Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Eagles Who Must Step Up in 2012
After a very splashy 2011 offseason, the Eagles decided to stay relatively quiet this time around, trading for former Pro Bowl player DeMeco Ryans, but signing no other big names to their roster. By doing this, the Eagles are showing faith that they believe they can build a Super Bowl team from the players that in place at this time.
Team chemistry is ultimately the most important factor to a team's success in the NFL, and the Eagles have followed the formula of most other successful franchises in this league, identifying their key starters and re-signing them to long-term deals to allow them to continue to develop together.
But for this strategy to work, not only must coaching be on point, but the players need to step up to make big plays on a consistent basis. Without notable free-agent replacement or competition, the Eagles are resting their postseason hopes on the improvement of many key players.
5. DeSean Jackson
Once beloved around the league as "Action Jackson" for being arguably the most dangerous big-play threat in the NFL, Jackson had a lackluster season in 2011. He fell short of 1,000 yards for the first time since his rookie year, and he caught only four touchdowns.
Most notably, he averaged only 16.6 yards per catch, significantly lower than his previous season (22.5).
The Eagles have shown faith that Jackson can bounce back and remain an integral part of their future, as they gave him a five-year extension. Teammates have noted a change in Jackson, in that he is now more focused on football because he has the security of a long-term deal.
If those reports are correct, then we should expect big things from Jackson in 2012. Few players can match Jackson's blinding speed. That alone should allow him to be productive so long as he gives a full effort.
But nonetheless, Jackson must step up this year. Jackson's play is correlative to the success of the Eagles' offense, Michael Vick and Eagles' wins.
4. DeMeco Ryans
While it may seem premature to proclaim the newly-acquired DeMeco Ryans as a player who "must step up," he cannot escape the fact that his signing has come with great expectations.
The Eagles had the worst linebacker corps in the NFL last season and running backs pretty much had their way with this team. A complete inability to stop the run contributed greatly to the team's inability to make the postseason and to win close games.
Fans also decried the team's lack of leadership on defense since the departure of Brian Dawkins.
With Ryans, the Eagles are expected to have much improved linebacker play, as Ryans was once a Pro Bowl player at middle linebacker. He is also known not just for his strong play, but also for his great leadership.
Ryans had a subpar year in 2011, but many attributed that both to his recovery from an injury and from his adjusting to a 3-4 scheme. But Ryans is now another year removed from his injury and returning to a 4-3, and therefore he must bounce back. The Eagles' defense is counting on him.
3. Jeremy Maclin
Many people often overlooked Jeremy Maclin's contribution to the Eagles in 2010 as part of the reason the team was so potent on offense. That year, he hauled in 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. Similar to Jackson, Maclin also saw these numbers drop in 2011, catching 63 passes for 859 yards and five touchdowns.
But it is not just the statistical decline that frustrated fans. Maclin failed to produce in key situations. The dropped perfectly thrown pass on the final drive of the Falcons' game and the fumble in field-goal range against the 49ers come to mind. Those were small mistakes, but had huge consequences.
Had Maclin not made those errors, the Eagles likely would have won those games and one more win would have given the Eagles the NFC East and a postseason spot.
Maclin must step up in 2012, partly to take pressure off of DeSean Jackson, but also to make big plays when his team needs them, as he had done prior to the 2011 season.
2. Nnamdi Asomugha
The Eagles' proclamation of "Dream Team" came from Vince Young, but also from the signing of Asomugha, to add to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel. The Eagles had seemingly by far the best cornerbacks in the league and would have an impenetrable pass defense, right?
Wrong. The Eagles' secondary not only fell way short of expectations, but Asomugha struggled. He allowed big play after big play and touchdown after touchdown.
Part of this was his placement in coverage, as opposed to man coverage where he made a name for himself. But even when he was moved to man coverage, he still allowed touchdowns and committed far too many penalties.
Asomugha was an All-Pro player with the Raiders, and he has all the tools to return to his dominant form. Asomugha bouncing back would give the Eagles a shutdown corner, which would be very useful in a division that contains the likes of Victor Cruz and Dez Bryant.
The Eagles gave Asomugha a large contract and expected great things from him. He must improve in 2012, or the Eagles will continue to have the most overrated secondary in the NFL, and not one of the best.
1. Michael Vick
Vick actually played much better than many realize in 2011. He became a much more cerebral player and many of his struggles were the result of a poor offensive line.
With that being said, however, Vick must improve in 2012 to give the Eagles the best chance of making the postseason.
It is a long shot to expect Vick to return to his 2010 MVP-worthy self. But if Vick can reduce the turnovers, he is a top-10 quarterback in this league. In fact, part of Vick's success in 2010 was due to his going over half an NFL season without throwing a single interception.
Despite football being a team sport, the quarterback is more important than ever in the current NFL. It is a passing league, and this team will go as far as Vick will take it. Therefore, he must improve from his 2011 self if his team is going to make a deep playoff run.