With so many new faces in new places, no one knew what to expect from the Philadelphia Eagles in the preseason.
There were holdouts. There were no new contracts to be signed by current players. There were new players in camp, but they could not work out right away. And even with a roster laced with stars on both sides of the ball, there were still questions to be answered.
A month later, though, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid feels good about his crew.
And it’s hard not to.
The Eagles, perhaps the most talked about team in the NFL this summer, wrapped up a 3-1 preseason with a 24-14 victory over the New York Jets at The Meadowlands on Thursday night.
“Are there things we can do better? Absolutely,” Reid said. “But we’ve played pretty well.”
And now, for the hard part. With the expectations of the Super Bowl, and a target on their back, are the defeding NFC East champion Eagles are beginning preparations for their opening Sept. 11 in St. Louis.
“We have a lot of work to do. With the new coaches and new players, we’re still jelling together,” Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel said. “We’ll see how it goes on Sept. 11.”
The Eagles played three teams this preseason, made the AFC playoffs last season: Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Jets. They went 2-1 against those teams, averaging 20.3 points.
“This is a great offense,” rookie running back Dion Lewis said. “They just want to get people in space.”
And they have the personnel to do so. Though there is some slight concern about the quarterbacks behind starter Michael Vick. While Vince Young (hamstring) is expected to practice all week and will be available against the Rams, there is a possibility that the Eagles have to give the untested Mike Kafka the nod at No. 2 on an interim basis.
Kafka is in its second year at Northwestern. He was 34 of 49 in the four games, totaling 369 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I’ve said this before. Without my confidence in Mike, I would have never done the Kevin Kolb thing,” Reid said, referring to the trade that sent Kolb to Arizona before training camp began. “I’m just very comfortable with him. He’s had a good preseason, and so I have enough trust there.”
He’s also building some trust in Lewis, especially on special teams. A shifty explosive back from Pitt, Lewis could find himself returning kicks for the Eagles. Against the Jets, who had a 40-yarder, who impressed the staff, and finished the preseason with 148 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries from scrimmage.
“He’s done a heck of a job this preseason. He’s got great instincts. He’s got balance, strength and he’s patient,” Reid said. “And that’s something you don’t see with a lot of kids coming out of college. They want everything to be speed to the hole. But you have to slow it down here. You have to let plays develop, and he’s natural with that.”
Lewis also caught six passes 102 yards, including a-40 yarder.
“Being a rookie and a new guy in this league, the biggest thing you need to do is gain the coaches’ trust,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. The more growing up I do, the more they might trust me in a live game.”
The Eagles, who shuffled defensive units in a crowd and played the Jets game with mostly the second and third units, allowed 14.5 points per game and had 19 sacks.
“I think we’ll be all right,” Samuel said. “The real challenge is going to come Sept. 11, and we’re working hard and preparing every day.
“I think we’ll be fine.”