Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Eagles birds of a feather indeed

Cite team unity as big strength for upcoming season

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BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- With little talk about how great they are going to be in the upcoming season, the Philadelphia Eagles already have taken a different approach.

The challenges haven't changed, though. Not even close.

In fact, the obstacles placed in their way heading into the 2012 schedule might be more formidable than the self-created hurdles of a year ago.

You remember the Dream Team proclamations, the Super Bowl expectations, the Philly phanatics going wild about all the additions to the roster. That team thought so highly of itself, then plummeted.

But at least those Eagles didn't have to overcome tragedy.

Now, weeks after the death of coach Andy Reid's son Garrett in a dormitory room at the Eagles' Lehigh training camp, this team has found the right perspective.

"I know that we are very tough," Michael Vick said. "We are a very tough football team. I know we have guys on this team who care and who want to win. We'll go the extra mile to make sure that we have a great chance of having success. That's gratifying."

The Eagles (No. 8 in the AP Pro32) have rallied around Reid, who returned to his job just days after his son was buried -- citing what Garrett's preferences would have been. It's exactly the reaction expected by general manager Howie Roseman, the man who brought such talents as cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Jason Babin and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, running back Ronnie Brown, quarterback Vince Young and receiver Steve Smith to Philadelphia for a 2011 title run that never came close to happening.

"Bringing a team, an organization together, it comes through in moments like that," Roseman said. "It shows how much you care for each other, and these guys all respect and care for Andy. There is that support for one another on all levels."

Reid senses it, too, noting the togetherness of these Eagles.

"As a coach, you are in the middle of it and want to see certain things that build you as a team," said Reid, who enters his 14th season in charge of the Eagles. "It didn't happen soon enough last year, so we need to make sure it happens this year. Sure we were able to finish strong, but it was not good enough. Now, we need to make sure we're good enough."

Are they, in a division with the Super Bowl champion Giants, the Cowboys and the seemingly improved Redskins?

Although the signings of Brown, Young and Smith were flops and all are with other teams this season, the other additions were good ones. Vick is in his first full training camp as the team's starting QB and has lots of help in All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, game-breaking receiver DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek.

Roseman traded with Houston for linebacker DeMeco Ryans to be the main man on defence and is excited by Ryans' skills -- on and off the field.

"He's been an NFL Man of the Year (candidate), and we want that sort of character and leadership," Roseman said. "We had that with Brian Dawkins and when he left (for Denver), we never replaced him. I'm not sure it's anything you completely replace. So we were on a quest to find someone.

"It's a priority to have that leadership because we could have 25 or so players under the age of 25 this year."

Turning that many youngsters into something cohesive is difficult in any situation. Under the trying circumstances the Eagles have faced, it could be near-impossible.

But if they manage to do it, manage to be everything they projected themselves to become in 2011, the satisfaction will run deeper. Sometimes it is more rewarding to achieve when not all that much is expected from you.

Reid thinks the base for this year's team was built late last season when the Eagles ran off four straight victories to finish 8-8.

"The thing I was looking for was, were they going to carry over backing up to last season?" he said. "Were they going to carry over that energy they had at the end of last season that they brought into the OTAs? Now could they bring it into this camp here? They seemed to do that. Does that mean that's going to carry you through? No, but it's a good foundation to start with.

"And then, are you going work hard? I thought they did that. They busted their tail. People weren't trying to get out of practice or look for the easy way out of a drill. They pushed themselves through and we got better. So, do we have a long way (to go)? Absolutely. ... But at least there's a foundation there to build on. I've got an idea of their personality and I like that part of it. But we've got to go do it."


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2012 B3

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