Bob Ford: Questioning assumptions about the Eagles
Are you ready? Of course you are ready. It has been six months since the Eagles melted in the Arizona desert. It is long enough that some of the painful details have been forgotten, but still recent enough that the taste of that impending Super Bowl - with just eight minutes and the Arizona Cardinals standing in the way - still lingers like a great cup of coffee spiked with sour milk.
Are you ready? Of course you are ready.
It has been six months since the Eagles melted in the Arizona desert. It is long enough that some of the painful details have been forgotten, but still recent enough that the taste of that impending Super Bowl - with just eight minutes and the Arizona Cardinals standing in the way - still lingers like a great cup of coffee spiked with sour milk.
Well, one more week and you finally can enter the new season and leave the old one behind. Rookies report to Lehigh University next Sunday, and the veterans a few days later. The new guys will cross the threshold and step back in time, back to the days when all NFL teams gathered in rural dormitories and sang school fight songs and tried to elude bed check.
Many teams have abandoned the ritual, preferring to hold training camp in their usual practice facilities, but the Eagles remain a throwback. They will sweat and suffer together, and their coach sees a benefit in that - and maybe he's right. It's hard to quantify.
Right or wrong, city or country, practice facility or college field, every team goes into the season with some uncertainties. Every media outlet worth its ink or link will present "Five Biggest Questions This Season," stories that are as predictable as the season itself is not.
In the interest of going green and dispensing with the subject in a single paragraph, we'll save you some reading time: Sean McDermott, Westbrook knee, pass rush, Sheldon Brown, tight end.
There are other issues, of course, but those will do for now and will dominate the early news and the easy angles.
For a change of pace, let's look at the "Five Questions That Rarely Will Be Asked." Or not asked at all. Or areas that are assumed to be so decided they won't register a tick on the seismic scale of organizational worry.
It won't be until the real games begin that the real issues will emerge. It would have been hard to predict a year ago the things that would trip up the Eagles in the end. Many of the assumptions of training camp were proved wrong, and many of the Five Biggest Questions were answered before the asking had even been completed.
The Linebackers Are Just Fine - After being a weak link in the Eagles' defense for years, the linebacking corps now is viewed as a strength.
Stewart Bradley replaced Omar Gaither as the middle linebacker last season, and Akeem Jordan then supplanted Gaither as the weakside linebacker, with Chris Gocong as the strong-side linebacker.
It is a hard-nosed group that can fill the gaps and be effective as run-stuffers, but whether these linebackers can cover pass receivers is still, like the passes themselves, up in the air.
If opponents have been paying attention, they will test the linebackers early in the season to find the answer to that question. The Eagles had better be right, because the position is very thin beyond the starters.
Donovan McNabb Proved His Durability - After enduring several unrelated injuries for three seasons, the quarterback was able to stay healthy and stay on the field all of last season - with the exception of one half in Baltimore.
McNabb went through his usual rigorous off-season conditioning program and comes back to the team motivated for further redemption and empowered by an upgraded contract. He will turn 33 in November, but should be in great shape.
He has been remarkably unlucky, however, and if last season was the fluke and not the fact of his late-career reform, the Eagles truly are sunk. Internally, there have to be questions as to whether Kevin Kolb is ready, or ever will be, to perform at this level.
The Schedule Won't Present Any Surprises - Of course, that's what they said before the Cincinnati game last season, a low-point tie sandwiched between a disappointing home loss to the Giants and the debacle against the Ravens.
The Eagles have only three games this season against teams that had losing records last season. They also have five games against teams that were 8-8. Which way are those teams going, up or down?
And beware of the cross-country trip on Oct. 18 to play the Oakland Raiders, the team whose final-day miracle against Tampa Bay boosted the Eagles into the playoffs.
Those Kids Are Going To Be Very Exciting - Well, yes, if they can play at this level. Draft picks Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy bring great speed to the offense and - in the case of Maclin - a presumptive upgrade in the return game.
But rookies are still rookies until proven otherwise. And smallish, slight rookies have to be able to accept the pounding, remain healthy, and learn their roles. It will be great if all that happens, but there is no guarantee.
The Offensive Line Is Fixed - The only problem is that most of the revamped group is either coming off surgery, playing a new position, of uncertain motivation, or wasn't that overwhelming as part of the previous group.
This could well work, but it represents a lot of change for one off-season, and putting it together as a cohesive front wall will be a work in progress for the first half of the season.
It's possible these unasked questions will never have to be asked, but they are lurking, hidden by the larger questions that everyone will be asking.
Are you ready? Of course you are ready. But finding the real questions is sometimes as difficult as finding the ultimate answers.