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Fan-Demonium: Beware What You Read

Posted Jun 15, 2014

Football fans are fanatical, and none more so than Eagles fans. That can be both a good and bad thing. The passion for football is a good thing during the season. Games are electric and there is a buzz in the air during the whole week. The offseason is where things get trickier. Fans want something to get excited about.

Think about the impact that practice reports have. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews has received a lot of praise from the press for his performance during the recent Organized Team Activities. Matthews impressed everyone who watched him. He caught the ball well. He looked athletic. He ran good routes. Matthews showed the traits of being a good receiver. Most writers do take the time to point out that the OTAs are made for offensive players to shine. There is no contact. The players aren't in full pads.

Hitting will go live in Training Camp. That's when we'll find out even more about the young players, both rookies and veteran additions. You can see how a player like defensive end Joe Kruger has improved from last summer. You can see how Matthews looks as compared to the OTAs. You can check out how former New Orleans Saints Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles look in midnight green. But even Training Camp can give you some false positives.

The football season is a marathon, not a sprint. One good day has to be followed by another. One good month has to be followed by another. Take that a step further even. One good year has to be followed by another.

Back in 2005, Sean Considine was the talk of the OTAs. He made play after play. Jim Johnson was ecstatic with his rookie safety. Considine started 17 games for the Eagles in four years. He had some good moments, but never became the player that everyone hoped after that great spring in his rookie season.

Na Brown had a great showing in Training Camp back in 1999. He caught every pass thrown his way and looked like he might be a terrific slot receiver for the Eagles. Brown ended up with 34 catches and a couple of touchdowns. That wasn't for his rookie season, but rather his entire career. He simply couldn't handle real NFL action. Brown was a very limited athlete and that hurt him. His nickname in college was "Spot." Wherever he caught the ball is where it was going to be spotted. The lack of speed and elusiveness was no joke in the NFL.

Peter King from TheMMQB checks out the Eagles in Training Camp each summer. Back in 2001, he wrote about a promising young pass rusher. Look what he wrote:

"Defensive end N.D. Kalu. You might know him from his nickel pass-rush days with the Redskins. Wednesday morning, in a full-contact drill, he knifed through the line from his DE slot and buried Duce Staley for a four-yard loss. Instinctive, physical (he's put on some weight) and very self-assured, Kalu should be a double-digit sacker for this team and make the Eagles forget Mike Mamula."

Kalu had 18.5 sacks for the Eagles from 2001-05. He did have eight in one season (2002), but never became the force off the edge that King predicted.

We live in a fast-food society where everyone wants definitive answers right away. Who is good? Who isn't? You can't get this from one practice or even one month of practice. You must be patient, as frustrating as that is.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Back in 2012, Trent Edwards looked awful in the OTAs. The Eagles had signed him to compete for a backup spot. Everyone thought Mike Kakfa would win the job, but there was a need for some competition. The Eagles coaches adjusted some of Edwards’ throwing mechanics. The media covering the practices criticized Edwards on a daily basis. He was struggling to throw the football. The coaches understood this, but everyone else wondered how a veteran quarterback couldn't complete short, simple passes consistently.

Training Camp was a different story. Edwards had continued to practice throughout June and July. He played much better than the OTAs. He was at his best in the preseason games and eventually won a spot on the final roster, beating out Kafka. What you saw in May was very, very different from what you saw in early August. Edwards kept improving and was at his best when it mattered.

It is important not to get too up or too down on the players during the spring and summer. Think about quarterback Mark Sanchez. He just spent five years playing for Jets head coach Rex Ryan. No one disputes that Ryan is a defensive genius. He is not, however, an offensive guru. He is very conservative with what he wants to see on offense. Sanchez had a different offensive coordinator in each of the past three seasons.

Sanchez finally finds himself playing for an offensive guru. The problem is that Chip Kelly does things that are very different than Ryan. It is going to take some time for Sanchez to adjust to that, as well as getting used to the players he is on the field with. Kelly understands this and praised Sanchez in a recent press conference.

Time will tell if Sanchez is right for the Eagles. Can he play well in this offense? Can he be a good backup quarterback? Fans want answers now, but that's just not how football works most of the time. Football is a process sport. It takes time to learn the scheme. It takes time to develop some kind of chemistry with your teammates. This isn't baseball where you can take a shortstop from the Baltimore Orioles and throw him into the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup and he's automatically ready to go.

Julian Vandervelde was drafted by the Eagles back in 2011. He played guard at Iowa and was picked to play that spot in the NFL. Howard Mudd decided to try him as a center in the summer of 2012. There was one slight problem. Vandervelde wasn't good at snapping the ball. Quarterbacks had no idea where the ball was going when he snapped it. Vandervelde showed some progress during the summer, but it seemed clear that his future was at guard. Jeff Stoutland was hired to coach the offensive line in 2013 and I was surprised when he put Vandervelde back at center last summer. Things were different, though. Vandervelde had continued to work snapping and was much improved. That isn't to say he doesn't have some errant snaps, but he proved to at least be a functional player. This summer, Vandervelde might be the backup center for the second year in a row. Anyone watching him snap the ball in 2012 would be utterly shocked by that notion.

That's football and the importance of practice. It can take time for players to develop. Depending on the player's age, talent and other factors, the player could get weeks, months or even years to develop. The coaches do need to see good work ethic and they need to see progress. This isn't the same as hoping someone improves. The NFL isn't a charity. Players must show they can contribute or that they are worth keeping around.

Continue to read the practice reports. Get excited when players make big plays and do noteworthy things. That's part of the fun of the offseason. Just keep things in context. The world has more Quintin Mikells than LeSean McCoys.

McCoy was a player you could tell would be very good almost instantly. He played as a rookie and has been a star the whole time. Mikell was undrafted. He played all 16 games as a rookie, but only as a special teamer. Mikell got some time on defense in his second year and even had an interception. He didn't actually start a game on defense until his fourth season, and that was just one game. In his fifth season, Mikell became a full-time starter. He has since played for the Rams and Panthers, but continues to start.

One of the reasons I love football is that players develop so differently. There isn't always a rhyme or reason to how it happens. There are many different factors, with human nature being the trickiest of them all.

There are a lot of ups and downs in the OTAs, Training Camp and the preseason. The players who work hard, stay focused and don't let things get to them have the best chance to make it in the NFL.

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