We're going to play a game. Nobody knows for sure what to expect from the Birds this season. In fact, not many people are even sure whether this team got better or worse.
So let's break it down. We're running down the entire roster position by position, and asking whether the moves the front office made this off-season will result in immediate improvements, or if they've ultimately taken a huge step back. We begin at running back.
Keep in mind, when we ask whether the Eagles are better off without Brian Westbrook as the starting running back, we're talking about last year's model. BWest is a shell of his former self. There was concern all last summer about his health, he wound up participating in only half of the team's games, and he lacked the big play ability that made him special, a 34-yard reception being his longest gain of the season.
Everybody appreciates what Westbrook meant to the offense in his prime, but nobody can make a reasonable argument that the Eagles are going to miss him too much in the present day NFL. His skills are rapidly diminishing, and he's an injury waiting to happen. The coaches only saw fit to give 36 one touch in last season's finale, perhaps sparing him any further physical strain before his release.
That's not to say LeSean McCoy will ever be as dynamic as Westbrook. In fact, it's probably unfair to expect that. Westbrook was a special runner who would patiently duck down behind his blockers, then suddenly squirt through an opening and take it to the house. He created mismatches in the passing game, and he was an incredibly talented pass protector, especially considering his size. He was dangerous in any and every situation.
McCoy may not ever become an elite weapon, and we haven't quite seen enough from him yet to determine what his ceiling is exactly. It's still safe to assume he'll be an upgrade as the fulltime starter though. He was solid enough in his rookie season that it should give him something to build on, and he's simply going to have more spring in his step than a back who turned 30.
When we talk about Weaver having a better 2010, we're not necessarily speaking in conventional terms like developing as a player. The sixth year fullback is coming off his first All Pro season, so the Eagles appear to have already caught him right at his peak. However, he does have an opportunity to put up bigger numbers with increased touches.
Heading into their Week 8 tilt against the Giants, Weave had only carried a total of four times through six games up to that point. He exploded in that contest for 75 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown run, and for the remainder of the season he played a more prominent role in the offense. With an entire off-season for the coaches to design new schemes to get the ball to their fullback, who they happened to lock up for three more seasons, Weaver could shine even brighter.
The Eagles were in a tight spot at last April's draft. Westbrook's health status was a major concern, and his primary backup, Correll Buckhalter, was allowed to leave as a free agent. The organization absolutely had to draft a back, and they had to select one early, because there was a very realistic chance whoever it was would be pressed into action right from the jump.
That shouldn't be the case any longer. For starters, the club added restricted free agent Mike Bell from the Saints, and he actually led the champs in carries last season. Bell is nothing special, but he's a serviceable reserve who has rushed for over 600 yards twice in his four year career, and he's a bit of a bigger back that will show defenses a different look.
The Eagles also used their sixth round pick on Charles Scott. The 6-1, 234 lbs. back out of LSU is expected to compete with the less pedigreed Eldra Buckley for the final spot on the depth chart, and should he win, Scott could become a serious threat in short yardage or on the goal line.
Whenever you lose a Brian Westbrook, even in what appears to be the twilight of his career, you're still losing something. Need a big play at the end of a game? Westbrook. Somebody who knows exactly the right time to release out of the backfield? Westbrook. A player who isn't too selfish to teach and help the younger players who are fighting for his job? Westbrook.
We hope he's passed down all of the lessons from his eight years in the NFL to Shady, but that's sort of impossible. He was a leader who had a natural feel for the game, and those are things you can't necessarily impart to another player. We're confident McCoy is going to do just fine. He's simply not experienced enough to do all of the little things BWest handled without fuss.
We probably won't be able to say this about too many other positions, but it's really difficult to project Eagles' running backs being worse anywhere at all. They went with youth at the feature spot, signed a capable change up/reserve back, added competition at the back end of the depth chart, and extended their all star fullback. That's basically everything they needed to do.