- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- As the Philadelphia Eagles learned in 2011, a "Dream Team" label can be a curse.
The Eagles loaded up in the 2011 free-agent market because they could. Coach Andy Reid believes in building through the draft and rewarding his best young players with contract extensions.
For more than a decade, the Eagles worked the salary cap better than their competitors and they looked at 2011 as a rare opportunity.
Last season offered the Eagles a chance to bid for top players in a market that was watered down for competition. They had the cap room and they took the chances. They outspent the league and ended up being a disappointing 8-8.
Now the Eagles are back to being the Eagles. DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy got their contract extensions. And from watching practice at Lehigh University, the Eagles have the look of a dream team that isn't going to disappoint.
Here are four observations from Eagles camp:
1: Michael Vick looks better than ever: On Monday, the Eagles worked a lot of two-minute offensive drills and deep and intermediate pass plays. Vick put on an impressive show. Observers marvel at his ability to scramble, but Monday was a reminder how great he is as a thrower. His deep throws exploded downfield with pretty spirals. More important, Vick is in a good place in his life on and off the field. The former Atlanta Falcons leader who used to let disks of game tape collect dust in the back of his car has become an intense student. As soon as the 2011 season was over, he came to the Eagles' office to watch tapes and review his game. Vick can't remember how many times he watched tapes of his disappointing Week 10 game against the Arizona Cardinals, when he passed for only 128 yards and was intercepted twice. Vick spent so much time working on his game, Reid ordered him to get away for a few days. Vick is spending time working with a quarterbacks coach to become more precise with his footwork. In Atlanta, he was so fast with his backpedal, no receiver was able to completely run his route. His timing with Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant was fun to watch.
2. Playing to their cornerbacks' strengths: From the start of practice, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and others worked on their press man-to-man skills. With Asante Samuel traded, the Eagles can go to their physical strengths in the secondary. They can play man. It didn't make sense last year to take Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie and play them in zone coverages most of the season. Asomugha is one of the best press coverage cornerbacks of his era. With the help of secondary coach Todd Bowles, second-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is adjusting his scheme to the talents of his corners. The addition of Oshiomogho Atgowe gives the Eagles a quality safety to use in packages along with starters Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman.
3. New defensive leader: The Eagles' acquisition of DeMeco Ryans
in a trade with the Texans might be one of the best offseason moves in the league. Reid has had good middle linebackers in the past, but he's also struggled to find good ones. Ryans is the perfect fit. Not only is Ryans a big, physical presence in the middle, he's a good leader. Last year, the Eagles had a young linebacking corps; this year's group is also young. Having a leader such as Ryans will only make this group better.
4. Look for improved line play: Part of last year's dream team promise was the additions of defensive line coach Jim Washburn and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, legendary teachers in football. The lockout provided Washburn and Mudd little time to coach their pupils during the offseason. Expect good years from both lines, particularly on offense. Mudd has already worked his magic with center Jason Kelce, who is quietly becoming one of the best centers in the NFC. The right side of the line is coming together with Todd Herremans and Danny Watkins. The question mark will be whether Demetress Bell can fill in for injured left tackle Jason Peters. Were Peters healthy, the Eagles would be a top-five line. Bell interestingly was Peters' replacement in Buffalo when Peters was traded to the Eagles. Bell looked adequate, but because Vick is a left-handed quarterback, Bell won't be as pressured as he would be in a normal situation because he's not protecting Vick's blind side. Plus, Vick is mobile enough to avoid sacks if there are breakdowns.