Now that it will soon be August it is time for that special time of year called football season. The time of the year when beer and car commercials rule the television screen. When it becomes acceptable to paint yourself purple, orange, green, or gold in 12 degree weather to support your favorite team, all while grilling on the tailgate of your F Series truck. Well, before the extravaganza that is the NFL regular season, the teams have training camp. It used to be that training camp was nothing to the media. Coaches evaluated new talent to see how they can improve their team, while the veterans worked gradually towards getting into top shape for the season. Now, training camp is all about scandals, holdouts, money, and Brett Favre. From T.O. going all Lance Armstrong on us to Michael Crabtree demanding 3rd overall pick money, training camp has become a circus, but not in Philadelphia.
Earlier this week the Eagles lost Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson, lost his battle with melanoma. Jim was 68 years old, but as players, coaches, and others who knew him would say, he was the toughest 68 year old they had ever known. Jim battled his cancer til the very end, and he was even on the practice field as late as May of this year. The Eagles will never be the same without you Jim, and I would like to thank you for the 10 best years of defensive football that I have known. Since 1999, the Eagles had the 3rd best defense in the league, and were 2nd in that time span with 390 sacks. Jim coached 26 players to Pro Bowls, and he got his recognition for it. Jim could have left Philadelphia to take a head coaching job numerous times, but he elected to stay where he was and lead a defense that was as ferocious a defense as anyone had ever seen. My heart goes out to the Eagles organization, the Johnson family, and everybody who knew what a great man Jim Johnson was. Rest in peace Jim.
When I think about the loss of Jim Johnson it just gets me more frustrated at the Eagles Front Office. I can’t understand for the life of me why they decided to let Brian Dawkins leave Philadelphia and finish his career on another team. They were the closest to the situation, and could obviously see that Jim Johnson might not be back to coach in 2009. When evaluating the Eagles defense, the two most influential people were Jim Johnson and Brian Dawkins. Johnson ran the defense off the field, but Dawkins was the catalyst and the inspiration, the man who made this defense go. If someone wasn’t motivated enough, or if someone wasn’t lined up correctly, Brian was there to lead, and once the defense stopped the other team, Jim was on the sidelines to coach everybody up. Now, the Eagles are left without either of these two great men. People will say that somebody will step up on the defense, but I don’t see it. That fire is gone now, and I pray that somebody will be the spark that fills the void Dawkins and Johnson left, but as of right now I can’t think of who that could be.
What disgusts me even more about the front office is the fact that they easily could have brought Dawkins back if they wanted to. They were $41 million under the salary cap! Spend an extra couple million bucks to keep the heart and soul of your team so he can retire as an Eagle! I know the front office likes to get rid of veterans once they peak, and I agree that Dawkins’ playing ability may have peaked last year, but you can’t replace his leadership, and that is what this defense will miss.
So, with the start of training camp comes new questions. Was the 2008 playoff run a fluke? How much does Donovan have left in the tank? What is wrong with Westbrook’s legs and will he be a force in 2009? Andy Reid and the Eagles staff is generally very tight lipped when it comes to the team, so I’m sure we won’t hear much about injuries. Throughout the month I will do my best to evaluate the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles. I will begin with a position by position overview, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s team. Then I will probably go over the schedule and try to figure out just how good the chances are that the Eagles can make it to the promised land this year. Follow along for what will be a wild ride to the start of the season in September.