Garry Cobb recently wrote a piece on his site about the 5 most indispensable Eagles. The formula was fairly standard. Start with the QB, take the top skill-player on offense, select LT (w/right-handed QB), select defensive leader, and in the Eagles case, the all-Pro Kicker. OK. Some might go with the top two D guys, or the best RB and the best WR...but its not earth-shattering to read Cobb's case that McNabb, Westbrook, Thomas, Dawkins and Akers will be keys to success in 2007 or that legitimate contendership will be impossible w/o those 5. (Ok, we do have a guy named Winston Justice waiting in the wings at LT, so its POSSIBLE that Tra Thomas isn't a make or break guy.
But rather than rehash what GCobb put out there, or even critique it, I've decided to go a similar route, but rather than choose so-called "indispenable players"; I would like to identify a few key position/players that people are NOT giving much attention to right now.
If there positions work out, we could have a very strong team, if numerous holes appear and they guys don't step up, the Eagles will have some weaknesses.
Akers' place-holder. What? I can hear you all the way in Japan. But let me tell you. Last year I thought Akers struggled a but with P Dirk Johnson holding for him. The two lacked the chemistry Akers had with former QB Koy Detmer...I mean to the point that we brought Koy back to hold at the end of the season last year. We can't afford that shit this year. The coaches need to make damn sure Akers is comfy with his holder this year. We need Mr. Automatic back.
The long-snapper (detect a trend?). Here's the deal folks. Jon Dorenbos, the guy who replaced long-time TE/LS Mike Bartrum, just snaps. That's it. And the way roster are so tight these days, its hard (not impossible) to have 3 pure special teams guys. Bartrum was our 3rd TE, and while the term "seldom-used" was entirely appropriate for him, his could and did get out there on the field and make a play now and then. I have a feeling that with LJ Smith coming off the sports hernia injury, that AR & Co. wouldn't mind having a viable 3rd TE (perhaps the draft pick Celek). Depending on where the way the roster shakes out....if could be someone who can do double-duty. We Philadelphia fans were spoiled by the quiet, deliberate mastery of long-snapping by Mr. Bartrum. Dorenbos appears fairly capable, but his place on the roster is not guaranteed. If he is replaced, a big glaring spotlight will hit the new guy every times he lines up over the ball.
3rd Cornerback - Will James. We've heard the off-season talk about how he wants to start, and he's on a one-year "show me" contract, so James has all the motivation in the world to go out on the field and shine. But you see having an adequate-to-good 3rd CB isn't a luxury anymore. (its true the Eagles along with a few other teams seems to have regularly blessed with having pretty dang good 3CBs (First Al Harris [behind Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor] and then Rod Hood [behind Lito and Sheldon])....now we'll see if Will James is the next-in-line.
The Fullback - Thomas Tapeh (Incumbent). Lots and lots of talk this off-season about placing greater emphasis on running the ball (yes, I think we to do so as well). Guess what alot of the really good RBs (LT, Shaun Alexander) in the league had last year - an excellent blocking FB. Now Tapeh has plenty of work to do in this area (to his credit, he has pretty decent pass-catching skills). But what direction will the coaches go in. A more ferocious blocker would be a clear indication that the Eagles are going to get a little more serious when it comes to pounding the rock.
C - Jamaal Jackson. It's easy to forget that 2006 was Jamaal's first year as a full-time starting center in the NFL. He entered 2006 as a question mark, and left it as yet another rock-solid piece to our granite O-line. Well guess what? Time to get even better JJ. Flanked by Herremanns and Andrews, Jackson will be the cog that make our O-line shine. He adjust the blocking at the LoS, he snaps, and he (along with the rest of the OL) is who is going to determine whether or not all this talk about running the ball more works. Coaches feel like bustin' Buck or Tony Hunt up the middle on 3rd and 2? Well having a C that get movement is a key. Overall, he's not any more or less important than his fellow line-mates, but I think right now Philly fans have gotten a bit used to having a rock-solid O-line (trust me, as any long-time fans can tell you, the 80s and 90s were far, far different) and I wanted give a little credit the guy who's going to calling shots and directing traffic in the trenches. Its a mostly thankless job, but take heart JJ, now maybe 10 more people will know all about you. :P