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Football Notes

Dreaming big has put Eagles in the crosshairs

By Greg A. Bedard
August 7, 2011

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You have to hand it to Jeffrey Lurie, the Boston-bred owner of the Eagles.

He tried - boy, did he try - to put the Cheez Whiz back in the can after some of his players put a big, fat target on their backs by uttering some nonsense about how good they are after all the additions they made to their team.

“Dream team,’’ quarterback Vince Young uttered. Make that backup quarterback, who was kicked off the Titans.

“I feel like we are the Miami Heat of the NFL . . . except we win the final game,’’ defensive end Jason Babin tweeted.

You can guess how well that went over in the National Football League.

“I don’t know if we win the all-hype team,’’ said Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. “That might have gone to someone else, but we’re going to beat their ass when we play them.’’

Cornerback Charles Woodson of the reigning Super Bowl champion Packers pointed out that the real Dream Team - with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, et al - dominated with blowout victories.

“This is the National Football League, and there’s going to be a lot of people who have something to say about that,’’ Woodson told SI.com.

What the Eagles have done could be something to behold.

Young could resurrect himself as Michael Vick’s understudy if he shows that he actually cares. Babin is an underrated pass rusher and should flourish under defensive line coach Jim Washburn. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is good, and could be a star if he focuses more. Nnamdi Asomugha is a star cornerback, and will lock down his side of the field. Cullen Jenkins has been a very good defensive tackle when healthy. Ronnie Brown is a solid running back who should be better behind a more competent line. And tackle Ryan Harris and guard Evan Mathis may turn out to be the best signings on the offensive side of the ball because the Eagles needed line depth.

Add all of those players to the core the Eagles already had - assuming receiver DeSean Jackson ends his holdout and comes in with a good attitude - and you can see why they are confident.

But Lurie, who went to Brandeis and lived in Brookline, knows the weight of great expectations in the City of Brotherly Love Only If You Give Us A Championship. So he attempted to hold back the onslaught.

“As I look at the NFC, I laugh when people say, ‘Are you the favorite?’ ’’ Lurie said. “Let’s cut to reality. You’ve got Atlanta coming off the best record in the NFC. Terrific young quarterback in Matt Ryan. They’ve added Julio Jones and all those guys. They’re loaded.

“New Orleans, great offseason, coming off a Super Bowl win two years ago. Spectacular quarterback in Drew Brees. They add [draft picks Mark] Ingram and Cam Jordan. Loaded for bear.

“Green Bay is going to get all of those star players back that were injured last year, with a quarterback that’s off the charts. Then you’ve got a potential superstar quarterback in St. Louis [Sam Bradford], who could be as good as any of those guys.

“Not to mention the fact that going into last year, everybody said Dallas was the best team in the conference. And you’ve got the Giants, who manhandled us in the Meadowlands in the most important game of the year.

“That’s how I see it when I go to bed at night. I see it as an extremely competitive NFC. I’m sure there’ll be some surprise teams I didn’t even mention. That’s the dose of reality I have.’’

What else did you expect from the man, who along with wife Christina, won an Oscar for producing the documentary, “Inside Job,’’ which detailed the meltdown of the financial markets?

Lurie evidently doesn’t want to foot the bill for the football sequel, complete with coach Andy Reid in the role of Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers.

“We’re about as far from a dream team as you can be. We’re playing catch-up,’’ Lurie said. “The only dream team I know is the Green Bay Packers. We dream to become as good as the Green Bay Packers and hold that trophy.’’

Well, that does it then. After listening to Lurie, I’m not sure the Eagles will even make the playoffs.

In all seriousness, Lurie is a very smart man. He should have realized trying to dumb down the expectations for this Eagles team in that city was a futile endeavor.

What Lurie, who’s just a short drive from Atlantic City, should have done was double down. After all, he called his franchise “the gold standard’’ back in ’03.

What’s so wrong with demanding results from what is obviously a talented team? Why shouldn’t Reid have pressure on him to deliver more than the good-but-not-great teams he has consistently produced?

The Eagles’ championship drought has Lurie puzzled. “I don’t have a great answer for that, honestly,’’ he said when asked why the team hasn’t taken that next step.

With the promise the Eagles showed last season with Vick under center, and all of the key acquisitions they made in the offseason, the greatest of expectations are going to be there whether Lurie wants to acknowledge them or not.

“I think we’ll compete,’’ Lurie said. “There’s no question we had a strong team last year and we should have a better team this year.’’

It’s Super Bowl or bust for the Eagles. We know it. The players and coaches know it. Lurie does too. He just should have said it.

JUST TAKING OFF
Jets may have hit on star with Kerley The Jets started free agency by making the move they had to make, re-signing talented receiver Santonio Holmes.

They signed 6-foot-5-inch Plaxico Burress to be Holmes’s running mate, but Burress has already twisted an ankle in camp and after being in prison for two years on a gun-related charge, no one knows what he’ll bring.

The Jets bought some protection yesterday by signing 37-year-old Derrick Mason, but they are still thin at the position after releasing Jerricho Cotchery because the rest of the receivers are unknown.

The Jets are hoping fifth-round pick Jeremy Kerley will give them another threat. So far, he’s been the breakout star of camp.

“We do have some inexperience there at some of the backup spots,’’ coach Rex Ryan said. “[But] I think you guys have seen, as well as I do, that Kerley’s got a chance, I think, to be something special.’’

Kerley is 5-9 1/2, 189 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds. His biggest flaw coming out of Texas Christian was his inability to stay healthy. Special teams coach Mike Westhoff said Kerley will likely start the season as the punt returner, and may return kickoffs.

The Jets have been using Kerley in the slot with the first-team offense. His cutting ability has been impressive, as has his acceleration after the catch.

“He’s doing great - first team, second team, special teams,’’ quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “There’s always one big surprise at camp and for a guy that didn’t know much of the playbook coming in, he’s picked it up very fast. He puts his head down, goes to work, takes coaching really well, and players really like him.’’

The Jets let Brad Smith walk to Buffalo. Braylon Edwards got only a one-year deal from the 49ers. Ryan said he kept his word by giving Cotchery his release. Mason’s production has been in steady decline since 2007.

Don’t be surprised if Kerley ends up playing a big role at some point. “This could be a big opportunity for him,’’ Sanchez said.

ADDING MACHINE
No shortage of Saints newcomers The Saints have flown under the radar a bit, but the team two seasons removed from a Super Bowl title put together a very effective offseason.

After taking versatile defensive end Cameron Jordan and running back Mark Ingram in the first round of the draft, the Saints last week added former 49ers defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin and former Bears center Olin Kreutz.

That’s on top of the previous additions of running back Darren Sproles, defensive lineman Shaun Rogers, and cornerback Fabian Washington.

Kreutz may be 34 and has battled injuries, but the four-time All-Pro says he’s healthy. If he can stay that way between standout guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, the Saints could have one of the best interior lines in the league.

“Each guy is a little different,’’ coach Sean Payton said. “It’s just interesting to be around [Kreutz], we have a lot of respect for him. You watch him play on film, he goes till the whistle, he’s a tremendous competitor, he’s been to six Pro Bowls, and he’s been with a team that has experienced winning. We’re excited about it and excited about what that brings to our offensive line and our offense in general.’’

Franklin, Rogers, Jordan, and free agent Turk McBride should pair with incumbents Will Smith (likely to serve a four-game suspension at start of the season from the lingering StarCaps case) and Sedrick Ellis to give the Saints a formidable defensive line in front of star linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

“Really, all we are focused on is now, but we do feel like we have a young team, a young nucleus,’’ Payton said. “Once again, it really enforces the importance of your own draft and being able to hit on players and develop those players. And, periodically, find one of those players - a Darren Sharper, an Olin Kreutz, Shaun Rogers, Darren Sproles, just piece them into the master plan. Hopefully these guys come in here and they get adjusted quickly and get acclimated. All of them have a number of skins on the wall and have played successful football. And now, having them do that for us is the key.’’

ETC.
Tough to question Woody’s passion Former Patriots offensive lineman Damien Woody will make a seamless transition to ESPN analyst after announcing his retirement Friday following 12 NFL seasons.

“Retiring for any athlete is hard, and you just never expect this day to happen,’’ Woody said. “But the one thing is, I’m really looking forward to life after football, especially my body.’’

Woody, 33, thought about returning to the Jets for another reason, but decided against it. He has six children at home with a seventh on the way.

“I don’t know if people realize how competitive D-Wood is because he’s always got that smile on his face,’’ Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “He’s a guy that’s going to be involved in this game for a long, long time. He’d get the tough assignments and never flinched one bit . . . You could fit him anywhere across the line, and that’s unusual.’’

Woody starred at Boston College before the Patriots took him with the 17th overall pick - the same spot the Patriots nabbed Nate Solder this year - in the 1999 draft. Woody started at center in Super Bowl XXXVI, but missed the title game two years later because of a knee injury.

He often battled injuries, even in his final season with the Jets when he sat out the final three games after having knee surgery. Woody returned for the wild-card victory over the Colts, but blew out his Achilles’ tendon in the game.

Woody was a warrior until the end.

“I think it shows his character,’’ Jets center Nick Mangold said. “For as many years as he played in this league, to be going out there and fighting through injuries shows the way he cares about the guys in the locker room and wants to help us win. He’ll be missed.’’

Nickel package Five takes on the league:

1. Did former Jets receiver Braylon Edwards get served some humble pie or what? It wasn’t long ago that Edwards was spouting off about not giving the Jets a hometown discount. In the end, it was more like a blue-light special for the 49ers. They signed Edwards to a one-year, $1 million contract that is not guaranteed. He could make over $3 million if he reaches an assortment of incentives. Edwards’s incentive should be to stay out of trouble and not drop passes.

2. Good hustle shown by Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald to stake out Brett Favre in Mississippi. Darlington was there to gauge if Favre has any interest in joining the Dolphins. Favre said no. Here’s the thing about the Old Gunslinger - he doesn’t do anything until training camp is over. So perhaps the trip was a couple of weeks premature.

3. How much more of an embarrassment can Soldier Field get? The team canceled “Family Fest’’ on Friday because the turf was unsafe - after fans had arrived. Can’t wait to see that turf in December. Just put down FieldTurf already.

4. Smart move by the Patriots to bring in former Jets defensive lineman Shaun Ellis for a visit. Ellis terrorized the Patriots in the first regular-season matchup, and then in the playoff game. In the matchup the Patriots won, 45-3, they wisely double-teamed Ellis. He’s a true pro who would be asset to any locker room. “Obviously I can’t say that I wish him the best because that wouldn’t be true if he goes to New England,’’ said Rex Ryan. “Now if he went to Dallas, I would say that, that’s true.’’

5. Congratulations to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for receiving the McCann Award during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinees Dinner in Canton, Ohio, Friday night. My former mentor is in his 32d year covering the Packers, and his analysis is without peer. McGinn’s “Ultimate Super Bowl Book’’ is required reading for any hardcore football fan.

Short yardage Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who had visited the Patriots but signed with the Colts, told reporters New England wasn’t the right fit for him. “I was in New England . . . and I knew I wanted to come to a place where guys get upfield and rush,’’ he said. “New England is more for the bigger linemen, a read-and-react type of defense.’’ . . Good to see well-respected Cowboys receivers coach Jimmy Robinson back on the field. Robinson suffered a concussion and had to be carted off last Saturday after he was inadvertently run into by wide receiver Teddy Williams during a punt drill. “Well, still some headaches, a little bit of double vision,’’ said Robinson, 58, who spent the previous six seasons with the Packers. “It kind of comes and goes. Mornings are a little tougher. In the afternoon and evenings, it seems to get a little better. Try to take it one day, one practice at a time.’’ . . . Former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham formerly kicked off his second career last week when he held the grand opening of SkyCrepers, a fast-serve crepe restaurant, at the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro. Tedy Bruschi, Joe Andruzzi, Christian Fauria, and Jermaine Wiggins were among the former teammates on hand . . . The deadline to register for the Matt Light Celebrity Shoot-Out Sporting Clay Tournament, to be held Sept. 20 in Mapleville, R.I., is Aug. 15. Go to www.mattlightfoundation.org for more information.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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