In my groggy state this morning, I thought - how great is it to be a college and pro football fan? Yes the Eagles have never won a Championship in my lifetime and yes, the Georgia Bulldogs last title came when I was 6, but I still look forward to every season with foolish optimism.
As you all know, I'm a huge college football fan. Simply stated, there is absolutely nothing like the pageantry that accompanies the college game. That being said, at the NFL level everything is just experienced on a different level. The grass feels a little greener, the hitting more ferocious, the speed more elite, the rivalries more intense and the execution more flawless (unless of course you are watching a Raiders game). Fantasy football teams aside (and you know that's not easy for me to say), there is something so exciting about the NFL kick-off weekend -- and folks, it's here!
Looking at my beloved Philadelphia Eagles I see I giant entree of uncertainty, topped with a scoop of hope and a side of doubt. Lets first view the positives and the offense should be the most positive spot on this team early on.
It all starts with #5. Donovan looks primed to have a big year. He just signed an extension, he looked sharp during his limited pre-season role and I think he wants to win now, more than ever. Like any athlete entering the back-half of his/her career - the realization that "the window" is closing becomes very, very real. I think Donovan has the best year of his career. I think DeSean Jackson becomes an elite WR, I think Jason Avant becomes one of the best slot WR's in the league (a Bobby Engram type), I think Westbrook fights through injuries and has a nice bounce-back season and Shady McCoy shows we might okay platooning Westbrook. I am worried about the cohesiveness (is that a word, Mom) of the offensive line. I don't believe Stacy Andrews played a live down during the pre-season and I don't believe Shawn Andrews will play more than 3 games for the birds this year (Jon Runyan, please pick-up the white courtesy phone). Will Jason Peters be the pro-bowl tackle he was in Buffalo or the guy who looked a 2-steps behind during the pre-season? Many, many questions on offensive line -- and we haven't even gotten to Michael Vick. From a football perspective, I never liked the Vick signing and I'm not sure how much he contributes. I think he'll get some plays called here and there, but if this guy is getting more than 5 snaps a game, I'm not real happy (and I can't imagine Donovan will be either). Bottom line is that if the offensive line doesn't come together, it doesn't matter who our QB is. Offense begins with your line and the fact that our O-line has not played together and is injury-riddled, leads me to believe this team starts off slow. My two surprise offensive players: Jason Avant & Leonard Weaver.
If you think we have questions on the offensive side of the ball let me introduce you to Sean McDermott, our new defensive coordinator. The passing of Jim Johnson is very sad and cannot be overcome. He was a mastermind and if McDermott is half the coach JJ was, we should be thrilled. Letting Brian Dawkins leave to go to Denver was a horrendous move. Horrendous. I know his skills were eroding, but he still made plays in the run game, he was still a ferocious hitter, a great blitzer and the unquestioned team leader. Thirdly, losing Steward Bradley to a torn ACL completes a horrible off-season for the defense. These three losses are enormous. There is no sugar-coating these. The good news, I think our D-line will be better. I love our front four and believe Chris Clemons, Ty Laws, Jason Babin and Victor Abiamiri (IF he stays healthy) will make our rotation very strong. I think our LB's will be the weakest part of our defense. The loss of Bradly here is crucial. Omar Gaither steps into the middle. Gaither played there two years ago and did a nice job. He's a playmaker, but he's not as big and he can't cover like Bradley can. The secondary looks strong, if you are okay with a 5th round rookie filling Brian Dawkins spot. I applaud the Eagles for going against their beliefs that either Quintin Demps or Sean Jones would be the guy here. This tells me either those guys underperformed or my man Victor "Macho" Harris was too good to keep out of the starting line-up. I'll go with the former. That being said, I think this defense will struggle early and round into shape at the beginning of November. My surprise players: Chris Clemons and Macho Harris.
I think our Special Teams should improve under the tutelage of Ted Dashier who has always been a good ST coach. I'm hoping Sav Rocca continues to improve and David Akers gets back to being the near-automatic kicker he was a few years ago. Our return teams are good. Rookie Jeremy Maclin showed me ZILCH in the preseason as a returner and I really hope we don't use DeSean Jackson back there to further expose him to injury. He's too important to the offense.
Okay, so that's my September view on the Birds. I think we struggle early, play up and down in the middle of the season and come on strong late. I think we finish 10-6, get into the playoffs and lose in the second round. The NFC East is going to be dogfight (insert your poor Michael Vick joke here) and I think the Giants will take the division in a tie breaker. I just believe the losses we've suffered already, along with a HUGE questionmarks on the offensive line are too big to overcome.
The best thing about today is that everyone begins the season with the goal to be playing in the last game of the season. Today, everyone is 0-0 and at 1:00 PM a new journey, a new season, a new story will unfold. E-A-G-L-E-S....EAGLES!!!!
And a special shot of southerfried love to my northeast folks:
B-Train: appreciate the cheesesteak but who stiffed you w/the drinks; the A misses you, man
D-Nice: keep rockin' the Euro fashion; it's gotta be the shoes
E-Rock: wasn't it way past your married man curfew
Laurie: thanks for being our GPS and for putting up with us; did those pics ever come out?
Lev: chew your food thoroughly; wish I could replay your "run" with Chariots of Fire music playing in the background
DA: classic time, classic drive home, appreciate the Foo CD. did they get in touch with you yet???
Balls: I would pay for a ticket to watch a film about a day in your life. I'd probably watch it twice
Money & Feil: sorry we missed ya'll
FYI, Pat's cannot hold Jim's jock...