Howard could give pass rush a boost

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Here are six observations on the Philadelphia Eagles, gleaned from training camp practices of July 25-26:

1. It's hard to fathom, given the brilliant blitzing schemes conjured up by defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, that the Eagles would ever have problems creating pressure. But that was the case in 2005, when the unit registered just 29 sacks, sixth fewest in the league and down from 47 the previous season. The hallmark of Johnson's defense always has been the ability to manufacture havoc upfront, blitzing from every angle imaginable while maintaining sound coverage in the back end.

Because of injuries, though, Johnson never felt comfortable calling as many blitzes in 2005, and the result was a poor season. Statistically, Philadelphia ranked 23rd in overall defense. That is the unit's lowest ranking since 1999, Johnson's first season on the job. The Eagles surrendered 24.2 points a game, exactly eight more points per outing than they allowed in 2004, and much higher than the 16.6-point average of Johnson's first six seasons. During their five-year playoff run, 2000-2004, the Eagles' defense ranked among the league's top 10 on four occasions. Notable is that the defense never ranked lower than the Philadelphia offense in that stretch. So while much of the focus in this camp is on quarterback Donovan McNabb and the offense, the defense needs to improve, too. Resuscitating the pass rush is a priority.