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Lot's of factoids:


NFC East football capsules

August 28, 2002

By John Pezzullo

SportsTicker Pro Football Editor

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES ===================

Coach: Andy Reid inherited a 3-13 team in 1999 and needed just two years to reach the postseason and three years to make the NFC championship game. Rewarded with the added title of vice president of football operations. Quarterbacks coach Brad Childress was promoted to offensive coordinator to replace retired Rod Dowhower, but Reid does all of the play-calling. Blitz-happy Jim Johnson is one of the league's most respected defensive coordinators.

2001 season: Won the NFC East with an 11-5 record. Beat Tampa Bay in the wild card round and Chicago in the divisional playoff. Lost to St. Louis in the NFC championship game.

Major adds: LB Shawn Barber, S Blaine Bishop, WR Antonio Freeman, LB Levon Kirkland, RB Dorsey Levens.

Major losses: LB Mike Caldwell, S Damon Moore, LB Jeremiah Trotter.

Quarterback: The development of Donovan McNabb has been the key to the Eagles' rise. After just three years, McNabb is one of the NFL's top five quarterbacks. Without a Pro Bowl wide receiver, McNabb threw for more than 3,000 yards with 25 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions last season. Especially adept at eluding pass rushers and running for first downs. Koy Detmer has been McNabb's backup the last two years.

Running backs: Added veteran Dorsey Levens, who was waived by Green Bay, to ease the burden on Duce Staley. After missing most of the 2000 season with a foot injury, Staley appeared tentative last year and rushed for just 604 yards. A superb pass-catching back, Staley had 63 receptions for 626 yards. Second-year player Correll Buckhalter suffered a torn ACL in minicamp, but the team is high on third-round pick Brian Westbrook. Fourth-year player Cecil Martin is the starting fullback.

Receivers: James Thrash is McNabb's favorite receiver, catching 63 passes for 833 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Want Freddie Mitchell, the team's first-round pick in 2001, to unseat Todd Pinkston as a starter. Pinkston is bigger and faster than Mitchell, but Mitchell has better hands and is tougher over the middle. Signed veteran Antonio Freeman, who has lost a step and was not re-signed by Green Bay. Tight end Chad Lewis is one of the NFC's best, although his production dropped from 69 receptions in 2000 to 41 last year.

Offensive line: Strong at the tackle positions with Tra Thomas on the left and Jon Runyan on the right. The interior is another story. Center Hank Fraley appeared overmatched at times after being thrust into a starting role. Drafted center Scott Peters in the fourth round. John Welbourn will start at left guard for the third straight year and Jermane Mayberry is the right guard. Doug Brzezinski is the top reserve.

Defensive line: Right end Hugh Douglas is a premier pass rusher and third-year player Corey Simon is one of the better pass-rushing tackles. However, Hollis Thomas is the team's best run-stuffing tackle and he underwent foot surgery in August. Derrick Burgess had six sacks as a rookie and will share time at left end with Brandon Whiting.

Linebackers: Designated two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter as a franchise player, then removed the tag and let him sign with division rival Washington. Pounced on veteran middle linebacker Levon Kirkland after he was waived by Seattle. Fourth-year player Barry Gardner will also play the middle. Free agent signee Shawn Barber, who is recovering from a torn ACL, is expected to start on the weak side. Carlos Emmons returns as the strongside linebacker.

Secondary: The strength of the defense. Brian Dawkins may be the NFL's best free safety and Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor are one of the league's top cornerback tandems. Signed hard-hitting Blaine Bishop to start at strong safety, but he's been hampered by injuries the last two years. Drafted two cornerbacks -- Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown -- and safety Michael Lewis in the first two rounds.

Special teams: Kicker David Akers is solid, converting 53-of-64 field goals the last two years. Punter Sean Landeta turned 40 in January. Brian Mitchell is still one of the league's top kick and punt returners. Lito Sheppard, the team's first-round pick, was an explosive returner at Florida.

Prediction: Expectations are high. If the team continues to make steady progress, then Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego is the next step. But the Eagles will not get there if they don't improve against the run.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS ====================

Coach: Owner Dan Snyder made Steve Spurrier the NFL's highest-paid coach with a five-year, $25 million contract. It's no secret that many critics would love to see the college coach fail, but Spurrier is smart enough to concentrate on what he knows best - the offense - while highly-respected Marvin Lewis handles the defense. It took Spurrier just one preseason game to rankle an opposing coach - San Francisco's Steve Mariucci - for running up the score. Actually, Spurrier's reputation as a master offensive innovater took root in the pros with Tampa Bay of the USFL before he flourished in college at Duke and Florida.

2001 season: After an 0-5 start, the Redskins finished 8-8 and in second place in the NFC East in Marty Schottenheimer's only year as coach.

Major adds: LB Jessie Armstead, DT Daryl Gardener, WR Jacquez Green, QB Shane Matthews, LB Jeremiah Trotter, QB Danny Wuerffel, DE Renaldo Wynn.

Major losses: TE Stephen Alexander, LB Shawn Barber, DE Marco Coleman, DT Kenard Lang, WR Michael Westbrook.

Quarterback: Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews will probably alternate as the starting quarterback under their former Florida coach through the course of the season. Matthews is the only one who has started an NFL game in the last two years, but Wuerffel, who won a national championship for Spurrier in 1996, will probably open the season as the starter. Patrick Ramsey was the final pick in the first round, but was nearly traded to Chicago after a lengthy holdout.

Running backs: Despite what the critics say, Spurrier will give the ball to Stephen Davis in his "Fun 'N' Gun" offense. Davis led the NFC with a club-record 1,432 rushing yards last season. Second-round pick Ladell Betts is the third-down back and second-year player Bryan Johnson takes over as the starting fullback.

Receivers: Spurrier likes the small receivers who sneak into the open spots in his quick-hit passing game. Jacquez Green, a former Florida receiver, is a perfect fit in Spurrier's offense. Chris Doering is another member of the Florida alumni chapter. Rod Gardner, the team's first-round pick in 2001, averaged 16.1 yards on his 46 receptions last year as a rookie, but is adjusting to the more precise route running in this offense. Kevin Lockett, Derrius Thompson and Darnerien McCants impressed in the preseason, forcing Spurrier to cut Reidel Anthony, another former Gator. Zeron Flemister is the pass-catching tight end.

Offensive line: The NFL's best young tandem at the tackle positions with Chris Samuels on the left and Jon Jansen on the right. But the interior of the line is undergoing changes for the fourth straight year. Free agent signee Larry Moore moves to center after playing guard at Indianapolis. Rod Jones, another free agent signee, is penciled in at left guard after playing tackle for St. Louis. Second-year player Ross Tucker is working at right guard, only because Kipp Vickers and David Loverne have struggled.

Defensive line: Marvin Lewis' defense in Baltimore relied on the defensive tackles to jam up blockers and give the linebackers space to make plays. The formula appeared ready in Washington when Daryl Gardener was signed to start alongside Dan Wilkinson at the tackle positions. But Gardener is coming off back surgery and experienced back spams in the preseason. If Gardener is limited, Del Cowsette and Donovan Arp may have to start and neither has Gardener's size or strength. Bruce Smith, second on the all-time sacks list, may be forced to take on a part-time role at end after undergoing two knee scopes in a three-month span. Renaldo Wynn was signed to replace Marco Coleman at the other end position.

Linebackers: The strength of the defense. Features three players who made the Pro Bowl last year - strongside linebacker LaVar Arrington, middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and weakside linebacker Jessie Armstead. Trotter's ability to play the run should free Arrington to go after quarterbacks more on blitzes. With his speed and power, Arrington could be a double-digit sack man. Snyder scooped up Trotter and Armstead from division rivals Philadelphia and the New York Giants, respectively. Trotter is in his prime, but Armstead may have lost a step.

Secondary: Many believe Champ Bailey is the NFL's best cover corner. He often gets the assignment of shutting down the opponent's No. 1 receiver. Cornerback Fred Smoot talked a good game and backed it up as a rookie last year. Darrell Green reneged on his retirement and returns at age 42 to play nickel back. The two starting safeties - Sam Shade and David Terrell - are strong in run support but can be exploited in the passing game.

Special teams: Lost kick returner Michael Bates and punt returner Eric Metcalf, but Spurrier has plenty of speedsters to use as returners. Kicker Brett Conway was steady last year, converting 26-of-33 field goals. Punter Bryan Barker ranked 10th in the NFC last year.

Prediction: Spurrier and Lewis make this one of the league's most exciting teams. Even with Wuerffel and Matthews at quarterback, Spurrier will score points. Should finish behind Philadelphia and contend for a wild card spot.

NEW YORK GIANTS ===============

Coach: Jim Fassel enters his sixth year with the Giants. Signed a four-year contract after leading the team to Super Bowl XXXV, but the Giants slipped to 7-9 last year. Lost defensive coordinator John Fox, who was named coach of the Carolina Panthers and promoted secondary coach Johnnie Lynn to the position. Sean Payton calls the plays on offense, but his stock dropped last year. No one has a tougher job than offensive line coach Jim McNally.

2001 season: Finished in third place in the NFC East with a 7-9 record, a year after making Super Bowl XXXV.

Major adds: TE Jeremy Shockey (first-round pick)

Major losses: LB Jessie Armstead, T Lomas Brown, FB Greg Comella, S Sam Garnes, WR Joe Juerevicius, G Ron Stone.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins signed a contract extension in the preseason. Now he needs an insurance policy playing behind a revamped offensive line. Collins threw for 3,764 yards last season, but ranked ninth among NFC quarterbacks in passer rating. Second-year man Jesse Palmer and veteran Jason Garrett are the backups.

Running backs: Tiki Barber made headlines when he accused star defensive end Michael Strahan of being selfish after Strahan turned down a new contract worth more than $50 million. Both players insist the feud will not affect the team's performance or lead to problems in the locker room. Barber battled through injuries last year, but still averaged 5.2 yards per carry and caught 72 passes. But Barber has been plagued by hamstring problems. Ron Dayne, the power running back, rushed for just 690 yards and 3.8 yards per carry. No experienced fullback to replace Greg Comella, who signed with Tennessee.

Receivers: First-round pick Jeremy Shockey dazzled coaches and teammates in the preseason and instantly changes the offense, providing the Giants with an athletic tight end who can stretch the middle of the field. Giants tight ends caught a total of 17 passes last season. Shockey should get that many in three or four games. Amani Toomer is the team's big play receiver, catching 72 passes for 1,054 yards last season. Ike Hilliard is an unhappy receiver in the final year of his contract, but remains the starter because speedy Ron Dixon is inconsistent.

Offensive line: With three new starters, this unit has too many question marks. Left tackle Chris Bober is a third-year player who has never started in the NFL. Left guard Rich Seubert is in his second season with the Giants. Jason Whittle replaced Pro Bowler Ron Stone at right guard after starting just two games last year. To make matters worse, center Dusty Zeigler - one of only two returning starters - has been slow to recover from January knee surgery. Luke Petitgout is the team's top run-blocking tackle.

Defensive line: After setting an NFL single-season record with 22 1/2 sacks, left end Michael Strahan was criticized by teammate Tiki Barber for rejecting a new contract worth more than $50 million. Strahan was also ripped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who said Strahan's record should have an asterisk since Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre "gave him" the record-setting sack. While Strahan established himself as the game's best defensive end, right end Kenny Holmes was a free agent bust last year. Holmes went into the preseason needing to prove he isn't an overpaid underachiever and couldn't even beat out Frank Ferrara for a starting job. The Giants expect the tackle tandem of Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin to be a strength. Hamilton was hampered by a pectoral injury last year and Griffin struggled with an ankle injury.

Linebackers: Third-year player Dhani Jones is the key. He replaces Pro Bowler Jessie Armstead - a salary cap casualty - at weakside linebacker. Jones must develop quickly because the Giants have no veteran insurance at the position. Middle linebacker Mike Barrow will have to pick up the slack and play more of a leadership role without his buddy Armstead around. Brandon Short held his own in his first season as the starter at strongside linebacker.

Secondary: Cornerback Jason Sehorn is coming off January knee surgery after a disappointing season. Sehorn and Will Allen, the team's first-round pick in 2001, are the starting cornerbacks. Will Peterson, a third-round pick in 2001 and the nickel back last year, will start at cornerback if Sehorn is again sidelined with an injury. Shaun Williams moves from free safety to his natural strong safety position with the departure of Sam Garnes, who signed with the Jets. Williams is a punishing hitter who struggled at times in deep coverage last season. Journeyman Omar Stoutmire moves in as the starter at free safety.

Special teams: Horrible special teams coverage forced Fassel to hire Bruce Read, who had a successful stint in San Diego. Owen Pochman was signed to help with the kickoffs and long field goals last year and replaces Morten Andersen, who converted 23-of-28 field goals for the Giants. Tiki Barber is the primary punt returner and Ron Dixon is the top kick returner, but rookies Tim Carter and Daryl Jones may be used in those roles.

Prediction: Numerous salary cap defections have placed inexperienced players in major roles. Should fare no better than 8-8 and probably headed for a losing record.

DALLAS COWBOYS ===============

Coach: Dave Campo had back-to-back 5-11 seasons in his first two years as coach, but drew praise from his peers. After using four different starting quarterbacks last season, the Cowboys split their last six games. Dumped offensive coordinator Jack Reilly and hired Bruce Coslet to install a West Coast offense after the passing game ranked 31st last season. Mike Zimmer runs the defense and HBO "Hard Knocks" star Joe Avezzano is a special teams master.

2001 season: Finished last in the NFC East at 5-11 and that was with Arizona in the division.

Major adds: DT La'Roi Glover, LB Kevin Hardy, TE Tony McGee, CB Bryant Westbrook, S Roy Williams (first-round pick).

Major losses: TE Jackie Harris, S Izell Reese, C Mark Stepnoski, S George Teague.

Quarterback: Quincy Carter, a second-round pick in 2001, battled through thumb and hamstring injuries as a rookie, but showed flashes of brilliance when he led the Cowboys to three wins in their last six games. Coslet's West Coast offense is expected to maximize Carter's run-pass skills. Chad Hutchinson left baseball to sign a multi-year contract with the Cowboys and is the backup. The former Stanford star has not played football in four years. but showed in the preseason that he's comfortable with Coslet's offense.

Running backs: Emmitt Smith rushed for 1,021 yards last season and needs only 540 yards to surpass Walter Payton's career rushing record. Smith's backup Troy Hambrick averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for 579 yards last season. The two combined helped Dallas rank third in the league in rushing. Fifth-year player Robert Thomas is the blocking fullback.

Receivers: Coslet called this group of receivers the best he's ever coached. But that was before Rocket Ismail suffered a herniated disc in his neck in training camp, ending his season. That puts more pressure on Joey Galloway, who had 52 catches for 699 yards and three touchdowns last season. Second-round pick Antonio Bryant is expected to make an immediate impact. Tight end Tony McGee signed with Dallas to reunite with Coslet, who coached him in Cincinnati. Mike Lucky is the blocking tight end.

Offensive line: A preseason injury to left tackle Flozell Adams has this unit in disarray. Adams hyperextended and sprained a ligament in his right knee in August and did not play in any preseason games. Second-year player Char-ron Dorsey filled in at left tackle, but the Cowboys may be forced to move perennial Pro Bowler Larry Allen, who is probably the league's best guard, to tackle. Solomon Page returns at right tackle. Second-round pick Andre Gurode played guard at Colorado but will start at center. Kelvin Garmon started 16 games at right guard in 2001 and Matt Lehr will play at left guard if Allen moves outside.

Defensive line: Signed defensive tackle La'Roi Glover to a five-year, $22.5 million contract and are counting on him to collapse the pocket and provide an inside rush. Brandon Noble is the other starter at tackle and Michael Myers, who lost his starting job to Glover, will rotate. Left end Greg Ellis led the Cowboys with six sacks, 26 pressures and four forced fumbles and will equally benefit from the addition of Glover. Zimmer will rotate Ebenezer Ekuban and Peppi Zellner at right end.

Linebackers: Dallas' linebackers recorded one sack the last two years. Ouch! Signed Kevin Hardy, who had 5 1/2 sacks with Jacksonville in 2001, to pressure the quarterback from the weak side. Dexter Coakley, a Pro Bowler each of the last two years, moves to the strong side. Dat Nguyen is undersized in the middle, but has terrific instincts and led the team with 172 tackles last year. Second-year player Markus Steele is the top backup.

Secondary: Five-time Pro Bowler Darren Woodson and first-round pick Roy Williams of Oklahoma give the Cowboys a superb safety tandem. However, each is best at strong safety. The team will try to take advantage of their strengths by using them as right and left safeties, giving one or the other the freedom to move closer to the line of scrimmage. Both lack blazing speed. Signed free agent cornerback Bryant Westbrook, a former first-round pick of Detroit, who has not played at a high level sinc tearing his left Achilles tendon in 2000. Third-year player Mario Edwards started 15 games at cornerback last year. Duane Hawthorne will probably be used as a nickel corner and third-round pick Derek Ross may push for playing time.

Special teams: Reggie Swinton starred as the primary punt and kick returner last season, setting a club record for kickoff return yards. Signed Jeff Robinson to a four-year, $4.8 million contract to serve as a long snapper and third tight end. Because of poor snaps, the Cowboys had six kicks blocked last year. Counting on kicker Tim Seder and punter Micah Knorr to be better than last year.

Prediction: Owner Jerry Jones believes "the worm has turned" and is thinking playoffs for the Cowboys. But look for them to improve three games to 8-8.


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