New-look Eagles ready to tackle rising expectations

PHILADELPHIA -- With so many new faces in new places, no one quite knew what to expect from the Eagles in the preseason.

There were holdouts. There were new contracts to be signed by current players. There were new players in camp, but they couldn't work out right away. And even with a roster laced with stars on both sides of the ball, there still were questions to be answered.

A month later, though, Eagles coach Andy Reid feels just fine about his crew.

And it's hard not to feel that way.

The Eagles, perhaps the most talked-about team in the NFL this summer, finished a 3-1 preseason with a 24-14 victory over the New York Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium 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 Super Bowl expectations, and targets on their backs, the defending NFC East champion Eagles are beginning preparations for their Sept. 11 season opener against the St. Louis Rams.

"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."

In the preseason, the Eagles played three teams that made the AFC playoffs last season: the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jets. Philadelphia 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, despite slight concern about the quarterbacks behind starter Michael Vick. While Vince Young (hamstring) is expected to practice all week and be available against the Rams, there is a possibility that the Eagles have to give the untested Mike Kafka the nod at No. 2 in the interim.

Kafka is in his second year out of Northwestern. He was 34-of-49 passing in four preseason games, totaling 369 yards, with 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 the Arizona Cardinals 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, he had a 40-yarder, which impressed the staff, and he finished the preseason with 148 yards and one touchdown on 36 carries.

"He's done a heck of a job this preseason," Reid said. "He's got great instincts. He's got balance, strength and he's patient. 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 for 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 a bunch and played the Jets game with mostly the second and third units, allowed 14.5 point 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."

They'll be logging some miles early on, though. The Eagles, who have their bye Oct. 23, will play just two games at home before Week 8. But they will play four at Lincoln Financial Field in a five-week span, starting Oct. 30.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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