As many have noted by now, the Philadelphia Eagles have stockpiled talent this season through trades and free agency and are poised to be one of the league's better teams. But with great talent comes great expectations, and the Eagles still have a lot of question marks that need to be answered.
In the NFL, teams will find their opponent's weakness and exploit it to their maximum ability. The overall talent of this team may conceal some of their deficiencies, but if the Eagles want to legitimately strike fear into their opponents and be considered Super Bowl favorites, those aforementioned deficiencies need to be addressed.
Coming into this offseason, the Eagles had a myriad of problems but were still considered one of the top 10 teams in the league. For the most part, the Eagles addressed all of those problems but then came questions about cohesiveness and if the new acquisitions would have adequate time to familiarize themselves with their new system.
The preseason is the time to iron out the wrinkles and tinker with the roster. If the Eagles' management does a successful job at this and the team manages to stay relatively injury free, then the Eagles should be able to address all of the questions with their play on the field starting Sept. 8.
Quarterback Michael Vick is an amazing athlete and last season he developed into an amazing quarterback as well. The problem with having Vick as your starting quarterback is that he is more susceptible to injury than other quarterbacks due to his small frame and the way he exposes his body when he scrambles.
Last season the Eagles had an insurance plan in case Vick got hurt: backup quarterback Kevin Kolb. This offseason they traded Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals in return for a second round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Thus the Eagles needed to find another competent backup, which they did by signing former Titans starting quarterback Vince Young.
Young is new to Andy Reid's West Coast offense and reports from training camp indicate that he is slightly behind the learning curve. The lockout did not help Young's development and in essence he has only six weeks to learn this new system before the season starts. During training camp, Young has thrown a few "McNabb-like passes" into the dirt and has had several more passes intercepted when compared to the other quarterbacks, so he still has a long way to go in terms of development.
All signs point to Young being listed as the Eagles' No. 2 quarterback on their depth chart, but Young will need to show he can be effective during the preseason if he is to be Vick's backup because there is a chance Vick will go down with an injury. Young's development and progress learning this new system will help Reid & Co. sleep better at night.
The talent level in the Eagles' secondary has improved drastically this offseason with the addition of cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. Both players are Pro Bowl-level talents who join incumbent Pro Bowler Asante Samuel to give the Eagles a fearsome secondary.
The question about this bunch is where will defensive coordinator Juan Castillo play three Pro Bowl cornerbacks and will they be able to adapt and play to Castillo's system?
During a training camp press conference, Castillo mentioned that Asomugha proposed Castillo use him as the Green Bay Packers used cornerback Charles Woodson last season. This would mean Asomugha would not be solely playing one side of the field but be lined up at different positions depending on the defensive scheme.
Implementing this type of defense will limit Asomugha in man-to-man coverage, which he does best, but it will also allow him to be a more active participant in the defense. The preseason is the time to play with Asomugha at different spots and see how he handles various assignments such as blitzing and zone coverage, which he is not normally accustomed to.
Another question in the Eagles' secondary is the safety positions. Last season, the Eagles used rookie Nate Allen and longtime player Quintin Mikell at the safety spots, but they declined to re-sign Mikell and Allen went down late last season with a torn patellar tendon. In Allen's absence, fellow rookie Kurt Coleman debuted as safety and played at an average level.
This season, Allen will be returning as safety but who will start at the other safety position is still unknown. With their second round pick, the Eagles drafted Temple's Jaiquawn Jarrett who compete with Coleman and free agent signee Jarrad Page for the other safety position. Keep an eye on who wins this battle during the preseason, as both players are still very inexperienced and Page has yet to learn the defense. Another detail to watch out for is whether Allen is returning at full strength or if the injury is still having lingering effects.
The Eagles' offensive line last season allowed 49 sacks and struggled mightily at times due to injuries and lack of overall talent. The Eagles resolved to address this issue this offseason by convincing legendary former Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd to return from retirement.
The main problem concerning the offensive line last season was the right side, so the Eagles elected to use their first round pick on right guard Danny Watkins and signed free agent right tackle Ryan Harris and guard Evan Mathis this offseason.
The new additions provide the Eagles with depth on their line to remedy the injury problems last season, but the new system of attacking the opposing defensive line rather than waiting for the attack is putting everyone, including the veterans, back at square one.
It usually takes time for a new offensive line to mesh, and with this shortened offseason, the Eagles will have to use the preseason more than they have in the past to expedite the cohesiveness of their line. If the line can limit the pressure Vick receives and give him more time to make his necessary reads, then the sky is the limit for this offense.
The much-documented holdout of wide receiver DeSean Jackson and the undisclosed illness of his running mate Jeremy Maclin leaves fans with plenty of questions concerning the Eagles' receiving corps. The recent signing of former New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith lessens some of the concern, but Smith will not likely see action for the first month of the season due to an injury sustained last season.
Jackson and Maclin are two of the vital cogs in this offense that allowed it to be one of the league's most explosive and set several new franchise records last season. If these two players are unable to play at the start of the season, then the Eagles will have to rely on second-year receiver Riley Cooper and slot receiver Jason Avant. Jackson has reported to camp but has yet to fully practice with the team. In all likelihood, he will be available for the start of the season.
Maclin is a totally different story. Maclin reported to the start of camp but due to mononucleosis-like symptoms, it has been reported he has lost a considerable amount of weight and has yet to practice with the team. Team physicians said they would need to perform several more tests on Maclin to determine the cause of his illness, but as recently as Wednesday, Aug. 10, Maclin was sent home to St. Louis to be examined by his local doctors.
Maclin and Jackson are like yin and yang and if one is absent, then it limits the effectiveness of the other. Jackson keeps defenses honest with his game-breaking speed and forces teams to play their safeties deep, which opens up the underneath routes for Maclin. Maclin is a speedster himself and with a bigger frame and quality hands, his play does not allow defenses to put double coverage on Jackson.
Coach Andy Reid stated that Maclin will be available for the start of the season but with its commencement less than a month away, all signs point to Maclin at least missing a few games. The development of the Eagles' other receivers and their rapport with Vick is crucial to the success of this offense. The preseason is the time for Vick to work on his timing with his third and fourth-string receivers to see if one of them, namely Avant, will at least temporarily be able to fill Maclin's shoes.
I can easily say the linebacker corps is the Eagles' weakest position, but that does not necessarily mean it is a weakness for the team. The Eagles elected not to re-sign starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and instead used their fourth, sixth and seventh round picks on Oregon's Casey Matthews, Ohio State's Brian Rolle and Connecticut's Greg Lloyd, respectively.
The Eagles' starting linebacker rotation at this point seems to be Moise Fokou at weakside linebacker, Matthews starting at middle linebacker and Jamar Chaney at strong side backer. This leaves the play-calling duties in the hands of the rookie Matthews and the only experienced starter in Fokou. This shows the Eagles are heavily relying on the pressure they assume their defensive front, mentored by Jim Washburn, can provide to hide the inexperience of their linebackers.
One member of this group that may provide some relief for his fellow linebacker teammates is Jamar Chaney. In the limited time he saw the playing field last season filling in for the injured Bradley, Chaney was a tackling machine that displayed excellent instinct and stellar speed. If he can continue to progress the way he did toward the end of last season, then he will be able to help Matthews with his adjustment.
The preseason will be the time the Eagles coaches get to evaluate the play of Matthews and decide if they want to enter the season with him as their starting middle linebacker or possibly move Chaney to that position and look internally or to free agency to fill the strong side position.