Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Players Who Need to Step Up in 2011
The NFL remains in limbo, as the lockout is still in effect. While players have met in informal practices, official training camps cannot commence and free agency cannot yet begin with the lockout still in place.
As bleak as the situation may look, I am personally confident that the lockout will end in time for all, or most, of the 2011 NFL Season. And if a 2011 NFL Season does indeed happen, my team, the Philadelphia Eagles, is a top contender for the Super Bowl.
However, football is a team sport, and a football team can only succeed if all of its players work together. And while a team may have many star players, they will never win a championship if players at all roles and positions do not support them.
Therefore, these are the 10 players that will need to step up in 2011 if the Eagles wish to achieve their dream of reaching the Super Bowl.
10) Jamar Chaney
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Chaney, filling in for Stewart Bradley after his injury in week 14, proved to be a steal in the 7th round.
Most notable was his performance in the miracle win against the New York Giants, when Chaney recorded 16 tackles, with 12 of them being solo-tackles. NFL-analyst Brian Baldinger stated that Chaney was already one of the best middle linebackers in the league.
Chaney is an excellent player in all phases of the game, but 2010 was only his rookie season. If he can not only duplicate his performance, but improve upon it, then the Eagles may be in good shape.
Ever since the injury to Bradley prior to the 2009 season, the Eagles have struggled to fill the void at middle linebacker, and it showed. But Chaney has been the first player to play well and exceed expectations when filling in.
Chaney must step up and play just as well, and better, for this Eagles defense to make great strides. With a strong middle linebacker, the Eagles can move Bradley to another position and fill another void at linebacker.
Blitzing and coverage will also become easier with a reliable middle linebacker on this team. So if Chaney can step up and take his game to the next level, it may be enough to make the Eagles one of the best teams in the NFL.
9) Danny Watkins
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Watkins was a controversial pick in this year’s draft, as Reid elected to take a 26 year old guard with his first round pick. The pick was criticized even more because the Eagles chose not to address the right tackle position, perhaps with Gabe Carimi.
Watkins is a good player, but he must make an immediate impact to appease Eagles fans and to justify his taking. The right guard position was one of the biggest liability on the Eagles offense, with neither Nick Cole, Reggie Wells, or Max Jean-Gilles providing an answer.
Reid chose Watkins as his answer, and Watkins therefore must produce to help solidify the right side of the line for Vick. If he can help effectively protect Vick, then it would do wonders for this team’s Super Bowl ambitions.
8) Brent Celek
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Celek being on this list is by no means any knock on his abilities. In fact, I believe Celek can become one of the best tight ends in the National Football League.
However, Celek will need to improve in consistency if he is to help take this Eagles offense to the next level.
While his pass catching abilities are excellent, Celek has had his share of dropped passes in 2010. He must eliminate those as much as possible to help this Eagles offense go from explosive to dominant.
At 6’4” and 255 pounds, Celek is the largest receiver that the Eagles have on their roster, and if he can take his production to the next level, he could be an excellent weapon in the red-zone.
And while his pass-protection has improved substantially, Celek has still suffered from some inconsistency there. If the rest of the line struggles, Celek is often placed primarily in a blocking role as he was in 2010.
If the line continues to struggle, then Celek must become a more formidable blocker, making him a more complete tight end and increasing the potential of this Eagles offense.
7) Nate Allen
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Like Celek, Allen’s spot on this list is not to call him out. Conversely, Allen has played well prior to his injury, showing that he is a ball-hawk with a knack for interceptions.
When he went down with injury, his high level of play was unable to be matched on the field by the reserves.
The Eagles will need Allen to bounce back and contribute to a struggling Eagles defense. With the pick they received from the Donovan McNabb trade, Allen was finally able to fill the void at free safety left by the departure of Eagles legend Brian Dawkins.
If Allen can come back and improved, then this Eagles team just improved significantly in pass-coverage, an area where they struggled mightily in 2010. Therefore, his return and strong play are essential if this Eagles team is to contend in 2011.
6) Jamaal Jackson
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Being lost again for the season in his very first game, Jackson was replaced by Mike McGlynn, who played well in his absence. But McGlynn was unable to match Jackson’s veteran presence and leadership.
It is therefore essential that Jackson return as soon as possible and return to his role as the starting center.
Jackson is known not just for his excellent blocking, but also for his leadership along the line. Strong leadership at the offensive line may do wonders to help improve the protection, as the offensive line effectiveness relies significantly on teamwork.
Hence, if Jackson can return healthy enough to reclaim his role as the starting center, he should do so to help this Eagles team.
5) Michael Vick
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Vick was a runner-up for the MVP award, and few can be displeased with his performance last season.Once he took the reigns at quarterback, this Eagles team went from rebuilding to one of the best teams in the conference, and had a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl had they beaten Green Bay in the Wild-Card round.
This Eagles team will go as far as Michael Vick will take them.
As a result, Vick will need to step up and not only match his 2010 performance, but also improve upon it.
As the season went on, Vick went from a dominant electrifying player to merely a good quarterback, as opposing defense began to effectively game-plan for him.
For all of Vick’s game-changing plays, it became more and more apparent that he had very real weaknesses. He did not have the quickest release, still relied upon his legs to escape pressure, and was not effective in recognizing blitzes.
Now with a full offseason to prepare (or let us hope we will have one), as opposing teams will attack his weaknesses, Vick must address them to remain an effective player. If they continue to blitz, Vick must study the playbook and recognize where the wide-open man is and get the ball to him quickly.
He must be less reckless with the football, and scramble less frequently to avoid costly turnovers (see Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings).
As special of a player Vick is, what is frightening for opponents is that he has the potential to be even greater than he is now. If Vick can improve and step up, he could become virtually unstoppable, therefore making this Eagles team the best team in the league.
4) Brandon Graham
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With three sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 2010, Graham did not play poorly for a rookie and has often been effective in putting pressure on opposing offenses.
However, after losing the starting job to Juqua Parker to start the season (although regaining it midway through the season,) and being lost with an ACL tear, Graham failed to make the immediate impact that many fans and coaches had hoped he would.
Graham is clearly instrumental to the future plans of the Eagles, as they traded up to the 13th overall pick to take him. And with a defensive line that has struggled to consistently pressure opponents, Graham will need to bounce back from his injury and develop into the second feared pass rusher opposite Trent Cole that the Eagles need.
If Graham can become an effective player in 2011, it would do wonders to help a struggling Eagles defense.
3) Jason Avant
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Avant did not play poorly in 2010, having made many big catches when the team needed them, but his once glue-like hands turned to stone in the red-zone.
I cannot recall a time when a drop cost the Eagles the game, but had he caught his red-zone touchdowns, the Eagles would not have needed to settle for so many field goals and would have blown out many of their opponents.
The Eagles recently re-signed Jason after the 2009 season to a five-year contract. They did so because they believed Avant was a lock at slot receiver.
However, the player whom coaches had once praised as perhaps the best slot receiver in all of football failed to live up to expectations in 2010, dropping every touchdown pass thrown to him in the end-zone.
Such inconsistent performance is likely the reason why Andy Reid is reported to be planning to make a move for the exiled Plaxico Burress.
If the Eagles fail to land Burress, they still have a talented young receiver who is capable of coming up big in the red-zone. I don’t know what has happened to Avant, but he must return to his reliable self in 2011, otherwise the Eagles may need to look for a new slot receiver to take his place.
This Eagles offense is too explosive and dangerous to allow costly drops to slow it down.
2) Stewart Bradley
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The player who was once on the brink of playing at a pro-bowl level was lost for the entire 2009 season with an ACL tear. When he returned in 2010, he was a shadow of his former self and is now speculated as potentially losing the starting middle linebacker position to standout second year player Jamar Chaney.
I would not have a problem with Chaney taking the middle linebacker position, as the young man has shown to be a tackling machine and is already a well-rounded defensive player. But I do have a problem with Bradley not producing to his full potential.
Too often he was slow to react and easily beat in pass coverage. In many ways, arguably the once most important defensive player had become a bit of a liability on defense.
Maybe what Bradley needs is to move to a different linebacker position, perhaps the strong-side that he played in college. This may suit his strengths more.
And perhaps he is still recovering from a nasty ACL injury and is adjusting to being away from football for an entire season. But Stewart Bradley is an integral player on this Eagles defense, and strong play from him is necessary for the Eagles to compete at a high level next season.
1) Winston Justice
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After a strong 2009 season, Justice suffered from inconsistent play all throughout 2010, with the most memorable being the complete domination by Clay Matthews in the Wild-Card loss to Green Bay. While Justice was playing through injury against one of the best pass-rushers in the league, he was nonetheless inconsistent throughout the 2010 season.
Andy Reid chose not to address the right tackle position in the draft, and is therefore likely expecting Justice to play well once again.This is a bold move because the right tackle position may be the most important position on the offense to fix at this moment.
Since Vick is a left-handed quarterback, the right tackle will protect his blindside. Vick cannot out-scramble opponents that he cannot see. Therefore, he must trust his protection there to be effective.
If Justice can develop into the strong right tackle that many had hoped he would become after 2009, then it will give Vick, and the Eagles, much more potential to be great.
But if he cannot, the effectiveness of this Eagles offense will always be held back by poor protection of its quarterback. Therefore, as Reid may be placing further trust into Justice, Winston Justice must step up in 2011 to contribute to the success of this Philadelphia Eagles football team.