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Eagles have high expectations entering Camp

PHILADELPHIA -- Seconds after the Phillies blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning Wednesday night, the familiar chant started at the wrong stadium: "E-A-G-L-E-S!" Championship-starved fans in football-crazed Philadelphia don't have to wait any longer for their favorite team to hit the field.

The Eagles open training camp Friday when rookies and selected veterans report to Lehigh University in Bethlehem. The rest of the team is due Monday and the first practice in full pads is Wednesday.

After capturing their fifth NFC East title in six years and reaching the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, the Eagles have high expectations again. But close won't cut it. Winning the Super Bowl is the only goal.

A look at the Eagles by position going into camp:

QUARTERBACK: Jeff Garcia took his crisp passes, leadership skills and fiery personality to Tampa Bay after leading the Eagles to six straight wins, including a playoff victory. So, there's no controversy. It's Donovan McNabb's job -- until Kevin Kolb is ready.

McNabb, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, is returning from a torn knee ligament that ended his season in Week 11. Before he went down, McNabb was having one of his best statistical years. He finished with 2,647 yards passing, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 95.5.

Garcia's gritty style won over the fans, but management allowed him to leave in free agency and extended A.J. Feeley's contract to ensure McNabb had a capable backup.

The selection of Kolb in the second round - the Eagles' first pick of the draft -- was a surprise and bothered McNabb, who isn't ready to groom his future successor.

If the 30-year-old McNabb stays healthy and plays the way he did before he got hurt, Kolb could be holding a clipboard for several years.

--- RUNNING BACK: Brian Westbrook proved he can carry the load last season. The versatile Westbrook set career highs for carries (240), yards (1,217), catches (77) and receiving yards (699). Correll Buckhalter played a full season and was a solid backup, but his injury history remains a concern. Rookie Tony Hunt, a third-round pick, could be valuable in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Coach Andy Reid finally moved toward a more balanced attack after McNabb went down, relying more on Westbrook and the running game. It worked down the stretch, but will Reid become pass-happy now that McNabb is back?

--- WIDE RECEIVER: The loss of Donte' Stallworth to the New England Patriots was partly offset by the signing of Kevin Curtis. With Reggie Brown emerging into a No. 1 receiver and youngsters Hank Baskett and Jason Avant developing, McNabb should have plenty of options.

Still, he doesn't have a game-breaking playmaker like Terrell Owens, or even Stallworth, who caught 38 passes for 725 yards and five TDs in 12 regular-season games. Considering the way the Eagles like to spread the ball, their receiving corps could thrive.

--- TIGHT END: Starter L.J. Smith is coming off surgery for a sports hernia in May and entering a contract year so he needs to have a productive season. Veteran Matt Schobel and rookie Brent Celek are the backups.

--- OFFENSIVE LINE: Each starter returns, giving the Eagles one of the top blocking units in the league. All-Pro Shawn Andrews is outstanding at right guard. Veteran tackles William Thomas and Jon Runyan anchor the line and there's plenty of depth at this position.

--- DEFENSIVE LINE: A major problem for the Eagles last season was the performance of the front four. Once Jevon Kearse went down in Week 2, the pass rush suffered. End Darren Howard was a disappointment and rookie defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley couldn't earn playing time. As a result, the interior linemen struggled mightily against the run. Kearse is eager to prove he can rebound from a serious injury. Bunkley has to show he was worth being a first-round pick. The Eagles need both players to perform well.

Free-agent pickups Ian Scott and Montae Reagor give the Eagles depth behind Mike Patterson and Bunkley.

This likely will be Jerome McDougle's last camp. A first-round bust, McDougle will have a difficult time making the roster unless players get hurt.

--- LINEBACKER: A positional overhaul finally gives defensive coordinator Jim Johnson more talent to use.

Takeo Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, upgrades the weakside spot. Second-year pro Chris Gocong gets a chance to replace Dhani Jones as the strongside starter. Jeremiah Trotter returns in the middle, though he could be pushed by Omar Gaither.

Can Spikes regain his Pro Bowl form? How much does Trotter have left? Is Gocong ready after sitting out his rookie season? The defense's success could depend on how those questions are answered.

--- SECONDARY: Lito Sheppard, a former All-Pro, and Sheldon Brown are formidable cornerbacks. Will James solidifies the nickel spot and could challenge Brown for a starting job. Veteran free safety Brian Dawkins remains one of the best at his position. Sean Considine needs to improve at strong safety.

--- SPECIAL TEAMS:David Akers is a reliable kicker. Punter Dirk Johnson was inconsistent, so he'll compete with Australian star Sav Rocca.

Former Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom will have every opportunity to be the return specialist.

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