Thursday, July 24, 2008

Big Red Opens Green Camp

The Philadelphia Eagles opened training camp for their upcoming 2008 season on Monday at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. The camp will run from now through August 13th, when the Birds will pack up and head to Philly. The Birds open their pre-season schedule at the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 8th, then open at home on August 14th against the Carolina Panthers. The team will then close out it's pre-season with games at New England and at home against the New York Jets. Coming into camp, the Birds have been installed by the odds makers in Las Vegas as the 3rd best team in the NFC. Unfortunately, they are also the 3rd best team in their own NFC East division. Vegas has the Dallas Cowboys as the NFC favorites, with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants ranked just slightly ahead of our Birds at this point. Over in the AFC, New England is the favorite, and is the overall favorite as well, followed by Indianapolis and San Diego tied for the 2nd overall favorite to win it all. Jacksonville is the 4th highest rated club, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are tied with the Eagles for 7th overall. The success or failure of the upcoming season is, as always, in the hands of Donovan McNabb. At age 31, McNabb will be starting his 10th NFL season at the helm of the Birds 'West Coast' offense, and will be trying to rally a club that started slow a year ago as he recovered from injury. In the end, McNabb didn't have a bad season last year. He was able to play in 14 of the club's 16 games, tossing over 3,000 yards for the 5th time in his career. His quarterback rating of 89.9 was the 3rd highest of his career, the 2nd highest among full seasons that he has played, and he completed over 61% of his passes. It was in many ways perhaps his 2nd best statistical season, trailing only the magical 2004 of 'T.O' and the Super Bowl. However, McNabb was often tentative through the first 2/3 of the year, when the Eagles struggled and fell to a 5-8 record before rallying to finish at 8-8 by winning their final three games. The Birds have some questions coming in: will the three-headed cornerback rotation of stars Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and newcomer Assante Samuel work in practice? Will Brian Westbrook be able to get happy with his contract situation, stay healthy, and remain one of the top multi-purpose backs in the NFL? Can Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, and L.J. Smith team with McNabb to form a fully functional, productive receiving corps? Will Jim Johnson's noted 'bend but don't break' defense actually bend a little less, and break a little lesser? Will Marty Mornhinweg get the offense into the end zone from the Red Zone more often? And perhaps most importantly, can the Birds coaching staff fix the horrible problems on Special Teams that killed the club so often in 2007? The Eagles are once again a very talented football team, and they are led by one of the best coaches in the league over the past decade in Andy Reid, who has guided them to five NFC East titles, four NFC title games, and a Super Bowl appearance. Reid's very public family troubles of a year ago are largely behind him now, and his concentration should be totally back in the game. 'Big Red' and his staff know what it takes to win, and given health there is every reason to believe that the Eagles will get off to a better start this year. They remain the most dangerous team in the league after Thanksgiving, so what happens between the September 7th home opener at the Linc vs. the St. Louis Rams and that Turkey Day tilt with the Arizona Cardinals (yes, the Birds are on Thanksgiving this year, at home) will likely determine their season. This fan has rose, or should I say green-colored glasses. I predict that the Eagles will stay healthy and once again win their division, with starring turns from McNabb and Westbrook. Time will tell, but in the middle of the summer at the beginning of training camp, we are all allowed to dream of next January's NFL Super Bowl. The Phils will deservedly keep getting our attention here in the Philly sports world, but it's also time to start following the Birds. Time's yours...

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