UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS
QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Donovan McNabb. Backups -- Koy Detmer, Jeff Blake.
McNabb's two biggest strengths have been his ability to avoid interceptions -- he's averaged one pick every 45.3 attempts over the last four seasons -- and his running ability. But he has yet to have a season completion rate higher than 58.4, which is troubling for a quarterback in the West Coast offense. That could change this season with the talented arsenal of skill-position weapons that he'll have. The addition of Blake, who has started 100 games in his career, is evidence that the Eagles want to make sure they have all their bases covered in the event of an injury to McNabb.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Brian Westbrook, Jon Ritchie (FB). Backups --
Dorsey Levens, Reno Mahe, Eric McCoo, Thomas Tapeh.
With Duce Staley gone and Buckhalter out for the year with a knee injury, the pressure is on Westbrook to perform and stay healthy. The speedy Westbrook is an immense talent who the Eagles like to move around and create mismatches in the passing game. But he has had trouble staying healthy in his first two NFL seasons. Levens doesn't have much gas left, but he'll replace Buckhalter as the No. 2 guy and will be used mostly in one-back sets. Mahe can do things in space, but isn't much of a between-the-tackles factor. McCoo, a free agent, led NFL Europe in rushing this spring, but he appeared to have tired legs in the preseason from the spring load.
TIGHT ENDS/H-BACK: Starter -- Chad Lewis. Backup -- L.J. Smith, Mike
Lewis' days as the starter are numbered. He is 32 going on 33 and had just 23 catches last season. Smith, the club's '03 second-round pick, has the combination of size (6-3, 258) and speed that makes him the perfect weapon in Reid's spread-'em-out-and-find-the-mismatches passing offense. He had 27 catches in a limited role last year, and figures to get a lot more playing time this season. Eagles will use both of them quite a bit in two-TE sets.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Terrell Owens, Todd Pinkston. Backups -- Freddie
Mitchell, Billy McMullen. Greg Lewis, Sean Morey.
Owens, who has averaged more than 90 receptions per year the last four seasons, gives the Eagles the go-to guy they've lacked in their offense. The double-teams that Owens is going to require from defenses also is going to open things up for the club's other receivers, including Mitchell, who has developed into a very good slot receiver.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Tra Thomas, LG Jermane Mayberry, C Hank
Fraley, RG Shawn Andrews, RT Jon Runyan. Backups -- Artis Hicks. Alonzo Ephraim,
Jamaal Jackson, Jeremy Bridges, Trey Darilek.
This unit underachieved last season, and now is undergoing some significant changes. Unhappy LG John Welbourn was traded away in April and will be replaced by Pro Bowler Mayberry, who is moving over from the right side after missing 11 games with an elbow injury last year. His place at RG will be filled by first-rounder Shawn Andrews, who so far has made a silky smooth transition to the NFL. But the keys to this unit's success will be on the outside, where high-priced tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan both must play better than they did a year ago, particularly in pass protection. Artis Hicks, who started four games last season, gives them a solid backup at either of the tackle or guard spots.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Jevon Kearse, LT Corey Simon, RT Darwin
Walker, RE Derrick Burgess. Backups -- Hugh Douglas, Jerome McDougle, Jamaal
Green, Hollis Thomas, Paul Grasmanis, Sam Rayburn, Ron Johnson.
The Eagles are hoping the addition of Kearse and the return to health of Burgess, along with hoped-for improvement from '03 first-rounder McDougle will ignite a pass rush that had just 38 quarterback sacks last season. The healthy return of Thomas and the continued development of Rayburn, who made the club last year as a rookie free agent and played a lot in the latter half of the season, will be big boosts to Simon and Walker, who wore down last year because of overuse.
LINEBACKER: Starter -- SLB Dhani Jones, MLB Mark Simoneau, WLB Nate Wayne.
Backups -- Jeremiah Trotter, Ike Reese, Justin Ena, Keith Adams.
The Eagles let their dependable strong side linebacker, Carlos Emmons, walk, and are moving ex-Giant Jones from the weak side to the strong side to replace him. Jones brings a little more speed to the position, but was slow to pick up Jim Johnson's system in the spring minicamps and has missed almost the entire preseason with a high ankle sprain. His backup, Ike Reese, also is uncertain for the start of the season because of a knee sprain. The addition of Trotter gives this unit much-needed depth in the middle and will allow Johnson the opportunity to reduce Simoneau's snaps and keep him fresh.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Lito Sheppard, RCB Sheldon Brown, FS Brian
Dawkins, SS Michael Lewis. Backups -- Rod Hood, Clinton Hart, Quintin Mikell,
Matt Ware, J.R. Reed, Dexter Wynn.
The Eagles let Pro Bowl corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor walk in the off-season are replacing them with third-year men Sheppard and Brown. The pair got a lot of valuable playing time last year when Vincent and Taylor missed a total of 12 games due to injury. Both are much smaller than Vincent and Taylor, but are aggressive. Dawkins is one of the best safeties in the game and Lewis is a potential Pro Bowler. Hood will be the club's nickel corner.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK David Akers, P Dirk Johnson, H Koy Detmer, Snapper Mike
Bartrum, PR Reno Mahe, PR Dexter Wynn, KR J.R. Reed.
Brian Westbrook led the NFC in punt returns last year and took two back for touchdowns, including a game-, and maybe season-, saver against the Giants in October. But because he is susceptible to injury, and because his role in the offense will be increasing this year, he isn't going to be returning punts. That job will go to Mahe and/or rookie Wynn. Akers is one of the league's best kickers and dealt very well with the unpredictable wind currents at