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Worried about the Eagles defense? You should be


Maybe I should have just watched the Phillies run away with the National League East in August.

Because the more I see of the Eagles, the less I like them.

Before training camp started and before Stewart Bradley and Cornelius Ingram tore their ACLs, Shawn Andrews injured his back, Todd Herremans had surgery on his foot and Stacy Andrews and Jason Peters were still considered major additions, I thought this Eagles team was good.

Real good, like potentially going to the Super Bowl good. There were some reservations since I thought the Giants were good, too, and they happen to reside in the same NFC East.

But I thought the Eagles had a chance.

Now, as August becomes September and the regular season opener is less than two weeks away, I’m not sure what to think. But I’m not booking any flights to Miami just yet.

Much of my concern is on the defensive side of the ball where there are a handful of players I like and a lot more that are just guys. That’s the term most scouts use to define an average player, as in, “He’s just a guy.’’

On the line, I like right end Trent Cole and both starting tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley, although Bunkley should be better than he is, being a high first-round pick. Actually, I kind of like No. 3 tackle, Trevor Laws, too, in his role.

I want to like left end Victor Abiamiri, but he’s hurt too much to get too excited about.

Abiamiri was a key to the defense this season. If he could hold down the left end spot, on first and second down, it would allow the Eagles pass rushers – Darren Howard inside and Juqua Parker outside a chance to be just pass rushers.

It hasn’t worked out as easily as the team would have liked.

Neither has the play of the linebackers.

Finally, the team made the move that needed to be made and one The Eye pointed out a week ago in re-inserting Omar Gaither in the middle.

Not that Gaither is heading to the Pro Bowl, but he’s better than Joe Mays, the second-year man who was handed the job when Bradley went down.

What Gaither provides that the Eagles outside linebackers – Chris Gocong and Akeem Jordan – lack is playmaking ability.

In his 31 previous starts, 16 in the middle and 15 on the weakside Gaither has made 7 ½ “big plays’’ that’s a sack, an interception, a forced fumble or a fumble recovery.

Jordan has made one in nine starts, counting the postseason, and Gocong has made five in 31 starts.

Gaither is also a good cover linebacker and with the amount of good tight ends the Eagles face that is going to be crucial.

“I think any time you are an aggressive defense you have to be able to react to play-action pass,’’ defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said, Sunday. “(Gaither) brings a lot to the table in the passing game. He’s a very aware and instinctive player.

“My biggest thing is that I want to see Omar come out and handle the reigns of the defense in terms of leadership, make the huddle call, get us lined up, quarterback the defense.’’

While the cornerbacks are also good, and probably the deepest position on the team, there is still a major question at free safety where Quintin Demps has the inside track to replace Brian Dawkins.

Demps still makes his share of mistakes and lately rookie Victor “Macho’’ Harris has been getting more and more reps.

McDermott says he is not disappointed. That it’s just youth.

“You’re looking at several young players in Demps and Harris who are learning on the run,’’ the young coordinator said. “There are going to be mistakes, you just don’t want the same mistake twice.’’

Mistakes at defensive tackle can help an offense get a first down. Mistakes in the secondary, especially at free safety, can lead to touchdowns.

That’s the scary part.

Offensively, the worry is the offensive line where the group expected to start the season – Peters and Shawn Andrews at tackle, Herremans and Stacy Andrews at guard and Jamaal Jackson at center has not taken a snap together. Not one.

Eventually, they will.

Peters and Stacy Andrews played last week against Jacksonville. Shawn Andrews returned to practice this week.

If, and when, that line starts to gel the offense, with the deepest group of skill players in the Andy Reid Era and maybe ever, will score points.

And they may have to score a lot, because the defense really has me concerned.


photo: www.lisa-olsen.fanhouse.com