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2009 Eagles: Better than the 2008 version?

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Philadelphia Eagles

There will be players missing who you thought would probably be here forever and players here who you never thought would be.

As a busier than expected offseason winds to a close and training camp opens in less than two months, the only real question to ask about the 2009 Eagles is are they better than the 2008 group that walked off the field in Arizona last January a game short of the Super Bowl.

Let’s take a look.

For the first time since 1986, Buddy Ryan’s rookie year as head coach, the Eagles spent their first two draft picks on offensive skill players – wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy. They also traded a first-round pick to Buffalo for left tackle Jason Peters, spent a good chunk of their free agent money on guard/tackle Stacy Andrews and finally decided having a real fullback wasn’t a bad idea and signed Leonard Weaver away from Seattle.

Guess which side of the ball they felt needed the most improvement?

Last year’s offense ranked 6th in the league in points scored and 9th in yards gained. It ranked 22nd in the league rushing the ball and 6th passing it.

Still changes needed to be made.

Along the offensive line tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan hit free agency at ages 34 and 35 respectively. Ironically, and not sure if you knew this, their birthdays are exactly a week apart.

Thomas, not even offered a contract by the Eagles, signed a modest three-year, $7 million deal with Jacksonville.

Runyan had microfracture surgery, remains unsigned, and while he wants to continue his career, will have to wait until he’s healthy to even get a look.

So the two bookends who have tried to keep Donovan McNabb upright for the past decade are gone.

Peters comes from Buffalo as a self-made Pro Bowl player, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent tight end.

If he’s motivated after signing a new contract that guaranteed him $25 million and could earn him $60 million over the next six years, the Eagles upgraded.

“Right now, it’s not even close between him and Tra,’’ a personnel man for another team, said. “Peters today vs. Tra at his best, that’s tough to say. They’re a little different kind of player.’’

To replace Runyan the Eagles have two options, both are named Andrews.

Originally the plan was to plug Stacy, the free agent signing from Cincinnati, in at right tackle.

Now, it appears that Shawn, a Pro Bowl guard who missed most of last year with a bad back, will play right tackle and his older brother will play right guard.

“I think they’re a little concerned about the knee,’’ an AFC pro scout said of Stacy Andrews, who suffered a serious knee injury last season. “They have guys they can put at guard, if he’s not ready. You want to be set at tackle.’’

If the Andrews’ brothers are healthy, the Eagles line could be as good as it ever was and as good as any in the NFC.

As for the rest of the offense, rookies Maclin and McCoy add two more versatile weapons to an attack that already had versatile weapons in running back Brian Westbrook and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. If all four of them are on the field at the same time, defensive coordinators are going to have the kind of match-up problems they dread.

The Eagles defense lost it’s heart when Brian Dawkins, after 13 years at free safety, left as a free agent for Denver and could lose it’s soul if coordinator Jim Johnson’s health does not allow him to coach this season.

Johnson, battling cancer, is on an indefinite leave of absence from the team.

From a personnel standpoint the Eagles felt a unit that ranked 4th in the league in points allowed and 3rd in yards allowed didn’t need much tweaking.

Safety Sean Jones was signed from Cleveland to compete with second-year man Quintin Demps for Dawkins’ old job, and cornerback Ellis Hobbs came by way of trade from New England to add to an already-talented group of corners.

Up front the team hopes that a pair of second-round picks from Notre Dame, end Victor Abiramiri and tackle Trevor Laws can bolster a group that at least on paper looks to be deeper than it has been in years.

If Abiramiri can win the left end spot opposite pass rusher Trent Cole and Laws can be an effective No. 3 tackle behind starters Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley the defensive line will be very good.

And so will the defense, even without Dawkins and perhaps Johnson.

So are the 2009 Eagles better than the 2008 team?

They look to be.

Now the question is are they better than the 2009 Giants?