Kalu out, others suffering from ailments
One year after placing four DLs on injured reserve, the Eagles have already been hit hard up front.
PHILADELPHIA -- Five observations on the Philadelphia Eagles, based on the practices of Aug. 18:
This season, not yet underway, hasn't exactly started in encouraging fashion. Eighth-year veteran N.D. Kalu, the projected starter at right end, blew out an anterior cruciate ligament on Tuesday. You've got to feel for Kalu, who was taking an extra "rep" toward the end of practice because some of the backup ends were gassed. Kalu isn't the only defensive linemen, however, to suffer a physical setback, although his is clearly the most serious. Simon missed time in camp because of a back strain, remains sidelined, and no one seems sure when he will return to practice. Walker has gotten very little work because of a hamstring problem. Backup tackle Paul Grasmanis is nursing a knee injury. Last year's first-round draft choice, end Jerome McDougle, had minor shoulder surgery and just returned to practice. McDougle's rookie season was all but a washout because of ankle knee and hip injuries. Another second-year veteran, Jamaal Green, has an ankle injury. Ditto youngster Sam Rayburn. Uh, are we seeing an unsettling pattern here, folks? On consecutive days this week, Philadelphia was forced to bring in free agent reinforcements, first unsigned collegian DeMarco McNeil, then veteran journeyman Colston Weatherington. There was a rumor someone in the front office was checking to see who owned the rights to Reggie White. OK, we're kidding about that last one, but the defensive line injuries are hardly a joking matter. The new starting right tackle, for instance, is Derrick Burgess. Now, make no mistake, Burgess is a high-energy guy, a solid pass rusher who had six sacks as a situational player during his 2001 rookie season, and is certainly capable of surpassing the 5½ sacks Kalu registered in 2003. The problem is, Burgess has played in one game the past two seasons because of foot and Achilles injuries. And he played principally at left end. Burgess looked quick and somewhat explosive on Wednesday, but it's tough to ignore the black cloud that has been floating over his head since 2001, and which now seems to be hovering over the entire defensive line unit. And lest we forget, Kearse, who should make a huge impact if physically whole, missed 17 starts in the past two seasons because of foot injuries. We don't want to rain on what ought to be a Super Bowl parade down Broad St. this year, but the early spate of maladies on the line can't be overlooked. So make the call for that exorcist now, Andy, before it's too late.
It will be interesting to see how Owens affects the performance of quarterback Donovan McNabb. He remains a very average passer from an accuracy standpoint, with a 57 percent career completion rate, and a guy who doesn't often hit people in stride and allow them to do something after the catch. Be honest, how many times have you seen a Philadelphia running back have to reach back or bend down to catch a swing pass? McNabb is far more accurate moving out of the pocket. But in Owens he has a receiver who wants the ball on the cut. Give him credit, though, for this: McNabb doesn't turn it over very often. He has a touchdown pass to interception ratio of 1.8-1, pretty solid. And the Eagles last season established a new franchise record for fewest turnovers, with just 22. Want a guy for the latter rounds of your fantasy football draft? You might want to take a flier on tight end L.J. Smith, the team's second-round pick in 2003, who caught 27 passes as a rookie. The presence of Owens is going to open up the middle of the field a bit more and Smith could score 5-6 "red zone" touchdowns this season.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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