season, and while the defense generally kept the Eagles in games and kept the point totals low, the fact is that the Eagles forced just 19 turnovers. They had sporadic pressure up front throughout the year. They had some key injuries and they allowed at least one drive – against Chicago, 97 yards, that just can't happen to a defense that aspires to win a Super Bowl.

The defense was encouraging, for sure. Last season was a transition year for the defense, and the expectation is that the defense will take another big step forward in 2008. Still, the Eagles understood the need for improvement. That's why they addressed that side of the ball so heavily in the off-season.

5. "There is too much youth at linebacker"

Maybe Stewart Bradley comes into this season without enough of a playlist to get a great feel of what he can do, but Omar Gaither has started for two seasons and Chris Gocong was a starter all of last season.

For the first time in the Andy Reid/Jim Johnson era, the Eagles have a group intact at linebacker that has a chance to grow together. Maybe it will take Bradley a minute or two to get comfortable in the middle, but he has worked extremely hard and has enjoyed a terrific several months since his encouraging time on the field as a rookie.

Too much youth? Nah. They all know the scheme. They all have a feel for what offenses are going to do.

6. "Training camp will tell us everything we need to know about the Eagles"

Yeah, right. It will tell quite a bit, and it will give the coaches and personnel department a chance to sort out the 53-man roster, but the regular season is an entirely different animal than training camp and the preseason. The pace of the games is different, the level of intensity is entirely unique and by the time the second quarter of the first regular season game arrives, the preseason and training camp means nothing.

Training camp is a time to get down the practice reps, to work on timing and to develop team chemistry. Training camp means something. It means a lot. But, as we learned last year as the most recent example, a regular season brings a week-to-week set of circumstances that often differ greatly in a matter of seven days.

7. "The Eagles don't have enough weapons on offense"

This is a matter of opinion and time will tell, of course, but the perspective here is that the Eagles have enough to get it done. We've been through it many, many times in the past several months. If the offensive line plays well, and Donovan McNabb builds on his final handful of games last season, the offense is going to have time and chances to strike.

Adding in DeSean Jackson and Lorenzo Booker to the mix makes for potentially more explosive unit. How the Eagles integrate those two players is going to be worth watching.

8. "Why would anybody worry about the offensive line?"

I don't know if anybody is actually saying this, but it would be wrong to assume that the line will move along without a bump in the road. The Eagles have some age at the tackle positions, and they have to get back to a dominating level inside. They have some depth question marks (Winston Justice, Max Jean-Gilles, to name two young players who need to come through), and so with that backdrop coach Juan Castillo will get after it at training camp.

He doesn't yet know what he has with his youth. The Eagles didn't have contact in their spring drills, so Lehigh University provides Castillo with a chance to see draft picks Mike McGlynn, Mike Gibson and King Dunlap in one-on-one drills and in game situations.

I'm not worried, necessary, about the line. I am interested to see how it comes together and plays right out of the gates this season. A great line means great, great things for this offense.

9. "DeSean Jackson is the answer for the return game"

I love the kid. I think he is going to be great. But Jackson along won't be the answer alone. The Eagles have to open holes for him, something they just missed a year ago. The Eagles found out last year that they were one block away from big returns nearly two dozen times throughout the season. Maybe if the Eagles had a faster return man, they would have had some big plays in the return game.

Anyway, Jackson has the jets. He has the moves, the hands and the quickness. All he needs is a block. Special teams coordinator Rory Segrest has some continuity from last year, and he has some new players who have a lot of promise.

Jackson is going to get first crack in the punt return game. He has the kind of upside that gets you excited. Jackson, or Quintin Demps, or Booker or somebody else will get reps in the kickoff game. And all of them are faster than Reno Mahe. If they get blocks …

10. "Dawkins and Sheppard automatically solve the takeaway problem"

They're going to help. Having a healthy Brian Dawkins and a healthy Lito Sheppard mean a lot for the defense. They are natural ball hawks. They are going to make plays. But not by themselves.

The Eagles added to the defense up front, too. They have Chris Clemons, Trevor Laws and Bryan Smith on board, too, to help get offenses in long-yardage situations and to pressure the quarterback.

It all works together. The Eagles must have a "connected" defense, one that works in concert. If there is pressure up front, the secondary will have a chance to make big plays. If the run defense is good, teams are going to be forced to throw the ball more.

And if it all works according to plan, the Eagles will have the kind of defense they want, and we will all be singing a happy song from September through February.

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