By Bob Brookover
Inquirer Staff Writer
YONG KIM / Philadelphia Daily News
Brodrick Bunkley acknowledges his rookie season was a disappointment.
"I wish I could take last year back, but I can't."
The Eagles' first-round pick is going to have to make a major impact in 2007, but the second-round pick might not even dress for a game.
No, this isn't about the players the Eagles are going to take in tomorrow's NFL draft. This is about the two players they took in last year's draft.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis two months ago, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was asked how he thought his defense could most improve, and it didn't long for the words Brodrick Bunkley to come out of his mouth.
"We'll be a better team next year if Bunkley comes through for us," Johnson said. "We're anticipating him coming through for us next year."
Talk about pressure.
Bunkley, the 14th overall selection in last year's draft, said last week that he welcomed the high expectations and acknowledged that he was as disappointed with his rookie season as anybody else.
"It's hard to explain, because I came in with high hopes, and I quickly realized if you don't stay on top of what you're supposed to do . . . you're going to live that tough life," Bunkley said. "I wish I could take last year back, but I can't.
"I came in with a new attitude, and I'm working out hard. I lost a little weight. I'm trying to trim down a little bit and work on my speed, so at least I won't go back into camp overweight like I did last year."
As for the expectations, Bunkley said he's already had some lengthy conversations with Johnson.
"I know I'm going to have to step my game up a lot this year," he said. "I want to impress my coaches because I felt like I kind of let those guys down last year. I kind of let the fans down last year, so now I want to get out on the field and just at least show people I'm capable and worthy of being the No. 1 pick."
Bunkley, according to the coaching staff's statistics, registered just eight tackles and one hurry - it came in the season opener against Houston - during his 15 games. His most notable moment came when he did not dress against Indianapolis after missing the team charter while running a food errand for his teammates.
He said he did get an NFL education despite his limited playing time and modest statistics.
"At least some of the games I got a feel for the game speed when I did get in," Bunkley said. "It's a real physical game, and you've got some huge guys that know what they're doing. Now I'm rid of those rookie jitters and ready to get back into it."
As for the Eagles' second-round pick, all he got was an off-the-field education because offensive tackle Winston Justice never even dressed for a game.
"It was a different experience for me," Justice said. "But I still got to learn a lot from Tra [William Thomas] and [Jon] Runyan. If I had to be in a place where I had to sit and not dress, I couldn't be in a better situation."
With Thomas and Runyan both returning, Justice could go through another year of watching in street clothes.
"That's exactly right," general manager Tom Heckert said. "I think it's a good problem to have. Obviously, I feel bad for Justice, but at least we have him as a backup. I think in the long run we'll be happy we drafted him. He's a very good insurance policy for the immediate future, and we think for the future he's going to be our guy."
Linebacker Omar Gaither had the most impact from last year's rookie class and, along with Bunkley, goes into 2007 with the best chance of being a starter. Heckert, however, said he also would like to see some contribution from third-round pick Chris Gocong, who missed all of last season with a neck injury.
"We're going to put him out there at linebacker and see what he can do," Heckert said. "I don't think there's any question the guy can play defensive end, so to not give him a chance at linebacker, I think would be a mistake."
The Eagles' other picks from last season - offensive guard Max Jean-Gilles, wide receivers Jason Avant and Jeremy Bloom, and defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey - will have a difficult time getting on the field, although Bloom does have a chance to be the team's returner.
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or email@example.com.