Eagles Chat: A time for hopes and fears

The Inquirer's Ashley Fox answers questions about Eagles after the first weekend of training camp.

Peter Mucha: Welcome, Ashley. For those not up on their Inquirer writers, Ashley is a sports columnist who has also been covering the NFL for several years. So, Ashley, what's the biggest question entering camp?
Ashley Fox: Hey there. Thanks for having me. The biggest question has to be the overall health of Donovan McNabb, and whether he can be effective playing on his surgically repaired knee. He said over the weekend that he's 75 percent there. He's got about five weeks to get to 100.
Peter Mucha: Do you think he will by the opener?
Ashley Fox: I think he'll be close, but the general rule for knee injuries of this kind is a year. I bet he won't feel totally healthy until sometime midway through the season.
Archman: Hey Ashley- There has been much said about the new faces in the linebacking corps, and also about one old face, Trotter. Do you think Spikes and Gocong along with Trotter makes for a better crew? Considering the old age of Trotter/Spikes and the inexperience of Gocong?
Ashley Fox: The Eagles have definitely upgraded their linebackers, and don't forget about Omar Gaither. He's going to get significant playing time, which should help Trotter and Spikes. Gocong is the one that you just don't know about yet, because he's never played the position.
Peter Mucha: After McNabb, what position is the team's biggest concern? I keep hearing Kearse is way underweight.
Ashley Fox: Andy said that Kearse has put on some weight, and we'll get to see for ourselves later this afternoon when the veterans report. It's going to be interesting to watch the entire defensive line, but particularly Broderick Bunkley at d-tackle. This is going to be a big camp for him.
Archman: What do you think about Tony Hunt. Will he be able to pick up the system fast enough to get any playing time? Is it too early to tell if he'll be the big bruising back we've all wanted for some time now?
Ashley Fox: I know that fans have been pining for a big bruising back, and we'll see. He could take over the Correll Buckhalter role -- short yardage, goalline situations. Tony's got good size. This camp will be big for him, too, to show the coaches he can handle the load. It might be a little too early, though.
Peter Mucha: I keep hearing that after McNabb that Westbrook is the team's most vital cog. Do you think he'll get more carries as a runner this season?
Ashley Fox: If Andy learned anything from last season, it was that Westbrook can handle a bigger role carrying the football. The beauty of Westbrook is that he creates mismatches, especially with linebackers. Obviously McNabb needs to stay healthy this season. But right behind him is Westbrook. He's almost just as important.
Peter Mucha: Do you think keeping McNabb healthy is the main reason to bolster the running game?
Ashley Fox: It is a big reason. And Westbrook can handle it, and wants to handle it. The Eagles would much rather see Westbrook running with the ball than McNabb, if only from a health standpoint.
George: The Eagles seem to put wide receiver at the end of their list. Is there anyone who can consistently outrun and outgun defenders?
Ashley Fox: Well, they think Kevin Curtis can do that. He's got the speed, he's smart, it's just the same thing we seem to talk about every year: how soon can he and McNabb find their groove. Since McNabb has to do this just about every year -- T.O., Stallworth, Curtis, etc -- it shouldn't be that big of a deal. And I know they like Baskett with the long ball.
Bryan: Are the new WR corp being hyped a little too much? I thought that Avant last year looked to be a WR that could impress with some experience under his belt but got little reps. Also is Greg Lewis going to be playing elsewhere this year?
Ashley Fox: I would expect to see more Avant this year, but he's at least fourth on the depth chart. Baskett jumped ahead of him last year, and will get a lot of looks. And I'm not sure about Lewis. I've never been a big Greg Lewis fan, but when he has to make catches, he does, and the Eagles value that. But there comes a point when someone's got to go, and if it was my decision, I'd cut Lewis.
Peter Mucha: Should we worry about tight end? I thought the Eagles should have used a high pick for one, especially with L.J. Smith in the last year of his contract. And then he needed surgery.
Ashley Fox: I'm looking forward to seeing L.J. Smith in camp. They're going to be really careful with him, too. I was surprised the Eagles didn't pick up another tight end in the draft, in part because of Smith's injury but also because he'll be a free agent after this season. He's someone I would like to stay here. He's a reliable receiver, he's a good locker room guy and he's developing into a leader.
Ray Bretschneider: Now that McNabb is back, will we continue the 50-50 pass to run?
Ashley Fox: These are Andy Reid's Eagles we're talking about. So I doubt it.
John: Why do the coaches have so much confidence in Broderick Bunkley's ability to be difference maker when he couldn't even get on the field last year? What has changed?
Ashley Fox: That's a great question. His situation was complicated last year. Holding out of training camp definitely put him way behind, but also I think he wore down as the season went on. He seems to understand now what it's going to take to play in the NFL. He's worked hard in the offseason. And he has a lot of talent, plus good size. They think that he's learned from last year. I'd put him in the top five things to watch in training camp.
Peter Mucha: Among the rookies and second-year guys who didn't play last year (like Gocong and Bloom), who are the coaches counting on the most?
Ashley Fox: Gocong definitely fits into that category. And he's probably the biggest unknown, aside from the Australian Rules Football punter. Andy told me yesterday that he thinks Gocong will be fine transitioning from defensive end (his position at Cal Poly) to linebacker. But even Gocong admitted to me later, it's one thing to understand a position, it's another to be able to play it without thinking. To me, Bloom is more of an experiment. If it works, great. If not, it's not that big of a loss.
Peter Mucha: I thought Andy Reid did a great job switching things up last season, letting Mornhinweg call the plays and going more with the running game. But some people have said that teams have gotten too famililar with Jim Johnson's schemes. Can we expect some change in coaching philosophy or tactics on defense?
Ashley Fox: I think Jim is always trying to shake things up, and move guys around. If everyone stays healthy -- always a big if -- then he's got a lot of tools to work with. They'll again likely keep 10 linemen. They've got depth at linebacker, and players who can slide into multiple positions. Remember the first couple of games last year? How Johnson was moving Kearse around? He was very creative, and I think we'll see more of that, as long as guys can stay healthy.
Felix: How will David Akers be affected with the loss of his favorite holder
Ashley Fox: That's a good question. I haven't talked to David about that yet, but we all know how fond he is/was of Detmer. And you can't forget Mike Bartrum, their long-time long snapper who retired. I think the plan now is for Dirk Johnson to hold, but I'm not sure what the auxillary plan is if he gets beat out at punter. I know they were working two guys at long snapper yesterday, but I don't think that job is settled either.
Archman: This is somewhat random...do you think the Eagles will go after Lance Briggs in the next offseason?
Ashley Fox: Wouldn't that be something? I would love to see Lance Briggs here. He gets overshadowed by Urlacher in Chicago, and he wants to go somewhere and be the man, not just the man 1A. But he is going to be expensive, a top-dollar guy. Will they shell out the cash for him? I wouldn't be surprised if they did, but I certainly haven't heard anything about whether they are interested or not. Everyone will be interested.
Ray Bretschneider: I like the rookie from Hawaii, how many rb's will make this team, and who are on that bubble?
Ashley Fox: Nate Ilaoa would qualify as a big back. The Eagles list him at 5-9, 245, but he's going to be hard pressed to make the team. He was a seventh-rounder, and the Eagles have so many guys ahead of him. Moats could be in trouble, too. They'll keep 4-5, I would imagine.
Ashley Fox: Last call...
Peter Mucha: Do you get any sense from the players and coaches about the level of optimism for this season?
Ashley Fox: Get your ticket to Phoenix, Peter. Seriously, there is a lot of optimism within the team about this year. Sheldon Brown told me a couple weeks ago that he thinks this defense could be the nastiest the Eagles have had in a long time, and if that is the case, who knows. I think they'll be the favorite in the NFC East -- Tony Romo could implode at any minute, I think -- and if they stay healthy (a recurring theme) they should go deep into the playoffs. Super Bowl? It's too early to say that, but they've got talent, veteran leadership. They'll just need some luck.
Ray Bretschneider: when do you do this, chat? It's the first that I've seen this, and I would like to know what days, and what times, wi this chat be on?
Ashley Fox: Ray, this is the inaugural chat. I will be doing this every Monday through the season, probably at noon or right after Andy Reid's press conference. Our Eagles beat writer, Bob Brookover, will do one every Friday at noon. So come join us.
Ashley Fox: And thanks, guys, for the questions. We're going to wrap this one up. But check back next Monday. Peace.
Peter Mucha: Thanks, Ashley. And the drama has only just begun.

Poll

Should Donovan McNabb wear his knee brace during the season?