NFC East: Changes Leave Unanswered Questions

With the free agent player signing period all but a moot point, teams are left wondering if they have done enough to improve its rosters. At the very least, some teams wonder what else can be done prior to the start of training camps across the NFL.

Along with high hopes resting on players stepping in to solidify a team roster, fans and organizations alike await the opportunity to see their newest stars, those battle-tested veterans which lend promise to lead their respective clubs to the promised land.

Training camps are on the horizon and here are points to keep an eye on throughout training camp and into the 2004 season.

Washington Redskins
Joe Gibbs, Clinton Portis, Mark Brunell, and the Washington Redskins. Is there one organization which has helped its cause since the end of the 2003 season more than the Redskins? Luring Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs out of retirement, away from his extremely successful NASCAR racing operation, the Washington organization immediate gained a vast amount of credibility and professionalism in the eyes league circles. Amazingly, securing Gibbs was the start of an off-season of which the Redskins organization was an impact player. Longing for a winning team, Daniel Snyder's front office, under the watchful eye of Gibbs added experience (Brunell) at the quarterback position where the team is relatively young and explosiveness (Portis) at the ever-important running back position in the Gibbs offense. The Redskins need off-season acquisition, cornerback Shawn Springs to stay healthy as he replaces Champ Bailey and rookie safety Sean Taylor is expected to become a physical presence in the middle of the Washington defensive backfield.

The Redskins won't be a pretender in the 2004 season and ultimately could be a serious contender. In early off-season practices, the general consensus amongst the team is one of confidence, experienced leadership, and a belief coming from the successful coaching career of Gibbs as coach of the Redskins prior to his retirement. No need for concern, Gibbs never lost his leadership and coaching mentality he carried onto the NASCAR circuit.

The often unorganized and belittled Redskins under the tutelage of Steve Spurrier will be an improved and fundamentally sound operation under Gibbs, at the very least in the 2004 season

An inconsistent running game and a quarterback under fire on every play due to inadequate coaching are a thing of the past in Washington.

Dallas Cowboys
Were the 2003 Dallas Cowboys a mirage or does head coach Bill Parcells wave a magic wand? Without a legitimate running back, an offensive line which has either aged or riddled with relative inexperience, or injury, and fielded Quincy Carter at quarterback, the Cowboys were a playoff team one short season ago………………Can rookie running back Julius Jones provide the Cowboys with a consistent threat in the running game? Will Parcells again hang his hat on the aged right arm of quarterback Vinny Testaverde?.

The Cowboys displayed an uncanny ability to move the chains during the 2003 season with a downfield passing attack. While guiding the path through the 2003 behind a mediocre offensive line, inconsistent rushing game, and at times erratic play from Carter, Parcells transformer Dallas from a cast of underachievers to a competitive football team. Jones could be the key to the Dallas offense in the 2004 season and will be given the opportunity to win the starting running back spot. Parcells has been adamant behind closed doors that Jones will have to earn the starting position and must not be in awe of being on center stage, in this his rookie season. Simply, the word is out in Dallas, Jones will need to produce, or the team will add a veteran presence in the backfield.

Quietly, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson has made significant strides in the Dallas offense. Early in practice session, Johnson had appeared to have lost a step or two, but the player has begun to take hold of the offense, as well as developing a rapport with the offensive coaches and quarterbacks.

Speaking of quarterbacks, while Carter remains the starter at this time, don't discount the history between Parcells and Testaverde. Parcells wants to win now, owner Jerry Jones expects to win now, and the team will do anything possible to improve upon its 2003 season. The addition of Testaverde to the Dallas roster is simple. Testaverde is an experienced player and a player that Parcells has a tremendous amount of confidence in. If Carter does not show growth as a player, Parcells will not hesitate in going to Testaverde. Additionally, Testaverde is being looked upon to help groom Drew Henson for the Cowboys starting quarterback role, as soon as the 2005 season.

New York Giants
In New York, Camp Coughlin could be in for a rude awakening, as well as all the fans of the New York Giants. Coming off a dreadful season in 2003, wholesale changes were in the offing for this talented but troubled football team. Changes there were, starting with head coach Jim Fassel and quarterback Kerry Collins.

Signing former St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner this off-season, the Giants hope he can keep the seat warm for rookie quarterback Eli Manning, while leading the team back to competitiveness. At this time the Warner signing does not appear to be a good move if this organization expects Warner to elevate this team to being competitive or a contender. The veteran quarterback has been slow in picking up the offense and even slower with his delivery of wobbly passes in practice sessions. Nonetheless, Warner has been much better than the rookie Manning. If I am a Giants' fan, I would be concerned.

An offensive line which was much maligned during the 2003 season boasts many new additions. The underlying question regarding the revamping of the line is, are these guys really an improvement. Sure, veteran Barry Stokes and Shaun O'Hara can play just about anywhere across the line, but there play in Cleveland was average, much like what the Giants lived through last season.

New York will field a new starting linebacker corps, a radical change across the offensive line, and a new look along the defensive line and defensive backfield. The 2004 season could be a long one for the Giants, but one thing we do know, the team will not quit on new head coach Tom Coughlin.

Philadelphia Eagles
Have the Philadelphia Eagles done enough to get past the NFC Championship game blues? The Eagles will take on a new look for the 2004 season, gone are defensive stalwarts Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent in the secondary. Undoubtedly, the Philadelphia defensive backfield will not be a secure and productive as in years past, but the Philadelphia coaching staff appears unfazed heading into training camp with the changes made to the roster.

The defensive line of the Eagles is being counted on to apply significant pressure on the opposition in the 2004 season. With the addition of defensive end Jevon Kearse from Tennessee and help from Jerome McDougle, Darwin Walker, and Corey Simon, the Eagles intend to continue with their attacking defensive philosophy, but will utilize a vastly improved front-four to provide the heat. The blitzing Eagles will always bring pressure from defensive backs and linebackers under coordinator Jim Johnson, but this improved defensive line will help deflect any shortcomings in the secondary.

While the Philadelphia defense has been the cornerstone of this organization, the off-season move to secure the services of talented, but troubled wide receiver Terrell Owens could be the coup this team needed. Without a bone-fide number one type receiver, the type of wide receiver that commands respect on every play, the Eagles have struggled throughout the Andy Reid era. Suddenly, the Eagles have a playmaker to team with quarterback Donovan McNabb, which should make this offense under the tutelage of Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress to become potentially explosive.

At running back, the departure has left the door open for Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. Westbrook has wanted the feature back spot and has proven to be a productive player in the Philadelphia offense, while splitting time with Duce Staley (now with the Steelers) and Buckhalter. Some within the game question Westbrook's ability to take the pounding due to his physical stature. Again in 2004, expect the Eagles to mix and match at the running back spot.

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