5 Philadelphia Eagles Despite an off-season front-office shake-up, Ray Rhodes's team will have a difficult time improving on last year's dismal showing

August 16, 1998

It's been the highlight of Eagles practices this summer: Hugh
Douglas versus Tra Thomas in the one-on-one pass-rush drills,
the race around the corner, ballroom dancing at breakneck speed.

Douglas is the onetime defensive force from the Jets. A rookie
sensation with 10 sacks three years ago, then a disappointment
as an undersized 263-pounder trying to play a base end position
in Bill Parcells's 3-4 defense, he's happy to have been traded
to the Eagles and given a six-year, $25.3 million contract,
which makes him the highest-paid player in franchise history.

Thomas is the No. 1 draft pick whom Philly installed as its
varsity left tackle before Paul Tagliabue had even finished
announcing his name. He'll be one of the most carefully
scrutinized rookies this fall as the Eagles once again try to
fortify a position that has bedeviled them. He's the fourth left
tackle they've drafted in the first or second round in the last
five years, the eighth man to play the position in the last
nine. This time they feel they've finally got it right.

Now the two combatants are lined up for their daily matchup.
Douglas begins a wide, looping rush--his forte is speed--and
Thomas, a 6'7" 349-pounder who actually looks slender, matches
him step for step, riding him into no-man's-land. Juan Castillo,
the offensive line coach, yells so loudly his hat falls off.

Douglas smiles. The players line up again. Blam-blam-blam.
Douglas's hands are a blur, smacking the right shoulder to set
Thomas up, faking the inside move, a left shoulder slap, a quick
cut to the outside, and he's in clean--all in a heartbeat.
Silence. Veterans are supposed to do that to rookies.

"Never saw this at Florida State," Thomas says after practice.
"All that swatting of hands. Pulling back, faking, it's almost a
martial arts thing out there. But I'm learning, man. I'm
learning. Working with Hugh every day has been great for me."

"Very talented rookie," Douglas says. "You don't see that kind of
foot speed on a guy that size. Good guy for me to work against."

What does Tra Thomas mean to the Eagles this year? Well, the line
gave up 64 sacks in '97, third most in team history. This year
the rest of the line will be O.K., nothing special. Start with a
pillar on the left side, though, and you've got something to
build on. Bobby Hoying, who was Philly's third-string quarterback
at the start of last season, played well when he was given the
starting job with seven games to go.

"Then they started blitzing me," he says. "Let's say I wasn't
ready for all they threw at me." After throwing no interceptions
in his first three starts, Hoying had six in his next four. The
Eagles were 2-4-1 with Hoying at the helm, including losses in
their final three games, but he's the guy now.

Ricky Watters, who gave the Eagles three solid years at running
back, is gone--to Seattle as a free agent--without so much as an
offer from Philadelphia. The plan is to replace him with
injury-prone Charlie Garner, who has a career average of 4.7
yards per carry but has never carried more than 116 times in a
season, and second-year man Duce Staley, who had all of seven
rushing attempts last year. Irving Fryar caught 86 balls in '97,
the most ever for a 35-year-old wideout, but the Eagles are
still figuring out how to take the pressure off him. And Jon
Gruden, very efficient as the offensive coordinator, is now
coaching the Raiders. His replacement is former Stanford
offensive coordinator Dana Bible; the Cardinal was 5-6 last year
and ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in offense. This is a unit with
problems.

In Ray Rhodes's three years as coach, the Eagles have relied on
toughness and emotion--and defense. A perimeter pass rush is
crucial. Last year their top sacking end (four in 15 games) was
36-year-old Richard Dent, who was playing on his fourth team in
four years. Now they have Douglas, who will be teamed with
another undersized wingman, 252-pound Mike Mamula. This makes you
wonder what will happen when teams load up and run at the Eagles,
which they did to the tune of 125.6 yards a game last year.

Philly dropped to 6-9-1 in '97 (without a road win) after two
10-6 years under Rhodes. He knows the heat's on. The
organization is in a state of flux. In May, Tom Modrak, a
veteran of 20 years in the Steelers' front office, was brought
in as director of football operations to clean house. Which he
did, shaking up the personnel and scouting departments. (Among
the changes was the firing of pro-personnel director Mike
Lombardi, who had just signed a new contract.) Since 1989
Modrak, as chief scout, has drafted eight Pro Bowl players for
the Steelers. In the same period the Eagles have drafted two.

It's not an easy fix. "We're sitting right where I want to be,"
Rhodes says. "On the bottom. Nobody gives us a chance. I've
worked from that angle all my life."

Sorry, Ray, but that's where we have you too--at the bottom of
the division. --P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: ROB TRINGALI JR./SPORTSCHROME Grounded? For the Eagles to stay afloat, Garner, who has been productive when healthy, must run like Watters. [Charlie Garner in game] B/W PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Trotter [Jeremiah Trotter]

Schedule

Sept. 6 SEATTLE
13 at Atlanta
20 at Arizona
27 KANSAS CITY
Oct. 4 at Denver
11 WASHINGTON
18 at San Diego
25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 2 DALLAS (MON.)
8 DETROIT
15 at Washington
22 at N.Y. Giants
29 at Green Bay
Dec. 3 ST. LOUIS (Thurs.)
13 ARIZONA
20 at Dallas
27 N.Y. GIANTS

Fast Facts

1997 Record 3-9-1 (3rd in NFC East) NFL rank (rush/pass/total):
offense 10/6/5; defense 25/7/13

1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 11 (tie) Opponents' 1997
winning percentage: .504 Games against playoff teams: 6

Pointless Yardage

Last year the Eagles averaged 349.4 net yards per game, their
third-best single-season figure since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
But Philadelphia's scoring average of 19.8 points per game was
not commensurate with that yardage. Only five teams in NFL
history averaged more yards but scored fewer points than the '97
Eagles.
Yds. Pts.
per game per game W-L Comment

1987 Bengals 358.5 19.0 4-11 Rebounded to reach Super
Bowl the next season

1983 Bears 364.4 19.4 8-8 Won division title in each
of next five years

1981 Bills 352.5 19.4 10-6 Set club records for passing
yards and total yards

1981 Browns 369.7 17.3 5-11 Committed NFL-high 53 turnovers

1980 Oilers 352.6 18.4 11-5 Earl Campbell rushed for
1,934 yards

Inside Slant

Coach Ray Rhodes is high on rookie Jeremiah Trotter, a
third-round selection out of Stephen F. Austin, and expects
Trotter to push James Willis at middle linebacker.... Irving
Fryar, who turns 36 on Sept. 28, has 428 receptions in the six
NFL seasons since he turned 30, compared with 308 in the eight
years before that. "More catches, different lifestyle," he says.
"I've turned my life around off the field. Based on the way I
was living in my 20s, I should be dead by now." ... Cornerback
Troy Vincent, who was lured away from the Dolphins last year and
signed for a club-record annual salary of $4 million, was a
disappointment in '97. This off-season Vincent skipped two
mandatory minicamps to work with the motorcycle-racing team he
owns.... The Eagles have spent $34 million in salary and almost
$6 million in signing bonuses on free-agent offensive linemen
over the past four years but still surrendered 64 sacks in '97,
second most in the NFL.

Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics

Coach: Ray Rhodes
Fourth season with Eagles (26-21-1 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Bobby Hoying 127[PVR*] 225 att. 128 comp. 56.9%
1,573 yds. 11 TDs 6 int. 83.8 rtg.

RB Charlie Garner 117[PVR*] 116 att. 547 yds. 4.7
avg. 24 rec. 225 yds. 9.4 avg. 3 TDs

FB Kevin Turner 293[PVR*] 18 att. 96 yds. 5.3 avg.
48 rec. 443 yds. 9.2 avg. 3 TDs

RB Duce Staley 139[PVR*] 7 att. 29 yds. 4.1 avg.
2 rec. 22 yds. 11.0 avg. 0 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Irving Fryar 84[PVR*] 86 rec. 1,316 yds. 6 TDs
WR Jeff Graham[N] 153[PVR*] 42 rec. 542 yds. 2 TDs
WR Chris T. Jones 157[PVR*] 5 rec. 73 yds. 0 TDs
TE Jason Dunn 239[PVR*] 7 rec. 93 yds. 2 TDs
K Chris Boniol 139[PVR*] 33/33 XPs 22/31 FGs 99 pts.
PR Freddie Solomon 286[PVR*] 10 ret. 5.5 avg. 0 TDs
KR Duce Staley 166[PVR*] 47 ret. 24.2 avg. 0 TDs
LT Tra Thomas[N] (R) 6'7" 349 lbs. 10 games 10 starts
LG Jermaine Mayberry 6'4" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Bubba Miller 6'1" 300 lbs. 13 games 3 starts
RG George Hegamin[N] 6'7" 331 lbs. 13 games 9 starts
RT Richard Cooper** 6'5" 290 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

Defense

LE Mike Mamula 53 tackles 4 sacks
LT Hollis Thomas 62 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
RT Rhett Hall 64 tackles 8 sacks
RE Hugh Douglas[N] 39 tackles 4 sacks
OLB James Darling 28 tackles 0 sacks
MLB James Willis 82 tackles 2 sacks
OLB William Thomas 80 tackles 5 sacks
CB Troy Vincent 65 tackles 3 int.
SS Michael Zordich 80 tackles 2 sacks
FS Brian Dawkins 74 tackles 3 int.
CB Bobby Taylor 18 tackles 2 sacks
P Tom Hutton 87 punts 42.12 avg.

[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)
**1996 statistics

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)