Eagles offense gets back to basics
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Sorry DeSean Jackson, but you're going to have to send that 170-pound body across the middle this season. And for the next several years, or as long as Kevin Kolb is the starting quarterback.
But don't worry, there will be chances for you to stretch the field in a West Coast offense that will return to its roots of execution for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. The great Bill Walsh modified what is known as the WCO and passed (no pun intended) the theory on to many of his coaching disciples over several decades.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid learned under the tutelage of Mike Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl with Green Bay in the late 1990's with a carbon copy of Walsh's teachings and offensive scheme, along with a few wrinkles here and there. A ferocious defense helped too. When Reid became head coach of the Eagles back in 1999, he needed a franchise quarterback to run his pass-happy offense and Donovan McNabb was his man to orchestrate the show.
McNabb will go down as one of the most athletic quarterbacks in NFL history with his ability to make plays with his feet, avoid the sack and launch the deep ball. The West Coast offense is not predicated on the run which is why Reid has been criticized so much for his offensive balance, or lack thereof. He believes a four-yard completion on first or second down is just as good as sending a running back through the four gap. When you have a quarterback that can throw the ball a country mile and shake a linebacker down to his ankles, it was a wise choice by Reid to exploit McNabb's talents.
For how great No. 5 was during his tenure in Philadelphia before being traded to the NFC East-rival Washington Redskins on Easter Sunday, McNabb had some flaws which were not conducive to the WCO. McNabb's accuracy and habit of holding on to the ball always came into question, especially with the offensive lineman. You can ask any lineman in the league if they would rather pass block or run block and the general consensus would be run block. Why? Because mauling defenders on the run is a lot easier than holding a block against a muscle-bound freak while your quarterback dances around in the pocket looking for an open target. By that time both the QB's primary and secondary options are well-covered and the only outlet left is the dump-off.
Enter Kolb, who is in his first season as starting quarterback for the Eagles.
The offensive line in Philadelphia should spend less time in the trainer's room because Kolb is a simple drop-back passer with a quick trigger and fast decision-making skills. We've seen Kolb during the preseason, mop-up duty and in a few starts in his young career, and it's obvious he's not the most mobile of quarterbacks. Though he's no Byron Leftwich, Kolb still isn't going to sprint around the end or juke a defensive back as McNabb did in his prime. But what Kolb will do is unleash timely passes to relieve pressure up front, and Jackson should relish the idea of putting his body in the line of fire. Jackson has made a career so far of avoiding the big hit, even on punt returns, and his speed will be no match for linebackers or hybrid ends.
If Jackson has any questions or doubts, he can simply pick the brain of teammate and slot receiver Jason Avant. Avant has arguably the best hands on the Eagles and puts his body in jeopardy week after week. Reid will still have a few tricks up his sleeve with a few plays to stretch the defense, and would be foolish not to with the weapons he has. Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek are two more beneficiaries of a West Coast offense that will favor passing almost 65 percent of the time. That doesn't mean running back LeSean McCoy or All-Pro fullback Leonard Weaver will have fewer responsibilities, because they'll be catching balls out of the backfield too.
McCoy's shiftiness and Weaver's explosiveness after the catch can only open more doors for Kolb to hit receivers like Jackson in stride. We'll have to wait until Week 1 of the NFL season on September 12, versus a highly-touted Green Bay squad, to see the new- but also old-look Eagles offense in action.
CAMPBELL HAS WORK CUT OUT IN OAKLAND
After going through more offensive coordinators in Washington than Jennifer Aniston has with boyfriends, Oakland Raiders new quarterback Jason Campbell is still trying to prove his worth in the NFL.
Campbell got a vote of confidence when he said after the deal had been announced that Raiders legendary owner Al Davis told him he wanted the former Auburn signal-caller donning the Silver and Black. That meant a lot to Campbell, who never seemed to get the credit he deserved in DC. Granted he never won anything and guided the 'Skins to the postseason just once, but take a look a what he had around him.
Devin Thomas, Santana Moss and Malcolm Kelly are average receivers at best and the only reliable target Campbell had in Washington was tight end Chris Cooley. Tight end Fred Davis was emerging, but a beleaguered offensive line, a coaching carousel and the addition of All-Pro quarterback Donovan McNabb led to Campbell's demise in the nation's capital.
If Campbell thinks the grass is greener by the Bay, he's in for a rude awakening with the dysfunctional Raiders. He's already had a taste of what Davis is serving, so how bad can it be working with top Oakland targets Darrius Heyward-Bey, Zach Miller and Louis Murphy? Only time, and an excruciating training camp, will tell.
HAS VINCE YOUNG WON BACK THE TITANS?
Director Ridley Scott won't be making films on Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young any time soon, but at least the scrambling quarterback can win the crowd and give them something they have never seen before.
Young did his best Maximus Decimus Meridius impression last season when he won back the starting job from Kerry Collins after six winless weeks, passing for almost 2,000 yards (1,879) with 10 TDs to go along with seven interceptions. It wasn't pretty and it certainly was better than Young's 2008 campaign when he went AWOL at the start of the season after getting injured and seeing Collins wrest away the job.
Only last year's 0-6 start put Young back under center, that and the support of Titans owner Bud Adams. Young, who hadn't started since the 2008 opener, took over again back on November 1 in a 30-13 win versus Jacksonville and led Tennessee to five straight wins. A dual threat on the ground and through the air, Young went 8-2 last season and pushed his career record to 26-13. Titans head coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged that Young seemed to have a different attitude under center and his extensive preparation with offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger paid off.
The No. 3 overall pick in 2006 established a career-high 82.8 passer rating, even though it was through just 10 games. But that alone speaks volumes of what the Titans can expect from Young in 2010. A lot of his success was made possible by the 2,000-plus rushing yards from Chris Johnson, but that's how a team becomes successful at football's highest level. Young and Company will try to prove that their second half run last season was no fluke, against one of the league's toughest schedules.
Tennessee's 2010 foes went a combined 140-116 (.547) last season.
LEINART MUST PRODUCE FOR CARDINALS
If he still has the job by the start of the 2010 campaign, it will be a make or break season for Matt Leinart.
The one-time Southern California heartthrob has had several chances to establish himself in the NFL, but for some reason it hasn't panned out. Whether Leinart can't read defenses or absorb head coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense, the lefty has been a bust of a top 10 pick so far.
Leinart has only 17 starts under his belt and saw most of his NFL action during his rookie season of 2006, when he appeared in 12 games and made 11 starts. He passed for 2,547 yards with 11 TDs and 12 INTs and entered 2007 on a high note. However, he lasted five games before the Kurt Warner era took the desert by storm and Leinart was pushed to the back burner. Now that Warner, who led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII, is retired it's time for the Cardinals to invest their faith once again back in Leinart.
That's a lot to ask for, but luckily the NFC West is weaker than clock radio speakers. Leinart has a strong supporting cast and one of the top wide receivers in the game in Larry Fitzgerald. He just needs the encouragement from the coaching staff and a strong training camp, even though backup Derek Anderson is lurking in the distance. Anderson would not have joined Arizona this offseason if he didn't have a shot at becoming a starter. Leinart is only a big hit or a few poor throws away from holding a clipboard with a visor on -- his usual game day gear the past few seasons.
PANTHERS HOPE TO GET MOORE OUT OF QB
The Carolina Panthers turned the page on the Jake Delhomme era this offseason, handing the reigns to a younger and less experienced quarterback.
There's no way around how brutal Delhomme was last season, though he should always be remembered for almost beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. But the NFL is no place for sentimental feelings. It's all about winning, and sometimes teams have to cut ties with veterans and start a fresh slate.
Matt Moore is eager to put his new leadership role in motion and has been saying all the right things as the Panthers prepare for training camp. Moore knows that putting the work in and being accountable for you actions are vital to building strong relationships with his teammates. Moore, who started the last three games of his rookie season in 2007 and the final five contests last season, has talked about how studying film and spending extra hours with his receiving can equal Carolina getting back to being one of the NFC's elite teams.
Getting the timing down with his receivers and building a strong foundation in the locker room wasn't something Moore had to worry about with Delhomme on the roster. Now, all the attention will be directed at him in that regard. If Moore fails to do so, then rookie Jimmy Clausen will begin his own effort to win over his teammates as the team's starting quarterback.