The Eagles remain McNabb's team until further notice. They got to the playoffs without him last year, resurrecting Jeff Garcia's career. Coach Andy Reid said the experience was good for them because others had to step up in McNabb's absence.
But if the Eagles are to challenge again in the NFC, it will be up to McNabb and his rehabilitation from a torn ACL in his right knee. If his ego also is bruised after two injury-plagued years, the Eagles really don't have much of a chance. A.J. Feeley is a popular backup and Reid made Kevin Kolb a surprise second-round draft pick.
The Eagles are otherwise Super Bowl-ready. They didn't need to make many roster adjustments after winning the NFC East for the fifth time in six years. They finished the season as the second-ranked offense in yardage, behind only New Orleans, the team that ended their playoff run. With Garcia gone to Tampa Bay, McNabb is set to reclaim what was once unquestionably his.
In letting deep threat receiver Donte' Stallworth get away to New England, the Eagles are taking a chance on former Rams' third receiver Kevin Curtis and the development of two second-year prospects, Hank Baskett and Jason Avant. They also like holdovers Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis and expect Brown to continue his path toward a reliable No. 1. They have discovered they don't need a superstar receiver — remember Terrell Owens? — to win. Running back Brian Westbrook and tight end L.J. Smith both caught more passes last season than any of the wideouts.
When Reid gave offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg play-calling responsibility, Westbrook got more rushes and the Eagles got more long passes, with Baskett averaging over 21 yards a catch, Stallworth 19 and Brown 17.
Westbrook's health is always a concern, but he remained healthy last season despite a career-high 317 touches. He appears to get better with age and looks like a worthy successor to the Giants' Tiki Barber as the division's best back.
Reid's pride is always his offensive line and after adding no free agents or draft choices, the unit again appears solid and stable. It's the first requirement of every contender and should give McNabb comfort in his comeback.
Improving the defense, especially against the rush, is a priority. The Eagles added free agent tackles Montae Reagor and Ian Scott, both part-time starters for Super Bowl teams Indianapolis and Chicago, respectively. They traded Darwin Walker to Buffalo for linebacker Takeo Spikes and backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb, but may get him back if a contract dispute can't be settled. Mike Patterson remains a starter and the Eagles can only hope last year's No. 1 draft pick, Brodrick Bunkley, is better than he showed as a rookie.
The comeback of Jevon Kearse from a knee injury also would be more than welcome. Ends Trent Cole, Juqua Thomas and Darren Howard will be joined by second-rounder Victor Abiamiri. A healthy Kearse would be a huge bonus and could mean the end for Howard.
Linebacking will be a major camp experiment. Spikes is on the strong side. Jeremiah Trotter is holding onto the middle, with second-year prospect Chris Gocong on the strong side. Gocong got hurt too early as a rookie to see if he can make the switch from lineman to linebacker. If he can't, Omar Gaither could return to the weakside spot he manned last year, with Spikes going to the strong side. Gaither also is a candidate to unseat Trotter in the middle.
McNabb must rehab his reputation if not his confidence as well as his knee. Leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl in the 2004 season seems like a lifetime ago. Since that unhappy loss, McNabb has missed 13 of 32 regular season starts. Although he ranked second to Brees among NFC passers, it's been so long since he played that the doubters are gathering even though he won't turn 31 until late November.
Losing veteran secondary performers Michael Lewis and Rod Hood will force adjustments. Both finished the season as valuable backups. William James hopes to challenge cornerback Sheldon Brown opposite Lito Sheppard. Fifth-round safety C.J. Gaddis will play behind Sean Considine and Brian Dawkins. The Eagles uncharacteristically slipped in special teams play. They are eager to see if former skier Jeremy Bloom can come back from a hamstring injury.
Very good, especially in the NFC. Reid knows how to win and so do his players. If they stay healthy, there's no reason they can't stay ahead of the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins in the East and make a big playoff run.
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