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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Doomsayers Are Out Again

Terrell Owens is suspended.

Brian Westbrook boycotted camp for about a week, then came in to preserve his rights to free agency in a year.

Corey Simon isn't in camp; he doesn't like the franchise tag.

Todd Pinkston blew out his achilles tendon and is done for the year.

DE Jerrold McDougle was shot in the stomach in Miami a few weeks ago and will be out for about another six weeks. According to Coach Andy Reid, McDougle had a great off-season and was primed to have a good season this year (he was oft-injured the past two seasons).

LT Tra Thomas has been battling blot clotting problems and is on the bench.

Backup RB Correll Buckhalter missed last season, got hurt in training camp this week, and might be out for the season again. Another RB, Bruce Perry, has been battling injuries.

The Eagles are through. The ship is sinking.

Mark Schlereth this morning said that they won't get to the Super Bowl this year. Mike Greenberg said that they won't win the NFC East. Others are probably licking their chops, and I'm sure some football writers will be saying the same thing.

The Eagles cannot win without T.O. and even oft-maligned Pinkston. They'll miss Thomas and Simon.

Three seasons ago, Donovan McNabb rolled up his ankle and backup Koy Detmer hurt his elbow in the very next game. So in came third-string QB A.J. Feeley, who started all of five games in college, and the Eagles won their last five games and went to the NFC championship game. Two seasons ago, they lost their first two games -- to defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay and to ultimate Super Bowl Champion New England -- and the fans were calling for Andy Reid's and Donovan McNabb's jobs. They went to the NFC championship game. Last year, they lost veteran Pro Bowl CBs Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor to free agency, traded solid OL John Wellbourn to Kansas City and lost DE N.D. Kalu, Buckhalter, FB Jon Ritchie and RG Shawn Andrews for the season with injuries -- either in training camp or early in the season. And then T.O. got hurt in the last third of the season, and without him (and four key players on injured reserve) they won the NFC championship game and made it to the Super Bowl.

Have they been just lucky, or is that a trend?

It says here it's more than luck. Plain old pluck and the art of plucking the right talent from a talent pool that gets heavily scrutinized had something to do with it too. As well as coaching and cap management.

I'll be the first one to admit that without their first two wide receivers, the Eagles have a problem. Owens is a game breaker, one of the top three receivers in the game. But he's not worth anything to his team if he's a disruptive force, a human volcano whose eruptions not only are unpredictable, but come at the worst times. His cheerfulness on the sidelines during the NFC Championship Game and his return -- against his doctor's advice -- to play in the Super Bowl were most admirable. For that, for the fact that his prior agent negotiated a bad contract, and for the concept that he's not one of the top ten highest paid WRs in the game -- he wants more money. He won't talk to the Philadelphia media, instead preferring to talk with anyone on ESPN who will listen. Tonight, Chris Berman interviewed him and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, during the halftime of a pre-season game. T.O. is taking his case to the public. But instead of sounding like someone with a real grievance, he comes off more like Latrell Sprewell when Spree claimed that $14 million wasn't enough to feed his family. Rosenhaus seemed exasperated, but he'll have a hard-time convincing that a multimillionaire with a history of not getting along with his coaches is underpaid. They did not make a compelling case, unless it was for an audition for an MTV video.

The Eagles do need T.O., but T.O. also needs the Eagles, he needs to play. He was in camp, and he says that he was doing his job. Rosenhaus said that Andy Reid told him that T.O. was practicing hard. Reid today said that he'll keep the spat within the Eagles' family. T.O. said that Reid told him to shut up, so he told Reid to "shut up" back because Reid wasn't his parent and didn't have the right to talk to him that way. My sense is that if Andy Reid sent T.O. home for a week, he wasn't the poster child for a team-oriented work ethic that Drew Rosenhaus said he was. Andy Reid has done a lot of great work in Philadelphia, and he deserves the rebuttable presumption that he is in the right here and Terrell Owens is in the wrong.

As for Tra Thomas, he's been up and down for the Birds over the past three seasons, but he has played at a high level. A rookie named Todd Herremans, a fourth-round pick and former Division II all-American, has been getting reps against Jevon Kearse and others. Said Hugh Douglas, "He has a mean streak." And no one has said Tra Thomas is done for the year. As for Simon, he's an undersized DT who disappears at times, and while he's a starter the Eagles are blessed with extraordinary depth on the defensive line. Everyone said that they would miss Vincent and Taylor last year, and the Eagles didn't miss a beat without them. Somehow they figure out ways, year after year, to reinvent themselves and play at a very high level.

No doubt, the challenges are very great for the Eagles this year. Sustaining excellence in the brutal meritocracy called the National Football League is a tall task. The football fates have presented Jeffrey Lurie, Joe Banner and Andy Reid with big challenges every year. And every year, they have turned problems into opportunities.

The bet here is that they'll resolve most of their situations and make the playoffs.

Again.

Because football is a team sport, and because their team has a strong core and strong leadership.

Because team transcends T.O.

No matter how good he is.

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