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The NFC East stiffened up and got tougher


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On Football | More challenges for Birds on road to division title

Mike Bruton, Inquirer Columnist

The NFC East stiffened up and got tougher in the closing weeks of last season, and the Eagles should know it's going to be even tougher this year.

Oh, the Eagles will still probably win the division title again. They're good. They've proved that. They have star quality.

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In 2003, instead of having the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys whipped before the ball is kicked off, the Birds are going to have to play them to beat them.

The New York Giants will be something of a challenge if they get their defensive front seven back where it used to be and if Tiki Barber can get them 2,000 all-purpose yards.

Still, I think the Eagles are up to it, but it's going to be more interesting watching it happen this time around.

In those last few weeks of last season, the Cowboys defense started playing fairly inspired football for a 5-11 team. And that was without Bill Parcells. Patrick Ramsey, once Redskins coach Steve Spurrier stopped playing musical quarterbacks, seemed to find his feet.

The weak sister in the NFC might just be that North Division. The South is going to be positively nasty, and the West so-so, but the East will be far from a cakewalk.

The rap on the Eagles is that they lost value at two linebacking spots and at right defensive end and have wide receivers who induce yawns from cornerbacks when they come out of the huddle and line up.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator like Mark Simoneau at middle linebacker. In fact, Reid believes Simoneau is going to surprise his detractors come September. Ditto Nate Wayne, who replaces Shawn Barber on the outside.

The hardest question to face for the Birds is how to replace Hugh Douglas. It looks as if they plan to do it by committee. You've got Derrick Burgess coming off a broken foot, N.D. Kalu healthy and ready after a pretty good year, and rookies Jerome McDougle and Jamaal Green.

Safety in numbers? Maybe. The shocker is that Johnson isn't sweating that defensive end spot.

"I'm concerned about the safety position," Johnson said during his minicamp news conference last week. "Not the first two. We have two excellent safeties between Mike Lewis and [brian] Dawkins. I don't know right now who our third safety is. I honestly don't know."

There are a pair of youngsters, Clinton Hart and Norman LeJeune. Ex-Eagle Rashard Cook is still available.

The good news on offense is that running back Correll Buckhalter is back, and Reid has told us all time after time that receivers James Thrash and Todd Pinkston are fine, thank you very much.

What about that third wideout? You need that guy to make those slot formations challenging for the defense.

There's a battle going on between Freddie Mitchell and rookie Wilbur McMullen. Let's hope there's a winner.

Actually, the passing game should be better because of youth injected at tight end in the person of L.J. Smith and at fullback, where recently acquired Jon Ritchie will be a weapon.

"You can displace him and move him around," Birds offensive coordinator Brad Childress said at his news conference. "If you feel like you want to stay in more fullback formations [where you won't need a third wideout], it generally keeps their regular defense on the field and keeps them out of some nickel things. It might be able to get you some mismatches at some other spots."

The bottom line is quarterback Donovan McNabb. He can hide whatever deficiency the Eagles might have.

The Giants, with aging defensive tackle Keith Hamilton coming off a serious injury and a mandatory visit to the police station, are going to have to get something from somebody other than Michael Strahan.

Defensive end Kenny Holmes should be that guy, but he's been at it several years now and it hasn't happened. Look for rookie William Joseph to get meaningful time this season.

"He's athletic," Giants head coach Jim Fassel said to reporters. "The thing that jumps out at me that I like is he's a big guy and he has great knee bend. Some big guys bend at the waist. You don't want to see stiff legs, and he has really good knee bend and level pad explosion. And I like his attitude."

Those special-teams problems should be solved with veterans like Brian Mitchell and Jeff Feagles around.

New York had the sixth-best offense in the league in 2002, and the Giants have virtually the same folks this season.

Amid the debris of a chaotic 7-9 season, the Redskins had the fifth-best defense in the league.

You know what that says about their offense? Spurrier does, and with the help of Vinnie Cerrato, the newly minted vice president of football operations, he went quite a ways toward fixing it.

Speed fixes a lot of things, and when you add wideout Laveranues Coles and running back Trung Canidate to the same formation, defensive coordinators are bound to get nervous.

I saved the Cowboys for last because I could.

Didn't like 'em when they were winning Super Bowls and still don't, but it pains me to say that if they get consistent play from the quarterback position, whether it be Chad Hutchinson or Quincy Carter, they'll be considerably better this year.

We know what happens to teams when Parcells shows up. Players start believing. Before you know it they're in the playoffs and hunting scalps.

Parcells brought in wideout Terry Glenn, pairing him once again with his Ohio State teammate, Joey Galloway. He also brought fullback Richie Anderson, whom he had with the New York Jets.

Rookie cornerback Terence Newman gives Parcells the fulcrum on which to build the kind of defense he likes. If you're going to be aggressive you have to have shutdown corners.

Safety Roy Williams has Hall of Fame potential as well. The Cowboys were 18th in the league on defense last year. They'll crack the top 10 in 2003.

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Terry Glenn, Richie Anderson and Terrance Newman make that much of a difference in one year in Dallas but 14 new players for the Redskins including Coles, Thomas don't add up to a much improved offense and performance for the Skins? :)

Parcells had Phil Simms and Drew Bledsoe to fall back on in his previous turn around jobs where he got clubs to the Super Bowl.

The skill players in the backfield for Dallas may be the worst he has had to begin with.

Dallas has some young players with star potential but they are dependent on the team getting better depth and talent across the board to improve as a team.

Antonio Bryant needs someone to throw him the ball.

Terrance Newman and Roy Williams need DL and LBs that can stop the run and get good pressure on the qb to be maximally effective.

And right now those players are not at hand.

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Originally posted by bulldog

Terry Glenn, Richie Anderson and Terrance Newman make that much of a difference in one year in Dallas but 14 new players for the Redskins including Coles, Thomas don't add up to a much improved offense and performance for the Skins? :)

Parcells had Phil Simms and Drew Bledsoe to fall back on in his previous turn around jobs where he got clubs to the Super Bowl.

The skill players in the backfield for Dallas may be the worst he has had to begin with.

Dallas has some young players with star potential but they are dependent on the team getting better depth and talent across the board to improve as a team.

Antonio Bryant needs someone to throw him the ball.

Terrance Newman and Roy Williams need DL and LBs that can stop the run and get good pressure on the qb to be maximally effective.

And right now those players are not at hand.

We added depth at TE by adding Campbell and taking one of the top rated TE's in thw draft.

We also added Ryan Young to the OL and drafted Johnson in the 2nd round to play center.

Roy Williams had no problems last year, he looked awesome. Since then, we lost Noble and Hardy. We replaced Hardy with Singleton (Bucs) and James (draft). We still have Coakley, Nguyen, Glover and Ellis.

As you mentioned, we added Terence Newman, but we also added Mitchell to play NB and Woodson is coming back from injury.

Losing Noble hurts a little, but we still have Nix and Myers to fight for the spot. We will probably add another DT to the mix later.

I agree with you about the QB and RB situation, big question marks there.

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