Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb and the rest of the team will probably be very happy to close-out their challenging 2009 training camp
On August 12th the Philadelphia Eagles will pack-up their belongings and head back to the NovaCare Complex from training camp at Lehigh University. The team’s annual trip up to the mountains of the Lehigh Valley is always a great experience for fans to see their heroes up close and for the team to bond going into a season chasing their elusive Lombardi Trophy.
However you would not blame the Birds if they go running from Bethlehem, PA as the 2009 Eagles Training Camp has been a “tough one”, to say the least. Going into camp we already knew of challenges like RB Brian Westbrook coming off ankle surgery and the departure of veterans like Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins. Then early in camp, the biggest challenge of them all, in my opinion, happened after the unfortunate and untimely passing of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, which naturally has left the entire team with a heavy heart.
But in terms of football, this training camp has had more than its fair share of challenges. I guess the “Karma” police were listening when Eagles front office executive and Eagles fans’ favorite target Joe Banner after an offseason, that many dubbed the best in the NFL, had some confident comments in a July 26th Philadelphia Inquirer article. Banner said, “I feel this year we have the best roster in the league”. He then added, “That’s assuming everyone is healthy and standing at the end. You can only make a statement like that on the first day of training camp. After that, anything can happen”.
A list of some of the challenges is below…Well at least for the Birds sake no team players were spotted doing sit-ups in their driveway while espousing how the Eagles had wronged them.
Season Ending Injuries – No one wants a player pegged to be a contributor to go down, but unfortunately it happens in every NFL training camp. The loss of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley – picked to be a breakout player around NFL circles – is huge as he knew the Eagles defense inside and out. There is no doubt that the Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will have to work overtime to get 2nd-year player Joe Mays ready to fill-in for Bradley, but the former North Dakota star is a high-energy player who excels at tackling. Mays will also compete with Matt Wilhelm (good signing from a strong Chargers LB’s unit) and Omar Gaither. Recently the Eagles also learned that a second ACL injury had claimed tight end and redzone target Cornelius Ingram. The big rookie from Florida was having one of best camps at Lehigh, so it hurts to lose him for the year. The team will now have to lean on emerging starting tight end Brent Celek and veteran Matt Schobel. There is also UDFA Eugene Bright and recent signee Rob Myers, but maybe the Birds should look across the sidelines on Thursday as the Patriots have a surplus of tight ends and veteran Ben Watson is rumored to be on the trading/cutting block.
Non-Season Ending Injuries — This has been the overwhelming storyline of this year’s training camp. Every day it seemed Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder and his staff had another player needing to be patch-up. Players dinged during camp at one time or another, but returning to practice have included Trevor Laws (foot), Hank Baskett (knee), DeSean Jackson (knee), OT Jason Peters (quad), Trent Cole (shoulder – will miss Patriots game), Asante Samuel (hamstring), Kevin Kolb (knee sprain – will miss Patriots game), Todd Herramins (foot – will probably miss the first two preseason games) and others. There is also the group of Westbrook (Ankle), Victor Abiameri (Pectoral), and Shawn Andrews (back) that have basically not practiced at all.
Juqua Parker arrested – The Eagles’ starting left defensive end was arrested by Lower Saucon Township police for possession of marijuana. Parker, 32, was riding in the car of teammate Todd Herremans at the time of incident on August 6th at 12:33 a.m. Though you hate to downplay an arrest, however marijuana usage goes on in the NFL all the time. The arrest of Parker is a story, but it definitely has not seemed like a distraction going into the season as Parker and Herramins have practiced every day since. I think head coach Andy Reid said it best when talking about the incident, “You got your mind somewhere else…Get your mind here.”
Matt Nagy Signing mess — A nice story gone awry happened when the Eagles signed former Arena league quarterback and current team coaching intern Matt Nagy after Kevin Kolb sprained his MCL. However the team quickly faced some criticism from some people around the league regarding them “stashing” a player as a coach. In the end, Nagy got to go through one morning practice before learning his contract was disallowed by the NFL due to the fact he was still under contract to the AFL. Thankfully the team decided to bring back former Temple QB Adam DiMichele instead and Nagy went back to performing his coaching duties. You have to wonder was this really an investigative type story or was it a whole lot of hub-bub around a “practice” player who had no chance of making the team.
Offensive line Cohesiveness?? – This was a big question mark coming into training camp back in July and the five-man unit in charge of keeping quarterback Donovan McNabb clean has not worked together. No one is really sure when the team’s planned group of Shawn Andrews—Stacy Andrews—Jamaal Jackson—Todd Herramins—Jason Peters will get on the field together. Everyone knew Stacy Andrews would be slow coming back from a December 2008 ACL injury (cleared to fully practice this week), but there are questions surrounding other O-line members. Herramins recently was diagnosed with a foot problem that may keep him out of the preseason and Stacy’s brother Shawn has a back injury that has caused him to miss the majority of training camp. . The team will need to learn quickly the extent of Shawn Andrew’s injury and if they need to prepare to go with 3rd year player Winston Justice (has had a solid camp) or bring in a veteran — Jon Runyan?? (rehabbing his knee injury and should ready to sign soon).
However now is not the time to hit the panic button as an NFL football season is a marathon and not a sprint. With so many challenges overcome in training camp, the Eagles to their credit have continued to press on and should be that much more battle-ready when it matters most. Sure there are outstanding questions still with this team, namely Westbrook’s health, the O-line coming together with or without Shawn Andrews, and a defense finding its legs with a new leader on and off the field – but every team has legitimate questions as they break training camp, even the 2008 Super Bowl Champion Steelers.
I know I may sound like a certain Eagles paid Homer, but there is a lot of season left. Eagles head coach Andy Reid throughout his 11 years with the team has used training camp and the preseason as preparation tools for a long tough season. Big Red always wants his team peaking in November and December when it matters most — the Eagles have a record of 54-27-1 in those season-ending months since 1999.
I guess the next thing that the “Doom and Gloom” crowd will not be happy about will be the Birds’ three 2009 preseason games. Reid typically uses the team’s preseason games as a learning experience for youngsters rather than piling up wins — the Eagles have a preseason of 14-25 under Reid with their best effort in 2001 going 2-1.
After a training camp with more ups and downs than a Dorney Park rollercoaster, “Are the Eagles still one of the teams to beat in the NFC?” We will have to wait and see, but the most important thing is for the Eagles to prepare for September 13th against the Carolina Panthers when the “real” games begin.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)