Veteran QB Donovan McNabb is trying to shoulder the weight of a youthful Eagles offense.
McNabb looks around in the huddle these days and sees guys who were in high school or college when he led the Birds to the Super Bowl five years ago.
With so many inexperienced starters, especially on offense, it's no wonder the Eagles offense remained inconsistent so far this season.
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“I've tried to put a little pressure on my shoulders to challenge those guys and make sure that they are prepared early in the season, also throughout the course of the season,” McNabb said. “At this particular point, I think every young guy and guy who is in their first year here with the Eagles has been faced with a lot of different adversities. I think they have understood exactly the things that we have to do and what we ask of those guys to do.”
McNabb is surrounded by youth, particularly at the skill positions. The starting wide receivers are a second-year pro (DeSean Jackson) and a rookie (Jeremy Maclin). Tight end Brent Celek is in his first season as a full-time starter. With running back Brian Westbrook sidelined by another concussion, rookie LeSean McCoy takes over in the backfield.
Two of the offensive linemen (right tackle Winston Justice and right guard Nick Cole) are also full-time starters for the first time.
McNabb warned against high expectations early in training camp because the Eagles had so many young players. After a 5-2 start, Philadelphia has dropped two straight heading into Sunday night's game at Chicago (4-5).
“We have a lot of young faces. We have a lot of new faces,” McNabb said back in July. “For me to sit here and say, 'Hey, we're a Super Bowl team and we're going to win the Super Bowl,' I don't believe in all that. I think that's something that at the end of the year, we'll find out who wins and who doesn't.”
The Eagles looked like a legitimate contender after thoroughly dominating the Giants in a 40-17 victory on Nov. 1. But they followed that with a 20-16 loss at home to Dallas and a 31-23 defeat at San Diego.
After the loss to the Chargers, McNabb made it clear the young players need to improve for Philadelphia to have a chance.
“Veteran leadership is something that we don't have that much of,” McNabb said. “For the guys that are out there, we're trying to get the young guys going a little bit. But the young guys have to step up at this time. This is the time, later in the year, where you're calling on them to do a lot of different things. They've got to step up.”
McCoy, who leads the team in rushing, is eager to fill Westbrook's shoes. The Eagles have always been a pass-first team and they've relied on the passing attack even more this season with Westbrook out of the lineup.
“I've been in this situation before. It's not really a big difference,” McCoy said. “Maybe I'm going to get a lot more reps this week (in practice) and my preparation has to be bigger than before. Just kind of know all of my keys; lot of little stuff like that is taken care of.”
The Eagles are one of four teams with 5-4 records and they trail Dallas by only one game in the NFC East. But they can't afford a loss to the Bears.
“This is a game that we need to win,” McNabb said. “That's the way I'm approaching it and that's the way the other guys are approaching it as well.”