Football is back, and all of a sudden, opening day is just seven weeks away. Teams must now squeeze an entire six-month offseason into less than two months. A frenzy of roster moves that will give the Eagles new look especially on defense starts now.
So what might the Eagles lineups look like on Sept. 11, when they open their 78th season in St. Louis against the Rams?
Counting some of the key backup spots, we figure there are 15 jobs up for grabs 17 if you include the kicking game.
Some of the 17 guys who win those jobs are already on the roster, some will be newcomers. Whatever happens, the next week is guaranteed to be one of the most eventful offseason weeks in Eagles history.
Heres one look at what the Eagles opening-day lineup may look like:
Quarterback: Michael Vick will make his first opening-day start in five years, since he started for the Falcons in the 2006 opener, a 20-6 win over the Panthers in Charlotte. Following Donovan McNabb in 2009 and Kevin Kolb in 2010, this will be the first time the Eagles have used different quarterbacks in three consecutive season openers since 1998 through 2000, with Bobby Hoying, Doug Pederson and McNabb.
Backup Quarterback: How important is this position? Only once in the last eight years has the Eagles starting QB started all 16 games. That was McNabb in 2008. Considering the reckless way Vick plays, the Eagles are more likely to bring in a veteran to be No. 2 once they trade Kevin Kolb than take their chances with Mike Kafka. Rex Grossman? Nope. Tarvaris Jackson? Nah. Hey, Brett Favre is about due to unretire, right? No, thanks. Well go with Matt Hasselbeck, if he becomes available and cant get a starting job. Otherwise, our pick is Marc Bulger.
Tailback: LeSean McCoy is back for his second year as the Eagles fulltime running back after an 1,080-yard rushing, 78-reception, nine-touchdown season. Only four players in NFL history including Brian Westbrook have ever had more than one season with 1,000 rushing yards and 75 catches. Barring injury, McCoy is a lock to become the fifth.
Backup Tailback: We kind of like what Jerome Harrison brought to the Eagles after that lopsided Mike Bell trade with the Browns. Harrison averaged 6.0 yards on 40 carries, highest by any Eagle running back with 40 or more carries since Timmy Brown averaged 6.8 yards per carry in 1961. Harrison is a free agent and wants to be a starter, but in this convoluted offseason, his chances to start somewhere appear slim. If hes willing to come back, wed love to have him. And wed like to see him get a handful of meaningful touches a game.
Fullback: In a normal offseason, rookie Stanley Havili would get every opportunity to win the starting fullback job. This year? With no offseason workouts? And no chance to practice with his teammates and impress or even meet his coaches? Its going to be very difficult for somebody like Havili to win a job. So well go with inspirational incumbent Owen Schmitt, whos not Leonard Weaver but is certainly a capable enough guy.
Wide Receiver: With 1,945 career receiving yards (including playoffs), Jeremy Maclin ranks third in NFL history in receiving yards before his 23rd birthday (behind Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald and just ahead of DeSean Jackson). Maclin, who fell 36 yards shy of 1,000 last year, seems ready to enter the NFLs receiving elite in his third season.
Wide Receiver: Same stat, different age. With 2,978 career receiving yards, DeSean Jackson ranks fourth in NFL history in receiving yards before turning 24 (behind Moss, David Boston and Fitzgerald). The big challenge facing Jackson this year is becoming more consistent a year after being limited to fewer than 35 yards in six of his 15 games.
Third Wide Receiver: Jason Avants catches have increased in each of his five NFL seasons (7, 23, 32, 41, 51), and hes now one of the top third-down receivers in football. One through three, the Eagles have the best receiving corps in football. Look for Riley Cooper to blossom as the fourth guy in that group in his second year.
Tight End: Brent Celeks numbers were cut almost in half during an injury-plagued 2010 season, and the Eagles need a big bounce-back season from Celek this fall in his third year as a full-time starter. Were high on promising Clay Harbor as the backup.
Left Tackle: The only position on the offensive line thats etched in stone. Jason Peters goes into his third year with the Eagles, and when healthy, hes a dominating blocker.
Left Guard: Todd Herremans is the incumbent, but we believe the Eagles strongest offensive line features Herremans at right tackle, so were going to pencil in Mike McGlynn at left guard and swing Herremans outside.
Center: Jamaal Jackson returns after missing the 2009 postseason and all of last year with major injuries. If Jackson can return to form, it would be huge for an offensive line that struggled badly last year.
Right Guard: After a couple unsettled years following Shawn Andrews problems (Nick Cole, Stacy Andrews, Max Jean-Gilles, Reggie Wells, etc.), right guard is finally in good hands with rookie Danny Watkins. Hell be a stud. Hed better be a stud.
Right Tackle: Reid still wants competition here, so hell give Winston Justice a chance to win his job back, and hell give surprising King Dunlap a shot, too. But when all is said and done, weve got the veteran Herremans as the opening-day starter.
Defensive End: Trent Cole is one of only two players in the NFL whos had eight or more sacks every year since 2006 (DeMarcus Ware is the other). With 57 sacks, Cole trails only Reggie White and Clyde Simmons in Eagles history. Pretty fair company.
Defensive End: The Eagles have been trying to upgrade Juqua Parker for a while now, but Parker has an edge this year since hes a veteran, knows the defense, has played for Jim Washburn and produces enough to stay around hes one of only seven players with at least five sacks in each of the last five seasons.
We love Parkers effort, but the Eagles desperately need more pressure. Victor Abiamiri? Ricky Sapp? Darryl Tapp? Daniel Teo-Nesheim? Phillip Hunt? Rehabbing Brandon Graham? The Eagles have plenty of bodies, but we think they need more than what they have. Jason Babin is everybodys favorite D-end, and there is the Washburn connection, but the reality is Babin netted 17 sacks in his first six seasons before recording 12 last year. Hes not going to come cheap, and hes 31. Which Jason Babin would the Eagles get? Ray Edwards, whom the Eagles apparently are pursuing, is going to be looking for a deal in the neighborhood of 8 million a year, and that's too much money for someone who's yet to record double-digit sacks in a season. So Babin might be the best option.
Defensive Tackle: Solid Mike Patterson stays.
Defensive Tackle: Underachieving Brodrick Bunkley goes. The Eagles need more from their interior defensive front, and Bunkley just hasnt become the elite player he should be. Albert Haynesworth? Just tough to imagine the Eagles going in that direction. Theres a role for Antonio Dixon, but well dip into free agency for our starter Seahawks free agent Brandon Mebane, just 26, and a 310-pound run stuffer who can collapse the pocket.
Strong Linebacker: We want Stewart Bradley back, not to play in the middle but at strong-side, where his athleticism is such an asset. Hes got to find a way to stay healthy, but if he can, Bradley is solid.
Middle Linebacker: We saw enough of Jamar Chaney last year to believe hell be just fine in the middle. Thats two pieces of a decent (finally) linebacking crew.
Weak Linebacker: Keenan Clayton gets the first crack at a position thats been unsettled since forever. Clayton is said to be bigger and stronger than in his rookie season, and we saw last year that hes active and around the ball. BradleyChaneyClayton is potentially a very productive group.
Right Cornerback: The Eagles just have too many needs to pay what Nnamdi Asomugha wants. We think Ike Taylor is OK, but Jonathan Joseph of the Bengals is more skilled, younger and will probably be cheaper. Hes our guy.
Left Cornerback: In three seasons, Asante Samuel has only eight fewer interceptions than Troy Vincent had in eight years with the Eagles.
Nickel Cornerback: Joselio Hanson struggles when he moves outside, but hes solid inside.
Free Safety: Nate Allen is back, hes healthy, and expectations are very high for the second-year pro.
Strong Safety: It wont be easy for Jaiquawn Jarrett to condense an entire offseason of learning into a month and a half, but Quintin Mikell certainly seems headed somewhere where hes assured of a starting job, so were going to stick with the Temple rookie. The fallback if Jarrett isnt ready? Marlin Jackson?
Kicker: They drafted Alex Henery for a reason. David Akers is one of the greatest outdoorbad-weather kickers in NFL history. Its a shame his worst game as an Eagle will likely be his last.
Punter: If you want to replace Sav Rocca, you better be ready to find somebody better. Dont think you will. Roccas net has improved in each of his four NFL seasons, and his 37.6 career net is best in franchise history. Hes back.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org