Eagles Look To Heal On O, Upgrade On D

At least the Eagles offense can point to key injuries as a reason for their self-destruction in 2005. The defense didn't have nearly as many injuries, but came close to the offense in its degree of self-destruction. So, what does that mean for how to fix the Eagles?

A couple of aspirins or major surgery? How should the Eagles proceed this off-season after following their three-point Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots with a disappointing 6-10 season?

Many observers feel the Eagles need to make some significant changes in the off-season if they hope to get back into Super Bowl contention in 2006. Changes like an elite wide receiver to replace Terrell Owens, a top-of-the-line edge rusher to take the pressure off of Jevon Kearse, a pass-rushing defensive tackle to replace Corey Simon, a new pair of linebackers to flank Jeremiah Trotter, a better backup quarterback than Mike McMahon or Koy Detmer and a power running back to rotate with Brian Westbrook and Ryan Moats.

Mention all of this to coach Andy Reid and he says what he usually says, which is nothing.

"We'll see," he said. "We'll see."

Injuries were a major factor in the Eagles' slide from 13-3 to 6-10 this season. They finished the season with 14 players on injured reserve, including seven - count 'em, seven - starters.

In his last couple of press conferences before taking a pre-scouting combine vacation, Reid hinted that a return to health of all the injured players would go a long way toward making the Eagles whole again.

"Once we get all those guys back out of the training room, I think we'll be in pretty good shape," Reid said. "We think we have a good nucleus of players coming back in 2006. With the addition of another draft and free agency, our expectations will be high."

"We've never had quite this many guys banged up before. Hopefully, those guys will come back and contribute like they did before they were hurt."

While you can point to injuries for a lot of the Eagles' offensive problems this season - particularly quarterback Donovan McNabb's sports hernia, wide receiver Todd Pinkston's ruptured Achilles' tendon, running back Correll Buckhalter's torn ACL and left tackle Tra Thomas' injured back - you can't use that excuse quite as easily with the defense.

Other than defensive end Jerome McDougle sitting out the season after getting shot the day before the start of training camp, the only significant injury suffered by the defense was a mid-season broken ankle to cornerback Lito Sheppard.

Yet the Eagles slid to 27th in the league in points allowed this season after finishing second in '04. They were 23rd in total defense, 21st against the run and 21st against the pass. Their 28 quarterback sacks were the fifth fewest in the league. Their 24 touchdown passes allowed were the sixth most, and nearly twice as many as they gave up the year before.

"We're going to look at every snap offensively and defensively," Reid said. "Our defense struggled this year. We'll find out what the problem was and make sure we solve it, just like we will with the offense."

There could be some help on the way if Sheppard can return to health and if McDougle finds his old form.

The news on McDougle is encouraging. Actually, McDougle was well along on his recovery, but suffered a setback when he developed a hernia from scar tissue around the wound. He was rushed into emergency surgery the day before he was set to return to practice with the birds. Now though, McDougle is doing much better and is nearly back to his playing weight. McDougle's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told reporters at the Senior Bowl that his client "has the green light to participate in minicamp in April and he's planning on being there." Getting their big defensive end back could solve one of the issues that the defense has to address before next season, as long as McDougle truly is healthy.

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