The recent 2010 Philadelphia Eagles mini-camp, sans McNabb, gave a chance for younger players and veterans (backup quarterback Michael Vick pictured) to shine
As runners from the Broad Street Run pounded the pavement outside the NovaCare Complex, the new version of the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles was beginning to take shape inside. Clearly the Birds are younger at several positions as several veterans that were once lockerroom mainstays (McNabb, Westbrook, Brown, and others) are no longer there and the atmosphere around the team was “energizing”. Which was a term that was flowing around the team’s practice facility.
Head coach Andy Reid, who is entering his 12th season in Philly, spoke Sunday of being “Invigorated” by the massive influx of young talent including almost forty new faces on the team’s current 80-man roster. Reid even said that he and his staff have enjoyed getting back to “coaching” and teaching the new group of Birds that includes 13 wide-eyed draft picks. Though the team’s recent turnover and all of the new faces has caused a getting acquainted period, the young Birds came together to work and learn. During the practices that I observed, there were some good things that I saw from the team (camaraderie, players coming back from injuries, quickness at the skills positions, and a willingness to receive coaching). However there were also some things that the Eagles will need to improve upon through OTA’s into training camp (understanding assignments, reading coverage, and for the rookies just getting used to the “speed” of NFL players).
Overall, What I did see was that 2010 Eagles are a re-tooling team and not a rebuilding one. They have solid veteran holdovers and depth at key positions (quarterback, receiver, linebacker, D-line, and O-line) plus there were some excited new players like LB Ernie Sims, who are glad to be part of a team that has won over 100 games in the last 10 years. The interesting part will be that the 2010 Eagles will be leaning on new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, emerging 3-year Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson and former free agency big fish cornerback Asante Samuel for leadership. During practices you could hear the three new cornerstone players leading their teammates and showing the youngsters how it is to work as a professional.
Many of the players that I talked to after practice said that they would be staying in the Philadelphia area to continue the progress and momentum that they had started in this brief 3-day post-draft minicamp. And even though training camp opening in mid-July in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a ways from now, I still believe that the young Eagles are focused on not only growing up quick but also competing with the Dallas Cowboys – outscored the Birds 58-14 in their last two games (Week 17 and in the Wild Card round).
Some observations from the sidelines
Kolb’s team now – No longer in the first stalls of the Eagles’ lockerroom are players like Brian Dawkins or Donovan McNabb. Now youthful quarterback Kevin Kolb’s locker is one of the ones front and center, which you know is not a coincidence. The former second-round draft pick from 2007 is now the Birds’ unquestioned leader and it showed. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Reid often took time in practice to give Kolb praise or teaching. Kolb was very good in redzone drills where he made some nice throws to RB LeSean McCoy and Jackson for touchdowns. He had good command of the huddle and showed good zip on his passes, including fitting a couple tight ones into TE Brent Celek despite some good coverage by linebacker Stewart Bradley. However there was also a reminder that Kolb has some learning to do as safety Quinton Mikell picked him off in the endzone and raced the length of the field to the delight of a yapping Samuel.
Mike Vick version 2.0 – After a year where he seemed unsure of himself in Eagles’ green, backup quarterback Michael Vick clearly looks to being closer to the guy that used to be one of the most exciting players in the NFL. While running the Eagles’ second team offense, Vick, who looked to be in tremendous shape, had his familiar snap of the wrist quick dart passes and speed. In the redzone portion of practice, the former 3-time Pro Bowl quarterback also displayed the jaw-dropping speed and burst that many had grown accustomed to before his almost 3-year absence. Vick dropped back, didn’t see anything and took off running for the corner of the endzone. Near the goal-line, he cutback past a defender and beat a couple of defensive backs to the corner for a touchdown. His second teammates erupted with a “Yeah, Mike” cheer. I talked to Vick after practice and he seemed a lot more confident and comfortable. “To be honest, last year I thought I had it,” Vick said. “Mentally, I thought I had it. As a competitor, as an athlete, you always feel like you’re the greatest. But, in reality, I wasn’t there.” No. 7 added, “Now I’m running with the two’s and it’s full-time and this is my permanent job. So it’s a different feel but at the same time what I say to myself is just try to get better as a quarterback.” It will be interesting to see if the Eagles keep Vick around or finally find a trading partner so they can bring in a more West Coast type backup (Jeff Garcia??). But for now, Vick seems to be rounding himself back into form and you should have seen the glimmer in Reid’s eye when he talked about his backup’s “burst” being back.
Players coming back from injuries – One of the biggest stories of most offseasons is seeing how players are able to return after serious injuries. Key defensive player and starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley easily was one of the stars of the Eagles returning M*A*S*H unit. Bradley showed no ill effects of the knee injury (ACL) that cost him the entire 2009 season. The former Nebraska star did not wear a knee brace while looking good cutting and dropping back in coverage. Bradley even had some of the best defensive plays in the redzone dropping back in coverage to knock away some passes from tight ends. Other players making back to the field were tight Cornelius Ingram (taking it slow after two ACL tears in a row) and offensive guard Stacie Andrews (said ACL was 100% and added that he is more comfortable this year with his knee and the Birds blocking schemes). Other injury news was DE Victor Abiamiri missing camp due to microfracture knee surgery in February; center Jamaal Jackson missed all of camp with his ACL injury and some are saying he may not be back until the end of training camp; LB Omar Gaither didn’t practice as he returns from Lisfranc Foot surgery; and OG Max Jean-Gilles missing camp due to recently having Land-Band surgery to control his weight, which many believe he is the first professional football player to have.
Youngsters looking good – Clearly there is open competition everywhere for the Eagles and a lot of rookies, both drafted and undrafted will be trying to turn some heads in mini-camp , OTA’s and training camp. Some of the youngsters that I thought stood out were
- Michigan rookie DE Brandon Graham (Drafted in the 1st Rd) – He is not overly big (6’0 range), but he impressed me with his quickness and speed. Graham also was impressive because he came to camp Friday, flew back to Michigan on Saturday to graduate (had team’s permission as first in family and met President Obama), and then returned to practice on Sunday. Seems like an overall great kid and the competition between Graham, Darryl Tapp, and Juqua Parker should be fun in training camp.
- Northwestern rookie QB Mike Kafka (Drafted in the 4th Rd) – Showed good pocket presence, was able to zip some passes in the redzone, and read his reads well.
- Missouri State rookie TE Clay Harbor (Drafted in the 4th Rd) – Definitely has developed a connection with Kafka and in the redzone the young quarterback was looking for No. 82. Harbor is an athletic tight end that looked comfortable in space and did well in coverage against the safeties and linebackers. With the status of Cornelius Ingram unsure, look for Harbor to get a long look as the Birds’ number two tight end.
- Florida rookie WR Riley Cooper (Drafted 5th Rd) – A big physical target that has very good size (6’3, 222) and better speed than expected. Cooper and Hank Baskett will probably be looked at to help in the redzone on jump-ball plays. Tim Tebow’s former favorite target fit right in with the second team and gives the team a bigger target than Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
- Air Force first-year player WR/KR Chad Hall – A sturdy built smaller (5’8, 190) receiver who showed great quickness and hands. Hall was very good in the slot and made a nice leaping catch in the redzone. A former Air Force standout at running back and receiver, Hall should help the Birds in the return game which should preserve Maclin and Jackson. I am not saying he is… but Hall reminds me of the early Miami Dolphins version of current Patriots star slot man Wes Welker.
- South Florida rookie safety Nate Allen (Drafted 2nd Rd) – Looked the part of a ballhawking centerfielder, but it is going to take some time for him to learn defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s scheme. Allen looked good in his backpedal and was tough fighting receivers for the ball. It looked like 2nd year player Victor “Macho” Harris got most of the first team snaps.
No McNabb banter or laughing – In covering the Eagles over the last few years, whether it was around practice, in training camp or the lockerroom after games, you didn’t need to listen hard to hear now former Eagles and current Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb. The since departed passer often would fill the air with this his hearty laugh and now after 11 years it was odd to not see a red No. 5 jersey on the practice field or hear McNabb. But clearly the team and McNabb have moved on and the mantle has been passed from McNabb, Dawkins, Westbrook, and Brown to younger guys like Trent Cole, Samuel, Jackson, and Kolb. Other than us reporters talking amongst ourselves, I didn’t hear one mention of McNabb. However though no one in NovaCare will admit it, you know October 26th is circled on every calendar since that is the Monday Night where the Eagles travel to Washington to face their former franchise quarterback.
Competition at the center position??? – With starter Jamaal Jackson sidelined indefinitely by his ACL injury from lat in 2009, I found it interesting that Mike McGlynn and not Nick Cole got most of the reps with the first team O-line. McGlynn seems to know the down-distance and the blocking assignments while appearing to be more of a “technician” than the bigger Cole or Jackson. Right now it appears that the Birds would rather have McGlynn hold down the fort for Jackson than Cole, who some in the Eagles’ staff think is a better swing player/backup. Also in the center competition, don’t rule out former Penn State O-lineman A.Q Shipley, who is a tough battler that came over from the Steelers late last year. For those interested in how the O-line setup most of the time for Kolb and the first team it went LT Jason Peters – LG Todd Herramins – C Mike McGlynn – RG Stacie Andrews – RT Winston Justice.
Versatility from the linebackers – With the NFL now being built on 3-4 schemes and versatility in the linebacking corps, it seems the Eagles may have finally started to add some playmakers at their three positions. The starters lined up Moise Foiku at Strongside, Stewart Bradley in the Middle, and new comer Ernie Sims at Weakside. This group has speed and good coverage ability on paper, which should come in handy in a division where tight ends had huge years in 2009. The keys will be Foiku being physical enough to play over the tight end, Bradley returning to near Pro Bowl form after a lost year to an ACL, and Sims playing like the “shark” that McDermott described him as in his press conference. The competition for the all linebacking spots should be good at Lehigh as backups Joe Mays, rookie Ricky Sapp, Alex Hall, rookie Jamar Chaney, Akeem Jordan, and Gaither should all be in the mix.
The best part of mini-camp for me was watching and listening to the yapping between the DB’s and WR’s. The two biggest talkers were veterans DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuels, who kept a running score of who was ahead offense or defense. After scoring in the redzone, Jackson could be heard saying “Don’t Let Me, Get Loose”. While Samuels kept a running commentary including saying over and over to the offense, “Don’t Throw It Over Here!!!”