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Who Can Eagles Count On To Step Up In 2011?

Jeremy Maclin did it, becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver in his second NFL season after a promising first year. Moise Fokou made great strides in his second Eagles campaign. LeSean McCoy, of course, became a standout in Year 2. The list is a lengthy one for the Eagles over the years, so as the team looks ahead to 2011, who can they count on to step in and step up in a big-time way?

It isn't only the second-year players expected to leap forward. Mike McGlynn, for example, showed in 2010 that he can be a valuable piece of the offensive line after having not played much at all in his first couple of seasons. Trevor Laws rebounded from a poor 2009 to contribute last year at defensive tackle.

Who are the players to look forward to in 2011 rising up and making their mark on the Eagles? I have some names to throw at you ...

BRODRICK BUNKLEY, defensive tackle

The elbow injury contributed to Brodrick Bunkley's lack of production last season, no question about it. But there had to be more to it. He just wasn't the same player as he had been in years past. There wasn't much explosion. He wasn't around the ball a whole lot. He didn't get up the field like the player who dominated at Florida State.

Let's hope new defensive line coach Jim Washburn has a great impact here. Washburn doesn't want Bunkley to read and then react. He doesn't want Bunkley peeking into the backfield to see if the play is a run or pass. He wants Bunkley to get off the ball and beat the man on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

I'm not sure Bunkley will win back the starting job from Antonio Dixon, because Dixon is big and strong and he has all kinds of raw ability. I do think, however, that Bunkley is going to resurrect his career here and is going to work his way back onto the field in 2011.

RILEY COOPER, wide receiver

Riley Cooper will never have breakaway speed and he won't be a No. 1 receiver in this league. But if you saw what Jordy Nelson did in the Super Bowl for Green Bay (9 catches, 140 yards, touchdown), you could see Cooper doing the same thing here. He is big and strong and he has great hands. Cooper runs terrific routes. He has a big body that he will learn to use more effectively.

The Eagles would be well served to incorporate Cooper more into the red-zone offense. He is a go-up-and-get-it receiver, and while he didn't come down with the Michael Vick pass in the end zone against Green Bay, Cooper will learn from that play because he will be reminded of it every day in the offseason.

An offseason of improving his body and working on his technique will help Cooper work himself into a larger role in the offense in 2011.

JAMAR CHANEY, linebacker

The expectation here is that Jamar Chaney is going to start somewhere next season, either at middle linebacker or at WILL. An instinctive player who has excellent speed, Chaney is going to fit in very well with what Juan Castillo wants in his defense -- aggressive, downhill football.

Chaney stepped in for an injured Stewart Bradley late in 2010 and grasped the defense, tackled well and improved in coverage. He could be a standout player, a real find for the Eagles in the seventh round of the draft last April.


Why do I think Trevard Lindley is going to have a chance to start at right cornerback next season? The Eagles want him to get stronger in the weight room in the next several months and that is likely to be Lindley's focus in the offseason. He has long arms and enough size and quickness to match up against the big-time receivers on the 2011 schedule.

This is not to suggest that the Eagles are going to go with what they have at cornerback next season. Far from it. I expect cornerback to be addressed significantly. But the sense here is that the Eagles really, really like Lindley and they think he can contribute heavily in his second NFL season.

The Eagles need an answer on that side of the defense. Lindley is going to get his chance.

CLAY HARBOR, tight end

OK, so Clay Harbor had a game to forget against Dallas when he dropped a couple of passes. Harbor also gained valuable playing time and he is a player the Eagles think can add to the passing game -- and the blocking game -- next year. Harbor, remember, made the jump from tiny Missouri State to the NFL. That isn't easy. He now knows the landscape of the league and he knows he can play here.

Harbor has to get healthy after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia, and there are expected to be no problems with that. Harbor will push for playing time because he runs so well, he gets open and he can make plays with the football in his hands. How that correlates with Brent Celek here is going to be interesting. Harbor will report to training camp intent on winning more playing time.

DARRYL TAPP, defensive end

There is nobody more pleased than Darryl Tapp that Jim Washburn is the new defensive line coach. Tapp knows Washburn and knows what Washburn can do for Tapp's career.

In his first season as an Eagle, Tapp settled in and played quality snaps last year. Now it is time to gain more playing time and more productivity for a defensive end group that is going to be challenged by Washburn in every way.

AUSTIN HOWARD, offensive lineman

How he fits in, I don't know, but Austin Howard deserves a long, long look by new offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Howard was terrific in the preseason and then he had some good moments -- and a couple that were not as good -- in the regular-season finale against Dallas and DeMarcus Ware. Howard now understands what is required to play offensive tackle at a high level in this league.

It will be interesting to see if Mudd gives Howard a look at guard. The Eagles need all the depth and versatility they can have along the offensive line.

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