Football is a team game.
Everyone knows that.
But often it's the play of a handful of players who can be the difference between a team watching the playoffs on TV in January or playing for a chance at a Super Bowl championship.
For the Eagles, there are several of the guys on the 53-man roster who could be the key to push the Eagles over the edge.
QB Donovan McNabb: The quarterback is always a key ingredient of a championship team and McNabb will be no exception for the Eagles.
Since joining the team back in 1999, the Eagles have been fortunate enough to have one of the game's top quarterbacks leading their team. A five-time Pro Bowler, McNabb has taken the Eagles to five NFC Championship Games and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX.
And he has mostly done so without the services of a No. 1 caliber wide receiver. Other than the 21 games in which McNabb had Terrell Owens, he has been forced to play with the services of James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Reggie Brown, and Freddie Mitchell.
The Eagles never signed that No. 1 receiver fans pushed for—notably Arizona Cardinals' Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin–but the front office did select speedy slot receiver Jeremy Maclin out of the University of Missouri.
The combination of Maclin, DeSean Jackson, and Kevin Curtis will give defenses some trouble and McNabb some weapons.
Factor in possession receiver Jason Avant and big playmaker Hank Baskett, and McNabb is poised for a banner year.
I don't think it's unreasonable to expect over 3,500 passing yards and 25 touchdowns from McNabb, as well as 11 to 13 wins in the regular season and a deep playoff run.
Should McNabb go down, pray.
The team's backup currently is unproven third-year player Kevin Kolb, who has shown flashes of ineptitude in brief stints as quarterback. Kolb has two years of watching one of the best in the game under his belt, but he has yet to prove himself out on the field.
FB Leonard Weaver: Until Leonard Weaver joined the team, the position of fullback has long been forgotten here in Philadelphia.
Weaver gives the Eagles an exciting weapon.
The runner-up for the Pro Bowl in the NFC last year, Weaver is a talented pass blocker and an above-average ball carrier.
He should help the team on short yardage runs—an area that hurt the Eagles on a consistent basis last year. Weaver will be able to contribute on short passes as well.
He should be able to extend the life of aging star Brian Westbrook and help to break in up-and-coming rookie LeSean McCoy.
OT Shawn Andrews: Andrews has had a roller coaster of a career, to say the least.
He broke into the NFL as the 16th overall pick in the 2004 draft and was immediately penciled into the team's starting lineup at right guard.
Andrews broke his leg in his first career NFL game, missing the rest of the miraculous 2004 season and the team's Super Bowl appearance.
Andrews bounced back in 2005 to start all 16 games and nearly qualify for the Pro Bowl. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in both 2006 and 2007, helping to turn Brian Westbrook into arguably the game's most complete weapon.
He went on to miss all of last season due to depression and back surgery. His presence was greatly missed, none more so than on a third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 against the Giants on Sunday Night Football in the middle of the season.
This year, Andrews is back. He is healthy, motivated, and still as talented as ever.
When he is on his game, you could make a case for Andrews as the best guard in the game. He is 340 pounds of raw beef who can clear a hole for Westbrook or stay back and pass block for McNabb.
A right guard his first five years, Andrews will take over for perennial star Jon Runyan as the team's starting right tackle.
When he was originally drafted back in '04, Andrews was expected to eventually move to tackle, and it appears like this will be the year. Andrews will be playing next to his brother, right guard Stacy Andrews, giving the Eagles a pretty impressive right side of the line.
Andrews' backup is three-year pro Winston Justice, a former USC standout who gave up six sacks to New York Giants' All-Pro defensive end Osi Umenyiora in his only NFL start.
MLB Stewart Bradley: The Eagles are a defensive team, with arguably the deepest defensive line and backfield in the NFL.
The linebackers are still young and relatively inexperienced, so it will be up to rising star Stewart Bradley to lead the group.
Bradley is a Pro Bowler in the making and a possible candidate to replace Brian Dawkins as the team's outspoken vocal leader on the defensive side of the ball.
Bradley was stellar in 16 games as a starter last season, recording 151 tackles, including double-digit figures in seven games. He was named to the Sports Illustrated All-Pro team in just his first year as a starter.
Bradey's presence was a huge factor in the Eagles' fourth-ranked run defense and third-ranked pass defense in 2008, and there are high expectations for Bradley to become one of the elite linebackers in the NFL in 2009.
FS Quintin Demps: It's never fun to replace a legend, and I don't envy Demps having to take over for a legend such as six-time Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins, a fan favorite, future Hall of Famer, and emotional leader of the Philadelphia Eagles' defense over the past 13 seasons.
Dawkins was 35 and had lost a step, but the Eagles' failure to resign him came as a shock to the city, and his subsequent signing with Denver was a painful blow.
Enter Demps, an unproven defensive player who started as kick returner last season, into the starting role.
Demps played a lot for the Eagles in three-safety sets down the stretch last season, but his struggles were obvious, none more so than his inability to stay on his feet while covering All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the NFC Championship Game.
Demps has a lot of potential. He is quick, talented, and aggressive.
But he's not Brian Dawkins.
And it's not even for certain that Demps will start this season.
The Eagles brought in playmaker Sean Jones from the Cleveland Browns. Jones is third among all safeties in interceptions (14) over the past three seasons, and is just 27, in the prime of his career.
It's unclear to me why he was signed to just a one-year deal, but I think the Eagles envision Jones starting for a few games to spell Demps, before Demps takes over full-time.
Demps will be able to lean on strong safety Quintin Mikell for assistance—Mikell was a second-team All-Pro last season, combining with Brian Dawkins to form one of the best safety duos in the NFL—but Demps needs to produce or he will hurt the Eagles' defense.
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