Early in training camp, second-year quarterback Donovan McNabb
dropped back to pass and locked onto rookie wide receiver Todd
Pinkston, running a deep out to the left side. Cornerback Mark
Tate was covering Pinkston, and safety Jason Bostic was closing
in as McNabb let fly. By the time the ball came spiraling down to
Pinkston, Tate and Bostic were all over the wideout, and the pass
was batted to the ground. "Ahhhhh!" McNabb said, slapping his
hands together in disgust. Alas, even though McNabb isn't a
rookie anymore, we haven't seen the last of his ill-advised
throws into double coverage.
This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue
"I'm going to make a comparison," Eagles coach Andy Reid, the
former Packers assistant, said after practice. "In Green Bay we
talked as a staff about benching Brett Favre in his fourth
season--and it almost happened. Then Brett went on to win three
straight MVPs. This is a process that takes time. The second year
will be better than the first, and the third will be better than
the second. There will be down times, I can guarantee you that.
But Donovan's a sharp kid who wants to be the best, and I know
he'll turn into a top-notch NFL quarterback."
In the meantime the Eagles have a few other elements in place
that make them a potential playoff contender. Running back Duce
Staley, whose 1,273 yards rushing was fourth best in the NFC last
year, now has the added benefit of the game's best run blocker,
right tackle Jon Runyan, clearing holes for him. Runyan, a 6'7",
330-pound free-agent signee who was Eddie George's primary
earthmover with the Titans the past four years, will team with
1998's top pick, 349-pound Tra Thomas, to give the Eagles one of
the top sets of tackles in the NFL.
On defense, Philadelphia had a league-high 46 takeaways last
year--after being last in 1998 with 17--thanks to the risky style
of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. He adds pass-rushing
outside linebacker Carlos Emmons, a free-agent pickup from the
Steelers, and first-round pick Corey Simon, a defensive tackle
from Florida State who held out the first two weeks of camp, to a
front seven that already was the strength of the team.
Though Philadelphia comes up short at wideout (Torrance Small, 49
catches in '99, leads a nondescript group) and tight end
(incumbents Chad Lewis and Jed Weaver combined for 34 catches
last season), quarterback remains the overriding question. How
soon will McNabb mature into a quality passer? Can he withstand
the venom sure to spew from the most impatient fans in the
You might remember McNabb's introduction to the NFL: Draft day,
1999, commissioner Paul Tagliabue announces that the Eagles, with
the No. 2 pick, have chosen the mobile and strong-armed McNabb
from Syracuse over Heisman-winning running back Ricky Williams.
From the reaction of the Philly faithful in attendance, you'd
have thought Scott Rolen had just been traded to the Atlanta
Braves. "You dream about this moment your whole life, making it
to the NFL," a pensive McNabb recalls, "and you're welcomed to
your dream with the biggest boo you've ever heard. My parents are
upset to this day. I keep it in mind for motivation."
He didn't perform well enough in six starts as a rookie to
silence everyone, not with a 49% completion rate, which was 11
percentage points less than Reid would like. However, McNabb
worked in the off-season with each prospective receiver for at
least one week; in fact, he moved into Charles Johnson's Tempe,
Ariz., home for six weeks and threw five times a week to his
prime target. "There's no question I have a better feel for the
game," McNabb says. "But there are still times when I'll see
something on the field and know what I have to do, but I just
can't make my body do it in time. I need to be able to just play
football. That's when you succeed. I'm a patient guy. I've got my
eyes wide open. I'll get it."
Reid made it a point this summer to walk around camp with his
diamond-studded Super Bowl ring from Green Bay's 1996 world
championship season. "If you're a player, and you have pride, you
understand this," he said, flashing his hardware like a woman
showing off her engagement ring. Coming off a five-win season,
Philadelphia is at least two years away from thinking about such
gaudy jewelry. Any hope for even a wild-card berth this season is
tied to these three facts: Six of the Eagles' 11 losses last year
were by six points or less; Philly should have one of the NFL's
best running games; and, at times last year, McNabb (with a
6.7-yard rushing average and an arm strong enough to throw
bullets through the late-season Veterans Stadium winds) showed
flashes of brilliance.
"You know how football is today," says Tom Modrak, the Eagles'
director of football operations. "It's instant-gratification
time. Donovan's going to have his good days and his bad days.
We'll survive the bad ones. People just need to have realistic
expectations about him this year."
SEPT. 3 at Dallas
10 N.Y. GIANTS
17 at Green Bay
24 at New Orleans
OCT. 1 ATLANTA
15 at Arizona
29 at N.Y. Giants
NOV. 5 DALLAS
12 at Pittsburgh
26 at Washington
DEC. 3 TENNESSEE
10 at Cleveland
17 Open date
1999 Record 5-11 (5th in NFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 17/31/30; defense 28/15/24
2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 31
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .426
Games against playoff teams: 5
PLAYER TO WATCH
A 1998 third-round draft pick out of Stephen F. Austin, Jeremiah
Trotter averaged 7 1/2 tackles a game last year. Trotter's late
father, Myra, was a lumberjack in East Texas, and as soon as
Jeremiah was big enough to carry an ax, he began helping his
father cut timber. Going into last season you never would have
mentioned Trotter in the same sentence as All-Pro middle
linebackers Junior Seau and Zach Thomas, but now he's the one
irreplaceable piece of Philadelphia's defensive puzzle.
"Sometimes before a big play in a tough game I say to myself,
I've cut too much wood to let this guy block me," says Trotter.
"Now I've gotten to the point where I feel no one can block me."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Andy Reid
Second season with Eagles (5-11 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Donovan McNabb 61 216 att. 106 comp. 49.1% 948 yds.
8 TDs 7 int. 60.1 rtg.
RB Duce Staley 49 325 att. 1,273 yds. 3.9 avg. 41 rec.
294 yds. 7.2 avg. 6 TDs
RB Brian Mitchell110 40 att. 220 yds. 5.5 avg. 31 rec.
305 yds. 9.8 avg. 1 TD
FB Cecil Martin 317 3 att. 3 yds. 1.0 avg. 11 rec.
22 yds. 2.0 avg. 0 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Torrance Small 101 49 rec. 655 yds. 4 TDs
WR Charles Johnson 147 34 rec. 414 yds. 1 TD
WR Todd Pinkston (R)216 48 rec. 977 yds. 11 TDs
TE Chad Lewis 270 8 rec. 88 yds. 3 TDs
K David Akers 239 2/2 XPs 3/6 FGs 11 pts.
PR Brian Mitchell 110 40 ret. 8.3 avg. 0 TDs
KR Allen Rossum 326 54 ret. 24.9 avg. 1 TD
LT Tra Thomas 6'7" 349 lbs. 16 games 15 starts
LG Doug Brzezinski 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Bubba Miller 6'1" 305 lbs. 14 games 0 starts
RG Jermane Mayberry 6'4" 325 lbs. 13 games 5 starts
RT Jon Runyan 6'7" 330 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Mike Mamula 39 tackles 8 sacks
LT Hollis Thomas 48 tackles 1 sack
RT Corey Simon (R) 84 tackles 4 sacks
RE Hugh Douglas 8 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Carlos Emmons 67 tackles 6 sacks
MLB Jeremiah Trotter 120 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Barry Gardner 50 tackles 0 sacks
CB Troy Vincent 79 tackles 7 int.
SS Damon Moore 36 tackles 1 int.
FS Brian Dawkins 73 tackles 4 int.
CB Bobby Taylor 47 tackles 4 int.
P Sean Landeta 107 punts 42.3 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Eagles
"The center, Bubba Miller, is undersized and inexperienced, and
the combination of an inconsistent young quarterback [Donovan
McNabb] and a young center will result in some mistakes because
the center has to make blocking calls and adjustments on the
line. Miller's not ready for that.... McNabb also desperately
needs a tight end to give him a good target underneath.... On
defense Philly is relying on Corey Simon to be its savior
against the run. I don't think he's strong enough. When he did
his bench-press test before the draft [prospects do as many
225-pound reps as they can], he did only 20, which isn't good
for a big defensive tackle.... The Eagles haven't solved their
size problem at defensive end. I don't see Hugh Douglas and Mike
Mamula holding up against the big tackles of the NFC East--and
no one knows if they can stay healthy.... Jeremiah Trotter might
be the best middle linebacker in football, but the Eagles will
need a few more warriors like him to compete for a playoff spot."