NFC East: 09 Camp Confidential
|Chris Gardner/US Presswire|
|Rampant injuries are threatening the continuity Eagles coach Andy Reid prefers at training camp.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Despite the serenity and cool air (except for Monday) found in Lehigh Valley, the Eagles can't get out of here fast enough. In addition to dealing with the loss of beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer, the Eagles have seen players carted off the field with injuries at a daily clip.
Celek was particularly concerned to see his training-camp roommate and close friend, Stewart Bradley, suffer a season-ending knee injury during an intra-squad scrimmage at the Linc. But head coach Andy Reid scoffs when asked if he's ever experienced anything like this. In his mind, the injuries are part of football and they've created opportunities for other players.
"I don't get caught up in all that stuff," Reid said. "You're sad for the person who goes through it, but on the other hand, you have to expect these things. Let's go play football."
Most pundits, including this one, have the Eagles as a top-five team in the league. But I'll admit the lack of continuity along the offensive line has me re-thinking my position. Continuity is one of Reid's favorite words, and right now his starting right tackle, Shawn Andrews, might not be ready for the start of the regular season.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been unstoppable at training camp.|
Maclin is still playing catch-up after his contract holdout, but he's supremely gifted and confident. He bristled at the suggestion that he might not earn a starting job immediately.
"I didn't come here to sit on the bench," Maclin said. "I'm going to make sure I do everything possible to be on the field."
Maclin's trying to learn the nuances of the West Coast offense on the fly, but he's an extremely intelligent player who should catch on quickly. Right now, though, it's Jackson who's drawing the most attention in camp. He's so quick off the line that no one can get a jam on him. That's where Maclin has room for improvement. He wasn't seeing jams at the line of scrimmage against Iowa State or Kansas State in the Big 12 North. He'll have to get stronger and become more aggressive.
Can the Eagles overcome all the injuries from training camp?
Losing your starting middle linebacker (Bradley) and talented rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram isn't a good way to begin the season, but one of Jim Johnson's greatest strengths was preparing young players for moments exactly like this. Joe Mays, a second-year player from North Dakota State, probably will play middle linebacker on first and second down. He'll get help from former starter Omar Gaither on passing downs. Mays, a sixth-round draft pick, is short (5-foot-11), but he brings a lot of power to the point of attack. I don't know how he'll hold up in regular-season games, but he's consistently making plays in camp.
Perhaps the bigger concern right now is Shawn Andrews' back injury. He missed training camp last season while battling depression and then promptly injured his back. Some have questioned Andrews' passion for the game, but the Eagles have insisted that he really is hurt. If he can't go, Eagles fans can get reacquainted with former first-round pick Winston Justice at right tackle.
Westbrook has started to increase his workloa
d on the side and he should be ready to go late in the preseason. At this point, it's not as if he needs a ton of carries in the preseason. I visited with McCoy on Monday until Jackson ordered him to go sign autographs. The second-round pick has looked comfortable in the Eagles' offense from Day 1 of camp. He's an instinctive runner who's already adept at setting up his blockers. I think Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are looking to get McCoy the ball in a variety of ways. Early in camp, he got behind the secondary for a 35-yard touchdown. He caught a lot of balls at Pittsburgh and his soft hands will give the Eagles another option. I think they want McCoy to touch the ball at least 10-12 times per game -- right from the start.
Who will win position battles at safety and cornerback?
I've been very impressed with veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown's approach to this camp following an offseason of complaints about his contract. He went high to break up a pass in team drills Monday and he's working hard to hold off former Patriots starter Ellis Hobbs. I think coaches will let those players battle throughout the preseason, but Brown's getting the majority of the reps with the first team. Hobbs is learning the Eagles' defense on the fly, so he's not as aggressive right now as he's used to being. But coaches like the fact that Hobbs has a chip on his shoulder after being traded from New England. And with all the injuries, the Eagles need to create as much depth as possible.
At safety, Quintin Demps is getting most of the first-team reps. Sean Jones, signed as a free agent from Cleveland, has been solid, though. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hasn't handed the starting job to either player, and that has made for some good competition.
It will be interesting to see how many receivers the Eagles keep on the roster. They have some depth and youth at the position, which leaves players such as Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett on the bubble. It's not helping Brown and Baskett's cause that a rookie from Washington State named Brandon Gibson is having a strong camp. You have to believe that Jackson, Curtis, Maclin and Avant are locks. If the Eagles only keep five receivers, there's a chance they go with a kid like Gibson. Former Texas Tech Red Raider Danny Amendola is a Wes Welker starter kit, but he looks more like practice-squad material to me. At linebacker, keep your eye on Moise Fokou, a seventh-round pick from Maryland. He's making plays all over the field, but we'll see if he can take it into the preseason games.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|All eyes are on Eagles first-round pick Jeremy Maclin.|
I'll have my eye on Maclin pretty closely in the preseason. I think he's going to struggle getting off the line at first. And his route running will be something to watch. He's a fluid player who doesn't mind going across the middle, but right now, you can tell that he's still thinking too much. He might be one of those players who sort of comes alive in the preseason. That was certainly the case with Jackson last season.
There's a second-year running back named Eldra Buckley from Tennessee-Chattanooga who could be a good change-of-pace back. I don't think Lorenzo Booker is long for this team despite what anyone tells you. He dropped a pass in Monday's practice and the coaches don't trust him to pick up blitzes. He has been around too long for that to still be an issue. ... I think Celek's on his way to becoming a big-time player. Very humble guy, but he showed up when the stakes were high last December and January. He also has been studying tape of Jason Witten to learn some pointers. I like that Celek takes a lot of pride in blocking too. The NFC East is absolutely stacked at tight end. ... One of the reasons Reid isn't panicking about the offensive line situation is that he has a lot of faith in backups such as Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles. The Eagles have done a pretty good job of creating depth along the offensive line and you can bet they're not going to sit around waiting for Shawn Andrews to show up. ... If offensive tackle King Dunlap ever realizes what sort of physical tools he's been given, he could be a good player. Not sure he's there yet. ... The signing of left tackle Jason Peters jump-started the Eagles' offseason. I watched him stone defensive ends on consecutive plays Monday. He's a pretty impressive-looking player. He still has the footwork of a tight end, his position at Arkansas, but he can engulf defenders with his power. I think he'll be the best left tackle in the division -- and he better be for that money. ... McNabb still appears to be having fun in camp. On Monday, he took off running when he couldn't find a receiver. Instead of stepping out of bounds, he tight-roped down the sideline, much to the delight of Eagles fans. ... I've heard good things about Latrobe, but I can't imagine a better setting than this one. Gorgeous green meadows in every direction and great access for fans. It's a shame the Eagles are breaking camp so early (Wednesday), although you won't hear any complaints from them.