Failing to live up to enormous expectations was a humbling experience for the Philadelphia Eagles last year.
That's why no one's talking Super Bowl — not publicly, at least.
These Eagles are just as confident as the group that went 8-8 last season after all that "Dream Team" hype. But they're not going around telling people how good they are. They'd rather show it on the field this time.
"With the expectations and us not only not meeting our goals, but not making the playoffs, we learned a lot," star running back LeSean McCoy said. "I think it humbled us. With all the big-time players that we have, we really have to check ourselves and go into the season to prove ourselves. I really think all of the hype is out the window and it's a new year. I think there's a lot of pressure for us as players because we fought hard for our coach and he's back here again. We have to make sure we do the right things."
Andy Reid returns for his 14th season as coach, though owner Jeffery Lurie admitted he thought long and hard about making a change. Reid could be facing a make-or-break year, especially after all the major turnover in the front office.
Longtime president Joe Banner stepped down, saying he wanted to seek other opportunities, though many insiders feel he lost a power struggle with Reid and general manager Howie Roseman. That means Reid could be running out of time to end the franchise's 52-year championship drought.
"Every year, the goal is to win the Super Bowl," Lurie said. "There's no ultimatums, that's our goal and every year that's the plan."
Keeping Michael Vick healthy will be the top priority if the Eagles are going to make a serious run. Vick, the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback, missed three games last season and has started 16 games just once in his nine-year career.
With him, the Eagles have a dynamic offense capable of lighting up the scoreboard against any opponent. Vick has plenty of talent surrounding him, including McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek.
Without him, the Eagles may not have much of a chance. Unproven Mike Kafka and journeyman Trent Edwards will battle for the backup spot in training camp.
"We just feel like we should have accomplished a lot last year," Vick said. "We just want to have fun and be the best that we can be. We want to work hard to get there. We know it's not going to be easy, but we're going to work at it.
"We have an opportunity to do some special things. That's what we're hoping for and that's what we're working towards. We have to keep grinding and understanding that nothing is going to come easy."
Despite their troubles last year, the Eagles weren't eliminated from playoff contention until right before their next-to-last game kicked off and they ended up second behind the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants (9-7).
A four-game winning streak ended a disappointing season on a slightly positive note. It also made it that much tougher to accept falling short because one game was the difference between missing the playoffs and winning the division.
"The momentum we had to end the season is a good start," Jackson said. "I think we can kind of go back to just refreshing that in our memory with the last four games, as far as the people who were here. For the people who weren't here, it'll be hard to gain that momentum. The guys that were here have that hunger and the feeling of having our backs against the wall, especially since we had a terrible start to the season. This year the biggest thing is to start fast and finish strong."
Defense was a major issue for Philadelphia last season. Offensive-line-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator Juan Castillo appeared overmatched early in the season and some of the high-priced newcomers had trouble adjusting to his scheme.
The Eagles addressed their defense throughout the offseason. They acquired two-time Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans to fill a major need. They also drafted three defensive players in the first two rounds, taking defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round and linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive end Vinny Curry in the second.
Veteran safety O.J. Atogwe was signed to add depth in the secondary, and cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should benefit from playing their natural positions now that Asante Samuel is gone.
"Once I had the opportunity to maybe join them, I was excited because I just knew what they had on the offensive side of the ball as well as what they had on the defensive side of the ball," said Atogwe, who played for Washington last year. "They played us tough both times we played them, and we weren't very effective against their defense. They had a very good defense as well as offense.
"Everything just didn't come together until the end of the season, which is why they didn't have as successful of a season as they wanted to. It seems we have the potential to do everything we have the desire to do this year. We just have to work on everything coming together at the same time." — (AP)