Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Questions Surround Eagles As Regular Season Nears

From: 610 WIP

There is plenty of optimism surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles, and rightfully so. But as the team prepares for Thursday’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, there are still a number of questions waiting to be answered — starting with the linebackers.

While the Eagles added a trio of Pro-Bowl players to other areas of the defense through free agency (Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin) and the trade of Kevin Kolb (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), the organization, as it has done in recent years, chose to address the linebacker position via the draft.

Casey Matthews, a fourth round pick, is one of three linebackers taken by the Eagles this year. He joins Jamar Chaney, a seventh round pick last year, and Moise Fokou, who was selected in the same round in 2009, as the projected starters.

What the Eagles gained in experience in their secondary and along the defensive line, they still lack at linebacker. But that doesn’t seem to concern Philadelphia.

“The linebackers will be ready to win the Super Bowl,” said defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. “Remember, it takes 16 weeks, and then really whoever is playing their best during the playoffs. So when you look at it, there’s time to develop.”

The young core of linebackers had its troubles in the Eagles 24-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers — and it’s likely they won’t be alone in dealing with growing pains in 2011.  Safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen are both entering just their second year in the NFL. Allen is returning from a knee injury that prematurely ended his rookie season. Is he healthy enough to play?

“Well, you know, yes. He’s been practicing and it looks like he’s moving,” said Castillo. “I think part of it is just getting comfortable being back out there and having confidence in his knee.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles could have a pair of rookies lining up next to each other along the offensive line when the regular season opens on September 11.  It’s been expected that first round draft pick Danny Watkins will start at right guard. Now, Jason Kelce, the Eagles sixth round selection, is working with the first team offense and appears to have earned the opportunity to start at center over Jamal Jackson.

“Well, it’s not over, there’s competition,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. “You have to allow an opportunity for a player to see in many cases what that player can do. And we’ve done it with many different positions in the past, as you know, and sometimes the player grabs that opportunity and gets better daily. Sometimes it takes a little longer than that, but that’s where we’re at right now.”

And then there is the situation at right tackle. Who is the Eagles starter heading into the season opener, King Dunlap or Winston Justice? Justice is also coming back from a knee injury and has yet to play in a game this preseason. Dunlap started in the game against Pittsburgh and played well.

“We’ll see,” said Mornhinweg. “It was a great sign that King played at a high level, for the most part, there were a couple things that he could get better at real quick, easily correctable and quickly correctable, but that was a good thing for our football team and for King.”

A lot of question marks remain, but with the starting units typically getting the most playing time in the third preseason game, there may be a clearer picture after Thursday night’s contest against the Browns.

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