|Lowly Eagles have high expectations|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 21 August 2008 11:55|
The Philadelphia Eagles aim a little higher, despite being the only team in the NFC East not to make the playoffs last year.
``I have very high expectations,'' owner Jeffrey Lurie said during his annual state-of-the-team address in training camp. ``We are very used to succeeding on a significant level and it's disappointing when we don't or can't.
``This isn't about rebuilding, retooling, or anything. This is (about) going for it. That's our approach. It's pedal to the metal. That's what every move is based on, what every attempted move is based on, with an eye toward the present and an eye toward the future. We're going for it.''
Going for it doesn't mean simply making the playoffs or even reaching the NFC championship game. The Eagles have been there, done that. Six playoff appearances, five division championships, four straight trips to the conference title game and one Super Bowl loss in seven seasons from 2000-06.
All that's left is to win it all. From management down to the ball boys, no one in the organization would be satisfied with anything less.
``This is one of the most excited I've been going into the season,'' veteran safety Brian Dawkins said. ``In 2004, I was jacked up because I felt great about that year. I feel great where this team is headed right now.''
The Eagles reached the Super Bowl in '04, losing to New England by a field goal. Since then, they've missed the playoffs twice in three years.
Blame a disastrous 6-10 record in 2005 on Terrell Owens and a slew of injuries. The Eagles rebounded nicely the following year, reaching the second round of the playoffs after Jeff Garcia rescued the team when Donovan McNabb was injured.
Several factors contributed to last year's 8-8 finish, including questionable coaching decisions, an inconsistent offense and a mediocre defense. It didn't help that McNabb had to spend most of the season working his way back to form after major knee surgery.
McNabb, the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback, finally hit his stride in the final month. He helped the Eagles win the last three games, including impressive victories on the road against conference-leading Dallas and New Orleans.
A healthy McNabb is vital to Philadelphia's success. The 31-year-old looked sharp this summer and seems eager to prove he still has plenty of successful years left. Second-year pro Kevin Kolb is supposed to be the team's quarterback of the future, but McNabb plans to keep him waiting longer than Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre in Green Bay.
``Another five or six years,'' McNabb joked.
McNabb hasn't played a full season in four years, missing 17 of the last 50 games, including the playoffs. If he finds a way to stay on the field, the Eagles should challenge for the NFC East title. It won't be easy in a tough division. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl, Dallas is coming off a 13-3 season and Washington reached the playoffs.
Still, McNabb is confident the Eagles can be an elite team.
``We beat the Cowboys last year. The Redskins, we should have beaten them the first time. The Giants, we should have beaten them both times,'' he said. ``It's not just teams in our (division), it's the NFC, period. I feel like we can compete with all of them. If you ask those teams, they'll tell you the same, that we have the type of team you have to look out for. We have the players, we just have to put it together.''
Coach Andy Reid was a little more understated about the team's chances.
``We have a lot of hard work ahead of us,'' Reid said. ``We did finish last in the NFC East. It hasn't been easy and it won't be easy once we get into the grind. It's tough to climb back up that ladder.''
The Eagles dealt with some distractions in camp. All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook wasn't happy with his contract when he arrived. Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard remains unhappy with his new role as a co-starter. Two-time Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews missed several weeks while battling depression.
Westbrook eventually got a new deal, so his situation was resolved. The issues surrounding Sheppard and Andrews could linger into the season.
On the field, the offseason additions of All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive end Chris Clemons upgraded a defense that has more speed and depth. Rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson could make an impact on offense and significantly improves special teams as a punt returner.
But the most important player is Westbrook. The offense relies heavily on the versatile running back, who makes up for the lack of a playmaking receiver. As long as the game is close, Westbrook gives the Eagles a chance to win because he can score whenever he touches the ball.
``We're talking about a Hall of Fame-caliber player,'' team president Joe Banner said after giving Westbrook a big raise. ``He just wants to win so badly.''
A championship-starved city can only hope the rest of the Eagles feel the same.