|Jackson has some of the skills -- and the swagger -- of Philly's last true No. 1 receiver.|
|Greg Trott/Getty Images |
13 at Carolina
20 NEW ORLEANS
27 KANSAS CITY
11 TAMPA BAY
18 at Oakland
26 at Washington (M)
1 N.Y. GIANTS
15 at San Diego
22 at Chicago
6 at Atlanta
13 at N.Y. Giants
20 SAN FRANCISCO
3 at Dallas
Quintin Mikell, Strong safety: The Eagles lost longtime coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer in theoff-season, but his defensive philosophy will live on in a unit he molded. Noplayer embodies Johnson's aggressive, physical style more than Mikell, 28, whowent undrafted out of Boise State in 2003 and fought his way through the systemto become a second-team All-Pro last season. "He's the reason I'm here," Mikellsays of Johnson. "He stuck by me when I struggled. There were games when I wasso bad, I thought I'd never play again. But he had faith in me. I think I madehim proud."
Philly needs Mikell to provide guidance to a unit that lost not only itscoordinator but also its longtime leader, safety Brian Dawkins, who left as afree agent. "Quintin is a natural leader," coach Andy Reid says. "He's not a bigscreamer. He does it by example. He's a lot different from Dawkins, butQuintin's not afraid to put his personality into what he's doing." To take thenext step in becoming an elite safety, Mikell wants to improve on histhree-interception total of 2008. "I left a lot of plays on the field lastyear," he says. "I've been working on my catching. I overthought it a little bitin the past, but I'm pretty comfortable this year, and hopefully I can make alot more big plays."
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
The defense took some big hits, but a high-scoring offense that got younger and better can crank it up one more notch.
The Eagles' offense is coming off its best statistical season of the10-year Andy Reid era. In 2008 the team set a franchise record for points (416)and moved the ball as well as it did with Terrell Owens during its '04 SuperBowl run. Though Philly couldn't solve the top five offenses of Baltimoreand Washington, and Reid benched quarterback Donovan McNabb for the second halfof one game, overall this unit didn't seem to need much of an upgrade.
So why did Philadelphia spend its first three draft picks on a receiver(Jeremy Maclin), a running back (LeSean McCoy) and a tight end (CorneliusIngram); invest millions in bolstering the offensive line; and sign MichaelVick? "We want to be able to throw a lot of different things at teams," Reidsays. "It's going to be a lot of fun thinking of different ways to attack withsome of this new blood."
That's not the only reason the offensive transfusion will come in handy.Following the loss of arguably the top three defensive leaders from lastseason -- safety Brian Dawkins, now in Denver; linebacker Stewart Bradley, out forthe season with a torn ACL suffered at the start of training camp; and defensivecoordinator Jim Johnson, who died of cancer in July -- the offense might have to beeven more productive than last year's.
It would help if the Eagles could develop a premier wide receiver, somethingthe team has been missing since Owens was released after the 2005 season.Second-year wideout DeSean Jackson could be that game-changer. Jackson is only5' 10" and 175 pounds, and without pads he doesn't look like much of athreat. But teammates compare him with Carolina's Steve Smith because of hisspeed and his ability to go up to get the ball over taller and bigger defenders."It's hard to tell how fast he really is until you're running next to him or,more likely, running behind him," Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell says."He's not scared -- he's got swagger to him. That's what you need at receiver, nomatter what size they are."
If Jackson shows more maturity and becomes a consistent threat, he shouldtake some pressure off 30-year-old running back Brian Westbrook, who hadarthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February and surgery to remove bonespurs in his right ankle in June. Westbrook has healed quickly and expects to benear 100% when the season starts, but the Eagles want McCoy, the second-roundpick out of Pitt, to get some carries and be prepared to fill in. Coaches werepleased with how quickly he picked up blocking schemes and that he displayedbetter pass-catching skills than expected. Maclin, the first-rounder fromMissouri, has looked good as a receiver and will also see time as a return man;Ingram, the fifth-rounder from Florida, is out for the season with a tornACL.
The signings of two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (late of Buffalo)and right tackle (now guard) Stacy Andrews (Cincinnati) to contracts worth acombined $100 million were meant to improve the run game and cureshort-yardage woes. "We'll be better in that third-and-one," offensivecoordinator Marty Mornhinweg says. "We're a little younger and more dynamic[with the newcomers]. They're big and physical and should help us address whatwas an issue last year."
With the offensive pieces seemingly in place, few expected Philly to be theteam to sign Vick. When the acquisition was announced, reporters pressed Reid tobe specific about how he'll use the former Falcons quarterback, who cannot playin regular-season games until commissioner Roger Goodell lifts the final stageof Vick's suspension."He will contribute," Reid said, giving his typically vagueresponse. "You can ask defensive coordinators on other teams if they're worriedabout that." That and a whole lot more.
-- Andrew Perloff