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Get these questions right and the Eagles can go a long way


By the end of the week the Eagles will have their full team at Lehigh University, for the first time in 14 years that will not include Brian Dawkins and for the first time in 10 years Jim Johnson.

Replacing both the heart and the brains of the defense are just two of the questions the team must answer during their short stay in Bethlehem this summer before camp reconvenes at the NovaCare Complex.

Here are a few more that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Can Donovan McNabb get it done?: There are no more excuses for the quarterback, who enters his 11th year with a good amount of success but with the only ring on his finger the one from his wife.

The Eagles did all they could for McNabb this offseason. They rebuilt his aging offensive line by trading for left tackle Jason Peters and signing right guard Stacy Andrews. They added explosiveness to the offense with their first two picks in the draft – wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy.

And perhaps just as important as the first two, the Eagles handed McNabb a nice raise over the next two years to keep him happy.

Now, all he has to do is win a Super Bowl.

Is Brian Westbrook healthy?: The Westbrook is finished story is going to appear somewhere, just not here.

In the short term the procedures to clean out his ankle and knee are probably a good thing.

Now with that said, the days of him being a 2,000-total-yard back are probably in the past. What you can probably expect is something closer to 1,500 total yards, which is one of the reasons McCoy is on the roster.

Westbrook isn’t finished, but he may near the end. Again, that’s why this year is so important.

How much can you expect from Maclin and McCoy?: The two dynamic rookies better contribute something.

Maclin, at worst, will be the team’s punt returner. But you should expect more. He might not get the work that DeSean Jackson got last year as a rookie, but that all happened because of injuries to Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, but expect to see him used in certain situations and maybe even be the No. 3 receiver by the playoffs.

McCoy will be Westbrook’s top backup, which means he should get the kind of work Correll Buckhalter got in the past, and maybe more. It would not be out of the question to see him get about eight carries a game and catch a couple passes as well.

Should the team have added a veteran tight end?: Yes, but it didn’t. Tony Gonzalez, for one, would have made this offense almost impossible to stop. But he’s in Atlanta and Brent Celek is the man.

Celek showed signs of being very good, (10 catches and two TDs in the NFC title game) but also signs of inconsistency (seven catches the final five games of the season) last year.

The Eagles run a tight-end friendly offense, so he will get his chances. I’d still like to see a veteran backup added just for insurance purposes at this point.

What about the changes on the offensive line?: They are for the better.

Listen, Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan were great players for a long time and one day they should be honored together in a pre-game ceremony in which they both go onto the Wall of Fame.

Age and injury, as it often does, has taken its toll.

Thomas might not even make it in Jacksonville and Runyan is still out with that microfracture and has yet to work out for a team.

The Eagles needed to move on and they did with Peters, a Pro Bowl left tackle and Andrews, a solid and versatile player.

What may be the key to it all is will Shawn Andrews be able to make the switch to right tackle?

Who is the key on defense?: This might surprise you, but the answer is Victor Abiamiri, the 2007 second-round pick.

If Abiamiri wins the starting left defensive end job and the team is hoping that happens, the rest of the front four falls into place rather nicely.

Abiamiri has the classic left end look, he just needs to show he can play it and be the perfect complement to right end Trent Cole.

That would allow Juqua Parker and Chris Clemons to be strictly speed pass rushers, which is what they do best.

Are the young linebackers good enough? They’re not bad. They certainly are not liabilities. But they do need to step up and make more big plays.

Weakside starter Akeem Jordan played in all 19 games last year, counting the postseason, started the final nine and did not have a sack or an interception and did not force a fumble. That’s unacceptable for that position.

Strongside linebacker Chris Gocong had two sacks and forced a fumble.

The total interceptions by the linebackers last year was one – by middle linebacker Stewart Bradley.

What’s up with Sheldon Brown?: The veteran cornerback isn’t going to be happy until the team gives him a new contract, and that likely is not going to happen.

Brown, however, has made his case known and is ready to play football. I wouldn’t expect him to continue to complain throughout the season.

Now it’s up to the team to not treat him the way they have others who have complained in the past. Brown is better than newly-acquired cornerback Ellis Hobbs and should in no way lose his job to him.

Is there a problem with the team’s kickers?: David Akers, once among the best kickers in the league, ranked just 23rd in accuracy last year and was not able to hit the long ones the way he once did.

Punter Sav Rocca was in the middle of the pack in terms of gross average, net average and percentage of kicks inside the 20.

It’s a little surprising the team didn’t spend a late-round draft pick for some real competition in camp.

Now, about Dawkins and Johnson: Both are going to be missed. How much will determine if this season ends too soon, or not.

Dawkins’ free safety job will be a battle between Quintin Demps and Sean Jones. As far as his leadership role that will be almost impossible to replace.

Johnson’s job as defensive coordinator has been handed to Sean McDermott, a bright, young long-time assistant.

McDermott could be fine. The problem could be the rest of the inexperienced staff around him.


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