Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Eagles Who Need to Have a Big Year
Once again, the Philadelphia Eagles are in the spotlight prior to the start of the season. Some outlets even have the Birds in the conversation of Super Bowl contenders.
But, if the Eagles are to succeed this year, there are a few key players who need to come up big in 2012.
The following slideshow highlights a few key players who, in my humble opinion, are instrumental to the team's success for the upcoming season.
10. Mike Kafka
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In college, when I was a bartender, I remember having ESPN on in the background on Saturday mornings while I set up my work space. For some reason, Northwestern always seemed to be on. And, when I first heard the name "Mike Kafka," the first thing that came to my mind was the famed 20th-century surrealist writer. I wondered if Mike Kafka's playing style was anything near as brilliant as Franz Kafka's writing.
It turns out the correlation between brilliance in one's craft and last name that I had pondered did not transcend into football.
When Michael Vick goes down, and he will more than likely miss a few starts, expect Mike Kafka to be the man who ultimately takes the majority of the snaps in Vick’s absence.
Kafka is a 6’3", 225-pound “gym rat” who spends his time working out and watching film.
But, can he handle that responsibility if and when the opportunity presents itself?
He is by no means as capable as Michael Vick, but he is reportedly not an incompetent either. The Eagles need Mike Kafka to stay on top of his game and be ready for anything in the likely case that Vick can’t play.
9. Fletcher Cox
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Fletcher Cox is one of many Eagles rookies shining at training camp.
According to Dave Spadaro, we can expect Cox to see playing time right away.
Fletcher Cox is big and athletic. He stands 6’4" and weighs in at 298 lbs. Cox made the All-SEC First Team last year as a junior, recording 56 tackles and five sacks.
With Mike Patterson’s future in jeopardy, the Eagles need other linemen, Cox in particular, to play a key role if the team’s defense is going to rebound from its subpar 2011 effort.
8. Jeremy Maclin
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For the first time in a long time, the Eagles have two legitimately skilled, solid wide receivers. One of them is Jeremy Maclin.
Maclin has reportedly been outstanding in camp this year. Last year, JMac caught 63 balls for 859 yards and five TDs. Evidently, he’s capable.
If Maclin can, at the very least, replicate his numbers from last season, the Eagles offense has the potential to be as dynamic as it has ever been during Andy Reid’s tenure.
7. Trent Cole
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Trent Cole has been one of the best defensive ends in the NFL for a while.
The reason he is ranked at No. 7 is because we know he’s going to have a great year. The guy’s consistent, dependable, and ferocious.
Cole is an excellent pass rusher who can also stop the run. According to Jim Washburn, he has never coached a player who does everything as well as Trent Cole does.
The bottom line: Trent Cole and Jason Babin complement each other very well. On Cole’s end, he needs to—and he likely will—continue his outstanding play.
6. Nnamdi Asomugha
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Before he signed with the Eagles, Nnamdi Asomugha was regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in all of football.
He had that kind of a reputation for consistently shutting down the NFL’s best receivers when they lined up against him. But that all changed when Asomugha became an Eagle.
You can blame Juan Castillo all you want for making Nnamdi play zone coverage, but at the end of the day, Asomugha is the guy on the field.
If the Eagles secondary is to have any chance at stopping anything in the air, Nnamdi Asomugha needs to play a big part.
5. DeSean Jackson
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For all of the showboating, public expressions of discontent, lazy play, and PR slip-ups we saw from DeSean Jackson in 2011, he is nonetheless one of the NFL’s most dangerous wideouts.
DJax is fast and elusive with the ball in his hands. He is an explosive receiver and one of football’s premier deep threats.
Now that he has a new contract, No. 10 needs to have a big year if the Eagles offense is going to be as unstoppable as some claim it can be.
4. Jason Babin
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Last year, Jason Babin forced three fumbles and had 18 sacks, which was the third-highest sack total in the NFL. If you take that into consideration and think about what newly-acquired DeMeco Ryans will bring to the table, not to mention Trent Cole playing the other end and guys like Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox in between, you’ve got quite a defensive force to be reckoned with.
Jim Washburn clearly brings out the best in Babin, and there is no reason to believe that No. 93 will have a down year.
Babin is a monster who eats quarterbacks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In tandem with Trent Cole, the Eagles defensive ends are among the most fearsome duos on the ends of any defensive line in the NFL.
The Birds need Babin. If he can play like he did last year, and the rest of the defense can come together, the rest of the NFL better watch out.
3. DeMeco Ryans
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No matter what anyone says about how far along Juan Castillo has come, or how much progress the defense is making, or how they’ve got the talent or how they’ve really come together, the fact of the matter is that last year, the Eagles defense was an abomination.
A big reason for this is that a "Wide-9" scheme needs a physical, fundamentally sound linebacking crew.
What the Eagles had last year was a group of inexperienced, dim-witted children playing linebacker.
DeMeco Ryans is a fundamentally sound, physical specimen who can cover running backs and take pressure off of safeties.
Although Ryans will probably not “fix” the Eagles defense, he will dramatically improve it.
Ryans has the reputation of being an on-field leader, something the Eagles defense has been missing since the departure of Brian Dawkins. Hopefully, some of what Ryans does will rub off on the knuckleheads that Andy Reid and Juan Castillo will surround him with.
A major point to keep in mind: Ryans is coming off an Achilles injury. But, reports say he’s having a great camp, and a return to form is very likely.
2. LeSean McCoy
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Eagles fans have been spoiled with great running backs for more than a decade. The sentiments conjured up by the memory of Brian Westbrook, as well as a quiet reflection on his contributions to the Eagles during the first decade of this century, can bring about a sense of hopelessness. Who could possibly replace him? The answer is LeSean McCoy, who has made his presence felt quicker than any Eagles running back in recent memory.
With all due respect to Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy scored 20 total touchdowns last year. B-West never did that. Shady had 17 TDs on the ground. Westbrook’s career-best was nine in 2008.
Time will tell who was better. But, if LeSean McCoy can be what he was last year, then the Eagles offense will undoubtedly be one of the best in the game.
The only problem is that LeSean McCoy is not the only player on the team.
Nonetheless, after a breakout like last season, the Eagles are depending on Shady to bring it for the 2012 campaign.
1. Michael Vick
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Michael Vick is easily the most important player on the Eagles roster for a number of reasons. The biggest one being the versatility he provides on offense: he can bomb the ball 50 yards down the field or break off a 50 yard run, each of which seemingly at will.
Last year, Vick threw for 3,303 yards and ran for 589. That’s impressive.
But he is reckless. One can’t help but hold their breath every time he takes a big hit, or passes the line of scrimmage with the ball in one hand, hanging on his left side.
Andy Reid has always run a pass-heavy offense. With a guy like Vick taking the snaps, Reid has someone to make plays out of situations that would otherwise be a loss of yards, or take a gamble downfield that ends up being a turnover.
The Eagles will live and die with Michael Vick. How the team ultimately does in the upcoming season will directly correlate with his performance. He seems prepared to handle this burden and, by many accounts, he is ready to change the way he plays to stay healthy.
Time will tell. But, for the time being, the success of the Philadelphia Eagles rests on the shoulders of Michael Vick.