DeSean Jackson and 4 Other Philadelphia Eagles Who Must Step Up Next Season
I know you all are as sick as I am of national media stories about the Eagles' past season making a snarky dream team reference, so you'll be relieved to know I won't go down that road. It was a dumb comment by a backup quarterback, it wasn't meant to be this team's persona.
However, there's no denying that the Eagles' disappointing season was way below any of our expectations as loyal fans.
While there's plenty of blame to go around, these five players really need to step up next season (assuming they are still with the team by then) in order for the Eagles to put this years debacle behind them.
What might be considered a fine year for other cornerbacks in the NFL is very different when you have the type of expectations Nnamdi Asomugha brought with him to Philadelphia this past offseason.
Known as a shadow that elite receivers couldn't shake in Oakland, Asomugha signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Eagles in July. And while he wasn't terrible, he certainly didn't live up to the hype early in the season.
The thing he was brought in to do—lock down the opponents' top receiver—often didn't happen, and came back to hurt the Eagles in big ways. Against the Arizona Cardinals, for instance, Larry Fitzgerald killed the Eagles' defense for 146 yards and two TDs.
A lot of the blame for Asomugha's disappointing season also has to go to Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo. Nnamdi Asomugha is a lockdown, man-coverage defender, yet Castillo had him playing in zone schemes often throughout a good portion of the season. He should have been glued to Fitzgerald that entire game.
You don't get one of the two best man-coverage corners in the NFL to play zone coverage, you get him to be strapped to top wideouts—and that's where Asomugha needs to be next season.
For better or worse, Nate Allen is forever linked to two Eagle greats: Brian Dawkins and Donovan McNabb.
In order to fill the void at safety left by Brian Dawkins, the Eagles used the second round pick (No. 37 overall) they received from the Washington Redskins in exchange for Donovan McNabb to pick Allen. While Nate has shown some flashes of promise in his young career, he's been somewhat of a disappointment overall.
He's been hurt often, hasn't helped the Birds' young linebackers stop the run, and has been part of terrible red zone pass defenses the last two years. He certainly hasn't made us forget about Brian Dawkins, who continues to play at a high level.
Nate needs to step up and prove he's the answer at safety, and not a bust.
Acquired in the trade that sent Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals, DRC was one of the first guys the Eagles got in their offseason shopping frenzy.
Super athletic, and still pretty young, Rodgers-Cromartie was in an unfamiliar position this past season as the third corner on the depth chart. Dominique was injured for a while, yet even when he played he didn't make much of an impact.
Maybe he was playing hurt, maybe he didn't get enough playing time, or maybe he was just in an unfamiliar role as nickelback. Regardless, with the Asante Samuel trade rumors sure to swirl up again around the NFL Draft, Rodgers-Cromartie could find himself playing a much bigger role next season for the Eagles.
He'd better be ready.
For those of you who are sick of DeSean Jackson, or on the fence, watch this.
There are two sides to DeSean Jackson. There's the player that missed a game this past year for disciplinary reasons, negated a big play by flipping the ball at an opposing coach, has often seemed to shy away from contact over the middle, and was caught limping down the sidelines and "ignoring" Vince Young by the NFL Network cameras.
But he's also the player that makes the Eagles offense deadly.
He's the guy with the blazing speed that opens up the middle of the field for other receivers. He's the guy capable of taking a punt to the house all the time. And he made one of the best hustle plays I've ever seen (though I can't seem to find a video of it) when he saved a touchdown in Week 2 against the Falcons by running 60 yards down the field to tackle an Atlanta player who had intercepted the ball.
DeSean Jackson had a disappointing and very frustrating season in 2011, but if he's back next year he'll once again be counted on for big plays. The Eagles' offense is at it's best when DeSean is running all over the field, going all-out, and making huge catches—all things that he'll be expected to do wherever he plays next season.
I mean this one in the most literal sense: Michael Vick needs to physically be able to step up onto the field next season. He really, really needs to avoid getting hurt.
After signing him to a huge contract right before last season, the Eagles are committed to Vick for years to come; he needs to be on the field to justify that commitment. I love Mike Vick's all-out style of play as much as anyone, but it's hard to help your team win when you're not on the field.
And if he's getting this banged up now, just imagine the latter years of his contract when he'll be in his mid-to-late 30s. It's awesome to watch such an exciting player at quarterback, but a body can only take so much punishment.
It's probably too much to ask any established player to drastically change the way they play the game, but Vick just has to be a little smarter and a little less reckless when he runs. Maybe slide occasionally instead of diving headfirst, or even just try and get out of bounds. Hopefully the offensive line can do Vick a solid, and give him plenty of time to let plays develop and keep his body clean next season.
He's also got to hold on to the ball better. I cringe every time he flaps the ball around haphazardly in his left hand while ripping off a long run.
Next season is a big opportunity for Mike Vick to step up and justify the Eagles' faith in him. Staying healthy will let Vick raise his play and prove he belongs in the elite quarterback discussion.
It should also help the Eagles advance deep into the playoffs.