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Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Questions That Need to Be Answered Before Week 1

WesAnalyst IAugust 14, 2011

Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Questions That Need to Be Answered Before Week 1

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    There is no question the Eagles are in the discussion when figuring out who can win the Super Bowl this year.

    But there are plenty of questions that still need to be answered before the Eagles head out to St. Louis to open the season.

    The Rams may not be a great team right now, but you don't want to go on the road with too many uncertainties to start the season. It can lead to a quick loss and some panic to spread around the city.

    Here's something to consider though when going through this: Every team has questions, every team has concerns and every team has weaknesses.

    Don't take it personal or get bent out of shape. These are realistic concerns facing the Eagles and they are fortunate enough to have realistic answers, which is something other teams cannot say they have.

No. 5: Backup Quarterback

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    Vince Young didn't look good against the Baltimore Ravens and neither did Mike Kafka.

    That's okay though. I'm going to take it easy on them and give each a pass due to the NFL lockout limiting their practice time.

    I'm probably going to catch some flak for my negative remarks. Most people will cite Young's 32-yard pass to Chad Hall in which he eluded the pass rush, rolled to the left and found the open target.

    It was a nice SportsCenter play, but it looked like he had a receiver open on the right side before the rush got to him. Did he have time to go through his progressions? Should he have known that was going to be open without having to go through the reads?

    I don't know. Look, I'm in the same boat as you watching the game on TV. But it's a questions worth asking and it's something the fans might be concerned about before the season starts.

    Perhaps I'm just being a little too critical. The bad news is I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger said Young could not be the No. 2 quarterback at this point of the preseason.

    I understand Young has not had much time to work with Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg and the rest of the offense. But if you don't think the backup quarterback is a major question right now you'd be lying to yourself.

    Here's the good news: If our backup is a major concern, I'd say the Eagles are doing a lot of things right.

No. 4: Linebackers

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    Casey Matthews and the rest of the first-unit linebackers looked great in the preseason opener outside of blowing a coverage against Ray Rice. The four-year pro from Rutgers snuck out of the backfield undetected, caught a short pass and turned it into a 29-yard gain.

    The real concern actually came when I looked at the personnel for the Ravens. They might have the worst offensive weapons for a team thought of as a Super Bowl contender.

    Joe Flacco is a great young quarterback, and Rice has a ton of talent. But their receivers and tight ends are terrible as a group. Anquan Boldin roamed around out there and then what? 

    The Ravens obviously noticed this and sent a fourth-round draft pick to the Buffalo Bills for Lee Evans two days after the game.

    It sucks that the Eagles are not going to great offenses for the rest of the preseason as they face Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the New York Jets.

    But if they linebackers are as a good as they looked against the Ravens they should dominate the rest of their opponents in the preseason and go into their Week 1 matchup against St. Louis with a ton of confidence.

No. 3: Kicking Game

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    Let me start this off by saying I absolutely love seeing kickoffs from the 35-yard line.

    Last year the Eagles were solid against on kickoff coverage and ranked 12th in the NFL allowing 21.8 yards per kickoff. But do you really want to see a team like the Rams score off a kickoff return as they try to steal away a win from the Eagles?

    The other positive aspect about the rule change is it benefits rookie kicker Alex Henery, who has plenty of strength to record several touchbacks per game.

    The other great thing about the rule change is it prevents the Eagles from suffering any injuries. I know a lot of these guys are second stringers or fringe starters, but you don't want any injuries, especially this season.

    With one hurdle cleared we need to wonder if if Henery can consistently convert on field goal attempts. At Nebraska he was clutch converting 68 of 76 field goal attempts.

    And if you think it doesn't matter because it was only Nebraska, you need to think again. Football in Nebraska may be bigger than it is on Philadelphia.

    In a story run by the Wilmington New Journal, Henery talked about kicking in Nebraska and how he performed in pressure situations:

    "People say fans are crazy here, but football is all they really follow in Nebraska, I had my big kicks, both in the Big 12 Championship and in Colorado where it is cold, so I kind of think it transfers over. It is a big mental game."

    If Henery wants to succeed, he will need to rely on fellow rookie Chas Henry who will be the new holder for the Eagles.

    And when Henry is done his holding duties he will need to focus on helping the Eagles gain field position through punts.

    Fortunately for both players the time on the clock in preseason games will not dictate when they play. The continued exposure to game-time situations will hopefully answer a lot more questions than cause concerns.

    On a totally random note, here are three ways to remember who is who and how to spell their last name:

    Alex Henery is No.6, Chas Henry is No.8

    Henery's number is a multiple of threes, which goes along with kicking field goals.

    Henery's name has an additional "e." To remember that, think of the "e" in extra point.

    Cute, no?

No. 2: Starting Offensive Line

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    Jason Peters is the only definite on the offensive line right now.

    Todd Heremanns, Jamaal Jackson, Danny Watkins and Ryan Harris each stand a chance to lose their position on the line. The chances are slim for some players, while others will battle for their place through the final game against the New York Jets.

    Regardless of who gets the starting position, they need to earn their spot. You do not want to see someone choke it away.

    Collectively, they have the responsibility of pretecting Mike Vick, the most important player on the team.

    If there is a weak link along the line it can cause everyone elses play to deteriorate. Imagine if Jackson stinks up the joint. Watkins will slide down to protect from the inside out, and it will ultimately give opponents a solid pass rush from the outside and expose Vick to potential blind-side hits.

    And if the line doesn't come together, Brent Celek will find himself blocking instead of using his great pass-catching skills.

    I thought this crew had the biggest questions heading into camp. All of that changed with some drama and mysteries provided by the next group of players on this list.

No. 1: Wide Receivers

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    What's wrong with Jeremy Maclin? Is he going to be the same explosive player from last year?

    Will DeSean Jackson's contract be a distraction?

    When will newly signed receiver Steve Smith be ready? Will he be able to play like he did in 2009?

    Can Jason Avant and Riley Cooper fill in if needed?

    Maclin's illness has been called a mystery, and no one can confidently say he will return for the season opener. The only thing that sounded promising was when Eagles' President Joe Banner spoke before the Ravens game. He said it will be up to Jeremy to talk about his illness because it is a personal issue.

    It could be implied both sides know what's wrong, but it is on Maclin to reveal what's going on, or it simply means that no one has a clue and when an answer comes along it will be up to Maclin to go public with it or not.

    Without Maclin on the field the Eagles' offense is not as explosive and is not as versatile. Maclin had the speed to stretch a defense like Jackson and the toughness to go across the middle like Jason Avant.

    He brought a unique skill set to the team, but we are left wondering if and when we will see that this season.

    Obviously if Maclin is out, Jackson will have an opportunity to shine. But if Maclin is out, does it give Jackson some added leverage to ask for an extension?

    And even if Maclin does come back, will Jackson ever get passive-aggressive with the media and make comments about his contract throughout the season? Can you imagine Jackson saying something like, "Hey, that's why they don't pay me the big bucks?" 

    Jackson is already running his mouth about something unrelated. He recently said Smith was brought on board as insurance for Maclin even though the Eagles front office denied this at the time of the signing.

    Oops.

    As for why Smith is here, really doesn't matter. He was a stud in 2009 catching 107 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns and he could clearly add something to this team if he can overcome a knee injury he suffered last year, which caused him to undergo microfracture knee surgery.

    The surgery has resulted in the Eagles placing Smith on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list according to the Press of Atlantic City.

    By placing him on the list now he can still be activated before the season starts. But if he is left on the list he must sit out the first six weeks.

    If Smith and Maclin are both out Avant and Cooper will be called on.

    It may not sound like the absolute worst news in the world, but you have to wonder how long they can fill the void if they are called upon.

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