Inside Eagles Training Camp – August 3, 2007

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance and almost 18,000 fans jammed into Eagles Training Camp on August 3rd.  Read Lloyd’s notes and observations from his visit.

(Bethlehem, PA) — After an intense day in 95 + degree heat, 17,941 fans and myself made our way home from Lehigh University. The fans left extremely happy after defying the oppressive heat and traffic (Rt. 378 backed up) to get a glimpse of Donovan McNabb and rest of the 75th Anniversary Eagles squad. The throng was boisterous from the parking lot and as soon as they made their way through the ample Eagles tent, they trained their keen eyes on the morning session. They sang “Fly Eagles Fly” for the rare dropped pass (not many, approx. 8 all day) and uplifted their heroes with serenades of “Do you know the way to Arizona?”, “E-A-G-L-E-S”, and of course “Dallas S_cks”. The fans were even treated to a heavyweight fight as DT Lajuan Ramsey and G Max Jean-Giles mixed it up to the delight of the crowd. The Eagles players appreciated the enthusiasm, as it was probably one of the last long hard two-a-days that the Eagles have remaining in the two week long camp (camp breaks 8/12 before 8/13 pre-season game versus Ravens).

I however came up to Bethlehem not for a party, but to see for myself if I could answer some of the questions that I posed last week. I have to admit there were some positives that I witnessed and some areas that need improvement. Overall I saw a cohesive professional team that appears to have great depth (LB, QB, and TE), knows how to practice in a hard up-tempo fashion, and coaches, who practice a “tough love” style that gets the most out of everyone from veterans to undrafted free agent types.

Let’s take a brief look at my Eagles Questions going into training camp and if I got an answer or if more time is needed.

Training Camp Questions

Is Donovan McNabb healthy and are there any affects from the ACL?

o From what I witnessed McNabb is healthy. He was very accurate in both sessions and I fully expect him to return from his ACL injury and I suspect his first action will be the 2nd preseason game (8/17) at home versus the Carolina Panthers.

o He wore a brace in the morning session and wore tights with a rubber sleeve in the afternoon session. From what I noticed his footwork is still good and he threw great balls on short and intermediate routes. I also saw that he worked on his audidling and was very relaxed talking to teammates and coaches.

o I have to agree with Eagles running back Brian Westbrook who said Friday after another strong practice performance by his quarterback, “If that’s being 75 percent for him, I’d love to see him get to 100 percent,”. He added “Minus the brace, you’d be hard-pressed to tell anything had happened to him.”

o One aspect that McNabb may need some time to re-establish are his deep throws (overthrew some teammates).

Will Andy Reid let Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg continue to run the football?

o No one will know if the Eagles will run more this year, but I think I saw some indications that “Ground Marty” may be back for another year (But what do I know).

o When the team practiced in 11 on 11’s, I noticed a distinct higher number of runs than throwing plays. This may have been coincidence, but the Eagles have good depth at running back and I expect them to use it.

o RB Brian Westbrook looked very good on inside runs and on the edge he is unbelievable. Standing on the sideline you could see the speed and elusiveness of the B-West. I am glad I don’t have to tackle him, because he has more cuts than a film editor.

o In the “Big” back competition, rookie RB Tony Hunt and RB Correll Buckhalter appeared to be around the same size to me (220 + range). They both displayed a good forward lean and they always seemed to look to run inside behind big RG Shawn Andrews and C Jamal Jackson.

o On the bubble RB Ryan Moats (running with 3rd team) had the run of the day in the morning session with a long (25 yard +) whirling spinning run along the sideline, unfortunately for him he may have been pressing and fumbled at the end of it.

Will the LB’s improve upon 3 sacks and 2 INTs now that they have added OLB Spikes, jettisoned OLB Dhani Jones, promoted OLB Chris Gcong and made other moves?

o This is the group that I focused on a lot on Friday, because I believe the NFL is now a linebacker’s league. Every team is looking for quality depth, versatility, and quick/attacking players at these positions.

o The Eagles seem to have all of the pieces in place at the linebacker position and new linebackers coach Sean McDermott is one of the NFL’s upcoming teachers.

o After watching “re-born” veterans WLB Takeo Spikes (New Team) and MLB Jeremiah Trotter (Lost 10 pounds) and fast learning SLB Chris Gcong, I could not help but think back to the Gang Green days when Byron Evans, Seth Joyner, and William Thomas made game changing plays.

o After talking with Trotter, you can definitely see that he wants to be one of the leaders of the defense for D-Coordinator Jim Johnson and he took it upon himself to work hard in the off-season to rebound from a self described sub par ‘06. He definitely looks younger and moved well attacking the ball carrier. He also took every opportunity to pump up the already hyped crowd of fans.

o I had to marvel at Spikes, because in only a short time with the Birds he has taken on a leadership role. The greatness of him is that he has picked up the Eagles system and he was even spotted moving players around and stayed late after practice. I have to admit I am rooting for him to lose the “never been to the playoffs” label and I got goose bumps when he told me in our interview that “I am 100% recovered from the Achilles”. I could see in his eyes that he is a player that knows this may be his last shot at a title run and he plans to take full advantage of it.

o The position battle between 2nd year LB Chris Gcong and rookie Stewart Bradley for the strongside position is one of the most intriguing of camp. Each player is smart and has an upside, but Gcong seems to have the edge to me because he has experience rushing the passer. I think he is concentrating on his coverage, but he got a special gleam in his eye when I asked about rushing the passer, saying “You know how Jim Johnson likes to get after those quarterbacks”. If Gcong does have on Bradley it can be attributed to being comfortable in his second year in Johnson’s scheme.

Will the Eagles 2nd year players (DT Bunkely, G Jean-Giles, WR/KR Bloom, OT Justice and others) make an impact, especially first round pick Bunkley (9 TKLS)?

o I can sense from watching and talking with people close to the Eagles that they expect great contributions from their 7 draftees from 2006.

o Former first round pick DT Brodrick Bunkley impressed me the most of the 2-year guys by coming to camp in tremendous shape. He really looks like the hulk after cutting his weight. He is quicker to the ball and stout enough to occupy the space needed in the middle of the D-Line. MLB Jeremiah Trotter even went as far as to say that “The way Bunkley is playing he could play another 2 or 3 years”. In the morning session Bunkley had several in the backfield plays including a couple would be sacks if there was no red jersey.

o The aforementioned Max Jean-Giles is the battler among the 2nd year guys as he got in his second skirmish in as many days taking on Ramsey in a pushing and shoving match that left Jean-Giles without his helmet. Jean-Giles is a fiery player, who I believe can be a road grader on the level of former Patriots and current Detroit Lions lineman Damien Woody. For all the talk about Jean-Giles lacking the needed drive in 2006, I sure didn’t see it as he worked hard and was always by the side of Pro Bowl G Shawn Andrews learning new techniques.

o Former 2nd Round pick Winston Justice does not have the fiery demeanor of Jean-Giles, but you can see he is a smart tactician in his blocking. With his long arms and good punch he should fit in easily if needed. I also noticed O-line coach Juan Castillo spent time with him on refining his footwork and off the ball movement.

o It looks to me that Jeremy Bloom, the former moguls skier who Philly drafted in the fifth round in 2006, has returned from his hamstring problems and has cemented his position as the Birds return man for this season. He effortlessly fielded high deep kicks and I was impressed how he knew when to let one roll into the end zone or speed up to catch a short kick. He also appeared to be the only returner able to handle Sav Rocca’s strange end over end punts. In receiving drills he worked well in the slot grabbing passes with his hands and took some tough hits and kept getting up. He is slight, but I think his body has adjusted to playing football full time.

o In watching second-year receiver Jason Avant, a fourth-round pick in 2006, I got the feeling I was watching a crafty veteran. Though Avant appeared in eight games during the 2006 regular season (8 catches for 68 yards w/ 1 TD), I see that he has matured and is ready to challenge Hank Baskett for the 3rd receiver spot. He blocked well and looks like a solid possession guy.

o Speaking of Baskett he again impressed me with his size (well over 6’4) and ability to get off the jam. He excelled at every kind of catch (low, high, diving, etc). I still cannot fathom how he didn’t get drafted, but the Eagles have got a big target in the New Mexico product.

o The rest of the 2nd Year players are all working hard to fill in for departed veterans and they seem ready enough to at least participate on special teams.

Will any of the rookie players make an impact in 2007 or will they be “redshirted”?

o The “kids” as some of the veterans called them were all working hard, but so far there has not been a “Hank Basket” in this years rookie class.

o 2nd Rd pick QB Kevin Kolb impressed me with his timing and footwork. He had a stronger arm than I expected and he showed a lot of athleticism out of the pocket. In the morning session he had a beautiful potential touchdown throw that went for naught as WR Jermaine Jamison (#17) had a tough drop. One thing I did notice with Kolb is that he did occasionally take off running after his first read and he will need to learn to be more patient in the pocket which will come in time.

o I was very impressed with undrafted free agent CB Nick Graham (#35). He is a player to watch and he is very tough and aggressive in man to man drills.

o The rookie that really showed he may get play time and impressed me was 5th Rd draft pick TE Brent Celek from Cincinnati. Celek taking advantage of LJ Smith sitting out the morning session to full advantage making several tough over the middle catches in traffic. He also is bigger than I expected and had a good anchor in his blocking. Definitely look for him to battle Lee Vickers for playing time.

o A rookie that I wanted to pay significant attention to was 5th Rd draft pick Clemson defensive back CJ Gaddis. I have been following Gaddis since he was quarterback in his early years at Clemson and he displayed great athleticism in coverage. I also noticed that defensive backs coach John Harbaugh was dolling out the “tough love” on Gaddis and he told me with a big smile after the afternoon practice “Coach Harbaugh don’t me no room for error, but I eat it up and appreciate it”. Look for Gaddis to be a maven on all special teams.

Injuries

o Brian Dawkins sat out for the 2nd day with a strained Achilles.

o Lito Sheppard sat out with an abdominal injury

o LJ Smith (recovering from sports hernia) sat out the morning session, but he came back to make some nice catches in the afternoon

o A scary moment of the morning session occurred when CB Sheldon Brown was poked in an eye and was taken off. Brown did return for the afternoon sessions.

o Free Agent defensive tackle additions Montae Reagor and Ian Scott sat out both sessions with slight knee problems.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

 o Near the railing of the morning session there was one brave Dallas Cowboys fan in attendance. The “gentleman” has guts, but he was shouted down immediately from the 700 – level type crowd. He finally piped down for good after at least seven “Dallas (stinks)!” chants. By the way, speaking of jerseys I saw a lot of McNabb jerseys and even a Mamula jersey (get a new jersey please!!)

o To start the last drill before the morning session ended, David Akers missed a 40 yard field goal attempt wide left and the fans gave a derisive “boo”. He then connected on his next three kicks. For the record the long snapper was Jon “the Magician” Dorenbos and Punters Sav Rocca and Dirk Johnson split the holding duties.

o With CB Sheldon Brown going down in the morning, Veteran CB Will James took advantage by breaking up several passes and making a hard tackle on FB Jason Davis near the sideline.

o The throw and catch of the day was made by Kevin Curtis on a beautifully lofted 42-yard bomb from Donovan McNabb. On the play Curtis dove and out jumped Dustin Fox near the 12-yard line. The crowd after the catch gave a standing “O” to Curtis and he was greeted with backslaps by his offensive mates.

o I am hearing that backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb maybe trade bait at the end of camp. Holcomb came over in the Darwin Walker – Takeo Spike trade, but with Kevin Kolb on the roster he probably will be an extra part. Holcomb as an aging veteran is not an ideal 3rd or 4th string developmental type quarterback, so look for him to go. Potential trading partners include Minnesota (rumored leader and Cleveland.

That is a wrap for today and I am off to Canton, OH for the Hall of Fame inductions. BPR will have more from Eagles Training Camp in an audio feature soon. I want to thank training camp media veterans Andy Schwartz (Comcast Sportsnet) and former Eagles LB Garry Cobb (GCobb.com) for showing me the ropes around Lehigh. Special Thanks goes to Derek Boyko and the Philadelphia Eagles Media Staff for giving BIGPLAY Football a great experience.

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