The Philadelphia Eagles underwhelmed at the start of the 2011 season, beginning the season with losses in four of their first six games. That slide took them out of an NFC East race that would eventually go down to the wire. To avoid a similar fate this season, Philly will be counting on big performances from their newer players.
Left guard Evan Mathis and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans fit that bill. I'm expecting these two players to have breakout seasons and build national profiles for themselves in ways that they haven't in years past.
Mathis and Ryans will enter their second and first seasons with the Eagles, respectively, but they'll have opportunities to write themselves into Philly lore forever.
Mathis arrived in eastern Pennsylvania last summer after losing almost 25 pounds in a new offseason workout regimen. While Mathis' improved play with his new physique was recognized by other NFL news outlets like Pro Football Focus (and by the Eagles, who gave their guard a raise), Mathis was still left out of the Pro Bowl. Another strong season from Mathis would not only bolster his chances for a trip to Honolulu, but also to a Super Bowl.
Ryans is a more familiar name, though perhaps not to casual Eagles fans. After arriving in a big trade with Houston in the offseason, this will be Ryans' first season in midnight green.
Ryans was the AP's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009. He'll plug the vacuum that Philly has seen at middle linebacker in recent years, and perhaps take some of the heat off embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
Check out the video above for even more of my thoughts on these two great athletes.
What are you expecting out of Mathis and Ryans this season? Or do you have an Eagles standout of your own in mind? Let me know in the comments either way. I welcome your scorn and abuse.