Friday, August 6, 2010
Checking in from the NFC East road
By Matt Mosley ESPN.com
ASHBURN, Va. -- While Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen have traveled the country in luxury buses, I've opted for a National midsize vehicle with a faulty A/C system. But seriously, I'm not bitter at all. I think better when the windows are rolled down for four or five hours between stops. I've now seen the New York Giants (Albany, N.Y.), Philadelphia Eagles (Bethlehem, Pa.) and Washington Redskins (Ashburn) in person, and here are some of my (keen) observations:
Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden, at 6-foot-5, is a big target for Eli Manning.
The Giants are absolutely loving their new "under-the-radar" status. They believe the addition of Antrel Rolle at safety and new middle linebacker Keith Bulluck will put them right back in the Super Bowl conversation. Even the least quotable man in football, Eli Manning, told me that he's daydreamed of playing a Super Bowl in Jerry Jones' stadium. You might recall that Eli left his signature in the visitor's locker room when the Giants opened Jerry's stadium with a win last season.
Ramses Barden is a name you need to remember. The 2009 third-round pick was outstanding in the early days of Giants camp, and he'll use his 6-foot-5 frame to snag at least eight touchdowns this season. I think the NFC East will have the best receiving corps in the league. The Giants and Eagles are at the top and the Cowboys are right behind them. The Redskins are struggling at that position, but I think Santana Moss is ready to have a breakout season.
Eagles owner Jeff Lurie reminded me that Jones has only won one playoff game the past 12 seasons. He has a theory that teams who end their seasons by getting blown out will bounce back and surprise everyone, which is a theory both the Cowboys and Eagles could embrace.
I think Tom Coughlin fully expects the Giants to win the division. We had a 20-minute sit-down visit, and it's obvious he's a huge fan of new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. The former Buffalo assistant has brought a whole new tempo to practice. And players are responding to him. Defensive end Justin Tuck, who actually listens to 103.3 ESPN on the Internet most afternoons, thinks that the Giants' vaunted pass rush is about to make a comeback.
The league is about to become very familiar with Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw. He'll become the feature back for the Giants. He's so much faster and more elusive than Brandon Jacobs. This is similar to what Felix Jones is about to do for the Cowboys.
Teams have a difficult time believing that Doug Free is the Cowboys' starter at left tackle. I keep telling everyone that Free will do a nice job, but they don't believe me. Especially the Eagles.
Kevin Kolb has become texting pals with Troy Aikman. He's watched film of the Hall of Famer and tried to study what Aikman did to make himself so accurate. The Eagles are going to be better off with Kolb in the long run. There, I said it.
Albert Haynesworth was able to find some use for his helmet at training camp.
Mike Shanahan thinks he can win big with his team. Seriously. I watched a practice Friday morning and wasn't impressed with the receivers at all, but Shanahan has convinced himself that Donovan McNabb is the second coming of John Elway. I do think Skins cornerback Carlos Rogers is about to surprise a lot of folks. It's like he's a completely different player. He'd lost confidence playing for the previous regime. Now he's getting his hands on every ball and Jim Haslett's going to let him blitz quite a bit.
The Redskins are losing whatever patience they had left in Albert Haynesworth. He continues to go through individual drills while making sure his baseball cap doesn't fly away. Shanahan would love to release him, but they've made such an enormous investment that he can't pull the trigger.
Middle linebacker Stew Bradley makes the Eagles a different defense. He's a highly intelligent player who was on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowler before an ACL injury last year at this time. He looks fully recovered to me. He's really fast and has a knack for the big hit. I can't imagine anyone having a better receiving corps than the Eagles -- except perhaps the Giants.
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham is the real deal. He plays really low and just does a nice job turning the corner. He watched a lot of Elvis Dumervil film, although he's a little thicker than the Broncos star. Trent Cole is going to benefit as much as anyone from Graham's arrival. He's just a relentless kid who's racing past everyone in practice.
Riley Cooper, out of Florida, has become a dependable target for Kolb. Cooper's a little raw, but he has excellent hands and deceptive speed. He will eventually be the Eagles' third receiver, but not this season. Jason Avant may be the best third receiver in the NFC.
Matt Mosley covers the NFC East for ESPN.com and the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.