Kotite's Eagles tight-lipped and on a short leash

TAKIN' OUT THE TRASH

August 17, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

West Chester, Pa. -- The field doesn't tilt any more when the defense trots on. The swagger isn't as pronounced as it once was. The talk isn't as trashy, either, unless you listen to linebacker Seth Joyner, who has spoken to the media only once this summer.

Gang Green, that fierce defensive unit that was always the better half of the Philadelphia Eagles' work force, doesn't work here any more. Not so it's recognizable, anyway. And not since Reggie White led the free-agent exodus out of Philadelphia during the off-season.

White wound up in the green of Green Bay, ready to collect $17 million over the next four years from the Packers. By the time the revolving door stopped spinning at Veterans Stadium, 10 other Eagles had joined the Minister of Defense in the defection line, including tight end Keith Byars, tackle Ron Heller, and defensive linemen Mike Golic and Mike Pitts, who played at Baltimore's Poly.

The new Eagles are named Tim Harris, Mark Bavaro and Keith Millard -- big names all. But for now, nobody's certain just what it means. Are the Eagles significantly worse or, as management suggests, slightly better? Does the new mix give them a chance to overcome their previous failings or exacerbate them?

"I really like it," Pro Bowl cornerback Eric Allen said of the new alignment on defense. "I was a little concerned about it early. But after getting in camp, [I see] they're our kind of guys. They're guys not afraid to speak their mind and say, 'Hey, we need to put more pressure on the quarterback this time' and 'I'm going to get the sack.' I like to see that. I like to see guys willing to open up."

It was, of course, a trademark of the old Eagles. The new Eagles are operating under a gag rule instituted last month. In the wake of widespread criticism that management had sold out in free agency, coach Rich Kotite threatened hefty fines for fingers pointed in the locker room.

So far, only Joyner -- an outspoken, in-house critic the past few seasons -- has openly questioned the gag rule. In his lone interview since arriving at training camp, he declared the no-trash policy illegal, and said: "I guess he [Kotite] figured like he had to do something."

Joyner's situation bears watching. He is in the last year of his contract, and expectations are that he will depart when the season ends. Asked in that interview if he was happy with the Eagles, Joyner said: "Well, I guess you could probably say I'm borderline. I'd be lying if I said I'm just thrilled to death with everything the way it is and the way it has been. But I can think of a lot worse situations that I could be in also."

In his third season as head coach, Kotite still is trying to scrape the residue of the Buddy Ryan era from the franchise like barnacles from a boat. On the issue of breaking up a Super Bowl-caliber team by failing to keep those free agents, Kotite offered a stinging review of the past five years.

"We've never really challenged at the end of the year in the playoffs," he said, "and we've got to get to a position where we can challenge at the end of the playoff period. Last year we won a playoff game, but prior to that, we hadn't won a playoff game in a long time.

"People have to realize that that is the barometer of a real good football team and a team that is going to challenge for the title. It's not a matter of having to have so many real good players."

Call it the dynasty that never was. In the past five years, the Eagles made the playoffs four times, but last year's wild-card victory over the New Orleans Saints was their first playoff win since the Super Bowl season of 1980.

Still, the Eagles don't want to hear that they are underachievers.

"It depends on who you talk to," Allen said. "If you talk to someone who thinks the Super Bowl is the only thing worth talking about, then no, we haven't accomplished anything. But if you want to talk about the type players now at their peaks, like Seth and Clyde [Simmons] and myself and a couple of other guys, it's a whole different matter.

"The guys have done what they were supposed to do. It's a combination of things. You just can't say the defensive side didn't do it; it's a team thing. He [Kotite] was here also. He's coming off his second year as head coach. There's a lot of pressure on him, too."

Although the loss of White certainly has weakened Gang Green, the revised Eagles defense is not exactly Pastel Pink. At right end, Simmons led the NFL in sacks with 19 and made the Pro Bowl last season. At White's left end slot will be Harris, a former Pro Bowler who had 17 sacks with the San Francisco 49ers. At right tackle will be another former Pro Bowler, Keith Millard, who has hardly played the last three years because of major knee surgery.

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