Did Eagles Address Offseason Priority?

The Eagles' top offseason priority was improving a defense that finished 15th in yards allowed, 15th in points allowed and 26th in rushing yards allowed. Did they succeed in improving the squad? That is the big question as they prepare for the start of their 2007 season.

The Eagles will open 2007 with new starters at five different positions, including an entirely new linebacking corps. The Eagles traded for Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes in March, and will plug him in on the weak side. But there are question marks at the other two linebacker positions.

The Eagles gave strong-side linebacker Dhani Jones his long-overdue walking papers in May and have replaced him with second-year man Chris Gocong. But Gocong, a college defensive end, has never played a regular-season snap at linebacker, and still is feeling his way.

A little more surprising was the mid-August release of veteran middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Trotter, a three-time Pro Bowler whose deteriorating knees had robbed him of his speed and range, will be replaced by second-year man Omar Gaither, who started seven games on the weak side as a rookie, but has never taken a regular-season snap in the middle.

Two other young defensive players under the gun are defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and strong safety Sean Considine. Bunkley, the team's '06 No. 1 pick, was a bust as a rookie and seldom played. But the Eagles traded away starting defensive tackle Darwin Walker to get Spikes, and now Bunkley must produce. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has called the former Florida State player the key to the defense's success this season.

Considine replaced Michael Lewis seven games into last season. He did a better job than Lewis against the pass, but struggled against the run. He added weight in the offseason and is up to 210 pounds, but didn't play particularly well against either the run or the pass in the preseason.

Another defensive concern is left end Jevon Kearse. Kearse missed 14 games last season with torn ligaments in his knee and was invisible in the preseason. Johnson is counting on Kearse to be a double-digit sack pass-rusher this season, but he doesn't have the same speed off the edge that he had earlier in his career. The fact that he only weighs about 245 pounds doesn't help either.

"I think we'll be alright," coach Andy Reid said. "We should be alright. There are some things we need to get straightened out as far as alignments and things like that. We need to get those things tended to before we get to Green Bay. But we'll be OK."

There are far fewer concerns on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee, had a solid preseason. Wide receiver Kevin Curtis appears to be a solid tradeoff for Donte Stallworth, who signed with New England.

The only two offensive questions entering the season are the health of Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews and tight end L.J. Smith. Andrews missed the entire preseason with a high ankle sprain. But Reid has said he'll be ready for the start of the season. Smith also has been sidelined most of the summer with a groin strain that may or may not be related to his spring surgery to repair a sports hernia.

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