Eagles-Browns PreviewBy SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
STATS Senior Writer
2012-09-09 11:39:26 -
As the Philadelphia Eagles begin another year of high expectations, they have to be wondering whether Michael Vick will finally play a full season for the first time with the club.
The Cleveland Browns are pinning their hopes on a pair of rookie first-round picks at critical positions.
These teams with vastly different outlooks on the season meet Sunday when the Eagles visit a Browns team that could become the fourth in the last 44 years to start rookies at quarterback and running back in an opener in Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson.
Philadelphia was a popular Super Bowl pick a year ago, but an 8-8 season saw the Eagles miss the playoffs. The franchise still hasn't won a Super Bowl, Andy Reid is entering his 14th year as the coach and owner Jeffrey Lurie has demanded a better season.
"We need substantial improvement," Lurie said. "As I said, 8-8 was unacceptable."
Vick hasn't played a full season since his final one with Atlanta in 2006. His 13 games last year were his most in his three seasons with the Eagles, but he's already been hurt twice this preseason - the latest resulting in bruised ribs.
The 32-year-old Vick has returned to practice this week after being out for the last two preseason games.
"I feel good going into this game," he said. "I feel like I'm 100 percent, and I don't really have any nagging injuries. I think I'm fully recovered."
There aren't high expectations for Cleveland, which lost its final six games last year to finish 4-12 - the eighth time in nine seasons it has posted at least 10 losses. New owner Jimmy Haslam III will likely be approved in October, prompting speculation that team president Mike Holmgren could be fighting for his job in the third year of a five-year deal.
Any hope for this floundering franchise probably depends on whether Weeden and Richardson develop into stars.
Weeden, who will turn 29 next month, won the starting quarterback job over Colt McCoy. He was drafted 22nd overall after throwing 37 touchdowns a year ago for Oklahoma State.
"I've had a chance to interact with him on a daily basis for a very long time now," coach Pat Shurmur said. "I'm very confident that he's going to do a good job."
Richardson, selected third overall, underwent knee surgery on Aug. 9, but the former Alabama star has practiced this week and seems on track to play.
"There's nothing to worry me at all," Richardson said. "I'm very confident in my knee. I try to be 110 percent in whatever I do. Coach is going to put me in the right situation."
Weeden and Richardson are being counted on to improve a team that scored 218 points a season ago for the league's third-lowest total.
"We've added some weapons to our offense," Shurmur said. "I'm very confident that we're going to be better in terms of scoring points. I just am, I believe it."
Scoring shouldn't be a problem for the Eagles with their weapons.
LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns and ran for 1,309 yards to finish fourth in the league. The often disgruntled DeSean Jackson could be happy after signing a five-year deal in the offseason and joins Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek as quality targets for Vick.
Of course, all of those players were there last year when the Eagles finished second in the league with 38 turnovers.
"It's a year's time," Vick said. "We went through that, and we know what we have to fight through and how tough it was."
The Eagles, who won their final four games to close 2011, hope to have corrected defensive problems last year when coordinator Juan Castillo was in his first season.
They finished with 50 sacks to tie for the league's best total last year, led by Jason Babin's 18. The defensive line could be better if tackle Fletcher Cox, the team's first-round pick, lives up to expectations.
Philadelphia could also rally behind Reid, who is signed through 2013 and endured personal tragedy when son Garrett Reid died on Aug. 5.
Shurmur was an assistant under Reid with Philadelphia from 1999-2008, getting his first NFL job as the team's tight ends coach at the start of that tenure. Browns general manager Tom Heckert was Philadelphia's director of player personnel during much of that time.
"I've got a huge amount of respect, and it's a matter of record, for who he is as a person, as a man," Shurmur said of Reid. "I learned about this league working for Andy."
Part of the Eagles' 4-0 preseason was a 27-10 victory at Cleveland on Aug. 24, but the teams didn't use their starters extensively with this contest in mind. Vick sat out while Weeden struggled, completing 9 of 20 passes for 117 yards in his home debut.
Browns cornerback Joe Haden has appealed a suspension and is awaiting a decision from the NFL. He doesn't know if he will be able to play Sunday.
It's possible linebacker Scott Fujita will play after being reinstated by the league Friday, shortly after his three-game suspension for his role in the Saints bounty case was overturned. He had to stay away from the Browns' training facility all week, but Shurmur previously said Fujita would likely play if he was eligible.
Sunday in Cleveland also will see the Browns pay tribute to former owner Art Modell, who died Thursday at the age of 87.
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