The Eagles, who somehow managed to make it to their third straight NFC Championship Game last season despite a constant barrage of injuries, again are having their Super Bowl hopes tested by injuries.
They opened training camp with more talent on their roster than any team in the Andy Reid era. But with the season-opener against the New York Giants just a week and change away, Reid still isn't sure how much of that talent will be available to him.
Two key players, defensive end N.D. Kalu and running back Correll Buckhalter, are lost for the season. But several others still are recovering from injuries that have sidelined them for a good portion of the preseason.
That list includes starting strong side linebacker Dhani Jones, who still is recuperating from a high ankle sprain, starting weak-side linebacker Nate Wayne, who injured his hamstring in the Eagles' third preseason game against Pittsburgh, starting left guard Jermane Mayberry (hamstring), backup defensive tackles Paul Grasmanis (Achilles), Sam Rayburn (high ankle sprain) and Hollis Thomas (abdominal strain) and backup linebackers Jeremiah Trotter (torn rib cartilage) and Ike Reese (knee sprain).
The injuries on defense at linebacker and tackle are a source of major concern for Reid and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Jones, who was signed in the off season to replace Carlos Emmons, already was struggling to make the transition from the weak side, where he played with the Giants, to the strong side before he got hurt. The fact that he hasn't been on the field for nearly a month hasn't helped that situation. If Jones and his backup, Reese, aren't ready for the season-opener, special-teamer Justin Ena would get the start. The thought of Ena lining up across from Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey isn't something Reid or Johnson like to dwell on.
If Wayne is unable to play, another special-teamer, Keith Adams, would have to start.
"All we can go on is the anticipation that they're all going to be there," said Johnson. "You just can't worry about it. We're going to put our game plan in (for the Giants), and if some guys aren't there we're going to have to fill other guys in and go from there."
The Eagles' best defensive player, Brian Dawkins, has returned to practice after being out since the first week of training camp with a knee bruise. While the four-time Pro Bowler will play against the Giants, his absence from the practice field and preseason games has limited his opportunities to get on the same page with the club's two new starting cornerbacks, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown.
Even with the season-ending injury to Buckhalter and the uncertain status of Mayberry, things are much brighter on the offensive side of the ball. The off-season acquisition of wide receiver Terrell Owens finally gives quarterback Donovan McNabb a legitimate go-to guy. The coaching staff is quietly optimistic that McNabb may finally get his completion percentage above 60 percent this season.
Owens' presence on the field is expected to open things up for the Eagles' other receivers, including speedy tight end L.J. Smith, running back Brian Westbrook and nickel receiver Freddie Mitchell, whose fourth-and-26 catch against the Packers last year helped send the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to Carolina.
With Buckhalter gone, though, and Duce Staley now playing for Pittsburgh, the Eagles desperately need the fragile Westbrook to stay healthy. Right now, Westbrook's backup is 34-year-old Dorsey Levens, who was out of football until the Eagles signed him after Buckhalter went down. No other running back on the roster has an NFL regular-season carry.
Eagles Still Targeting Super Bowl Despite Injuries
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