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1 Philadelphia Eagles

Sept. 03, 2007
Sept. 03, 2007

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Sept. 3, 2007

SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
2007 NFL Preview
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1 Philadelphia Eagles

A rejuvenated quarterback and a retooled linebacker corps have this aging team primed for a run at the Super Bowl

WHAT'S NEW

This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2007 issue

> For thesecond consecutive year and the third time since 2003, the Eagles will featurea Week 1 starting quarterback different from the one who finished out theseason before. The good news is that the "new" quarterback for '07should be Donovan McNabb, the man who started the '06 opener. McNabb's latestinjury--a torn right ACL he suffered in a loss to the Titans lastNov. 19--was projected to take up to a year to heal, but he looked sharpand agile in training camp, and the Eagles are quietly confident that he'lltake the field on Sept. 9 in Green Bay.

On the other sideof the ball Philadelphia has attempted to beef up a feeble run defense (26th inthe league) in part by completely overhauling its starting linebackers. TheEagles had already acquired 10-year veteran Takeo Spikes from the Bills for oneoutside slot and inserted second-year man Chris Gocong into the other; onAug. 21 they surprisingly cut veteran middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotterand handed his job to Omar Gaither, who as a rookie last season started sevengames down the stretch and in the playoffs.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> Despitescuttlebutt in the Philadelphia media that 2007 might be the 30-year-oldMcNabb's last shot to bring a championship to the city, coach Andy Reid saysthat McNabb is his starter for the duration--even though some believe that Reiddrafted Kevin Kolb from Houston in the second round to succeed McNabb soonerrather than later. "People read into it that I'm trying to replace aquarterback," says Reid. "But my hope is that Donovan has 10 more greatyears."

McNabb's quickreturn has galvanized teammates. "When you see him out there runningaround," says tight end L.J. Smith, "it's good for everybody." Buteven with McNabb again under center, the offense likely will rely less on thepass than has been the case for much of his eight-year tenure. That's thanks inlarge part to running back Brian Westbrook, who proved once and for all thathe's capable of carrying a feature back's load. Through the fateful Tennesseegame, the Eagles ran the ball 39.5% of the time and went 5-5; that figurespiked to 46.2% in the eight games (two postseason) started by backup JeffGarcia, six of which were victories. Amazingly, the Eagles finished the regularseason ranked second in the NFL in total yards.

"We don't carewho gets the football, who scores the touchdown," says offensivecoordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "Our whole focus is and will be on winningthe next game. If that's running the football, we'll do that. If that'sthrowing the football 40 times, we'll do that."

Mornhinweg's unitwill have trouble getting enough possessions if the team's defense can'timprove on its one major bugaboo: stopping the run. Last season the Eaglesyielded 136.4 rushing yards a game and allowed foes to surpass 200 yards fourtimes. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson takes umbrage at the notion that hemight have to modify his trademark attacking schemes to contain opponents'ground games. "The name of the game is getting to the quarterback--I don'tcare what you say--and creating turnovers," he says.

So Johnson iscounting on his retooled corps of linebackers to provide more run-stoppingmuscle. But the man constantly mentioned as the key to Philly's run defense issecond-year defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, a 2006 first-round pick out ofFlorida State who last season reported two weeks late, had just nine totaltackles and zero sacks, and was said to be surly and unmotivated.

This year Bunkleyshowed up on time and weighing 306 pounds, some 10 pounds lighter than in '06.Moreover, "he's a better technique player, he's playing the run better, heunderstands the scheme better," says Johnson. "He just became apro." Indeed, Bunkley now has a more nuanced feel for what it takes to dobattle in NFL trenches. "You've got to dominate your blocker up front firstand then worry about the ball," he says. "In college it was so easybecause I was so much stronger than a lot of blockers, and all I did was comeoff the ball and look for the runner. You can't do that up here."

Beside the D,there are two other major concerns. The first is age: Seven of the team'sprojected starters--accounting for 19 Pro Bowl selections--are 30 or older,including McNabb and Spikes. The second is a possible struggle for the mantleof leadership. In separate press conferences over a three-day span in earlyAugust, the since-released Trotter said, "There's never one leader on oneteam. A lot of people lead in different ways"; Westbrook said, "I thinkI will continue in that role" of a team leader he assumed when McNabb wentdown; and McNabb said bluntly, "I'm the leader of this team."

However, shouldits veterans stay healthy and harmonious, there's little reason why the Eaglescan't make a serious run at that long-awaited first Super Bowl title.

2007 SCHEDULE

(M) Monday

SEPTEMBER

9 at Green Bay

17 WASHINGTON(M)

23 DETROIT

30 at N.Y.Giants

OCTOBER

7 Bye

14 at N.Y.Jets

21 CHICAGO

28 atMinnesota

NOVEMBER

4 DALLAS

11 atWashington

18 MIAMI

25 at NewEngland

DECEMBER

2 SEATTLE

9 N.Y. GIANTS

16 at Dallas

23 at NewOrleans

30 BUFFALO

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL RANK ...T18

Opponents' 2006winning percentage ... .500

Games againstplayoff teams ... 9

ENEMY LINES

AN OPPOSING TEAM'SSCOUT SIZES UP THE EAGLES

> It comesdown to, How good is Donovan McNabb going to be? If he's real good, they'll befine. If not, they won't go anywhere. . . . There's always a lot of pressure inthat city, especially after the way Jeff Garcia played last year. It's going tobe interesting to watch what happens if they get off to a lousy start. . . .The offensive line is respectable. I like Shawn Andrews at guard; left tackleWilliam Thomas is getting along in years and he's a little beat up at thispoint. . . . I don't think they're strong at receiver, which is another problemfor McNabb. . . . On defense you have to wonder if Jevon Kearse can come allthe way back. . . . The whole team is built for making another run now. If itdoesn't happen this year, or maybe next year, they might have to startover.

THE KING 500

Kevin Curtis

> WIDERECEIVER

402

Curtis waspreviously known as "that other Rams receiver," having beenovershadowed by Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Still, he shone when given thechance, with 44 catches and 615 yards in the nine games he started in '05. TheEagles signed him to be a full-time starter. "We thought he was a top-notchreceiver," says coach Andy Reid. "He's got good speed and good hands,but he's also very good over the middle."

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PROJECTED STARTINGLINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

COACH ANDY REID(80-48 in NFL), ninth season with Eagles

OFFENSE

REGGIE BROWN

POS WR

REC 46

YARDS 816

TD 8

BRIANWESTBROOK

POS RB

ATT 240

YARDS 1,217

AVG 5.1

REC 77

YARDS 699

AVG 9.1

TD 11

DONOVAN MCNABB

POS QB

ATT 316

COMP 180

PCT 57.0

YARDS 2,647

TD 18

INT 6

RATING 95.5

THOMAS TAPEH

POS FB

ATT 5

YARDS 9

AVG 1.8

REC 16

YARDS 85

AVG 5.3

TD 1

KEVIN CURTIS (NEWACQUISITION)

POS WR

REC 40

YARDS 479

TD 4

JON RUNYAN

POS RT

HT 6' 7"

WT 330

G 16

SHAWN ANDREWS

POS RG

HT 6' 4"

WT 335

G 16

JAMAAL JACKSON

POS C

HT 6' 4"

WT 330

G 16

TODD HERREMANS

POS LG

HT 6' 6"

WT 321

G 16

WILLIAM THOMAS

POS LT

HT 6' 7"

WT 335

G 16

L.J. SMITH

POS TE

REC 50

YARDS 611

TD 5

DAVID AKERS

POS K

FG 18-23

POINTS 102

DEFENSE

TAKEO SPIKES (NEWACQUISITION)

POS WLB

TACKLES 70

SACKS 1

INT O

JEVON KEARSE

POS LE

TACKLES 4

SACKS 3 1/2

MIKE PATTERSON

POS LT

TACKLES 52

SACKS 1 1/2

BRODRICKBUNKLEY

POS RT

TACKLES 9

SACKS 0

TRENT COLE

POS RE

TACKLES 62

SACKS 8

CHRIS GOCONG*

POS SLB

TACKLES 98

SACKS 23 1/2

INT 0

LITO SHEPPARD

POS CB

TACKLES 30

INT 6

BRIAN DAWKINS

POS FS

TACKLES 93

SACKS 1

INT 4

OMAR GAITHER

POS MLB

TACKLES 62

SACKS 1

INT 1

SEAN CONSIDINE

POS SS

TACKLES 85

SACKS 1 1/2

INT 1

SHELDON BROWN

POS CB

TACKLES 52

SACKS 0

INT 1

DIRK JOHNSON

POS P

PUNTS 78

AVG 42.6

NEW ACQUISITION*2005 College Stats

> 2006 RECORD10-6 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 11/3/2 DEFENSE 26/9/15

PHOTOAL TIELEMANS HEAVIERDUTY Expect Westbrook to carry more of the offensive load thisseason.PHOTODREW HALLOWELL/GETTY IMAGESILLUSTRATION