It's as pure a battle as you will find these days.
Both Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are approaching this the right way: It's all business, and worlds aren't colliding. The two have a friendship that started prior to April's draft, when both began the long journey to find a home in the NFL. It continues today, as both share practice reps and hope to impress the coaches enough to merit a job.
That's what this is all about: Employment. A paycheck. Putting food on the table.
To think that personal relationships get in the way, well, let's say it isn't happening with these two young men.
"I think we're bringing out the best in each other," said Brown. "Me and Chris study together and we're working hard out here trying to improve. Of course it's nothing personal. It's about going out and playing the best football we can play."
Both have done that. Brown, the seventh-round draft pick who played sparingly during his college days at Tennessee and Kansas State, has shown everything the Eagles hoped he would. A national star in high school, Brown has shaken off enough rust to provide productive reps in practice. He has run with confidence, caught the ball fluidly and is putting in good effort in the blocking game. Brown has made plenty of big plays and it's going to be exciting to see him in the preseason games.
Polk has been a bruiser, busting through the line of scrimmage and bouncing off would-be tacklers, gaining the tough yards and moving the sticks in the move-the-ball, 11-on-11 drills.
Both have been, in short, outstanding. So good, in fact, that if things continue along these lines the coaches are going to have a very difficult time determining who the third running back will be behind Pro Bowl back LeSean McCoy and camp sensation, second-year man Dion Lewis.
"I'm focused on making every rep count," said Polk, who went undrafted after a stellar career at the University of Washington. "Bryce is a great player and I think I am a great player, so we're going out there and making the most of our opportunities. I can't worry about anything other than making sure I am prepared and that I'm playing my best football every day."
The truth is, the kids just have too much going on to make it personal. They're immersed in the playbooks when not on the field. The short rests for treatment and for meals provide a needed rest, but the stress and strain of training camp and then the added tension of the preseason games, keeps the players focused.
"It's football. I know that I have to go out there and be the best player I can be. I have a lot to learn. We all do," said Brown. "I know I'm not sitting around counting numbers or worrying about what anyone else is doing. I can only control what I can control."
At some point the two will separate and one will make the roster and the other will look for a job. It seems highly unlikely that the Eagles can keep four halfbacks on the 53-man roster. In the meantime, the two rooks go at it, side by side, playing football and staying friends, bringing out the best in each other.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
- Damaris Johnson, who has impressed the coaches, is penciled in as the No. 1 punt return man and Brandon Boykin is penciled in as the No. 1 kickoff return man at the moment. This is all very temporary. What it means is that both rookies will have reps in the return game next week when the preseason opens against Pittsburgh (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., 6abc). Let's see how they perform. Both were explosive players in college. Can they bring that skill set to the NFL?
- Howard Mudd has to be pleased with what he's seen from his offensive line. The run blocking has been outstanding, the blitz pickup very good and Michael Vick has had time to set up and throw the football. Now I see that Mudd is moving some pieces around. He wants to find out about Julian Vandervelde as a backup interior lineman. He is looking hard at Steve Vallos inside. I'm not sure, though, beyond King Dunlap, how the reserve tackles have performed to date. Big tests ahead.
- Brett Brackett has to prove he can block at the point of attack to make it in the NFL. So far, he's demonstrated every other skill necessary to play tight end in this league.
- Joselio Hanson still has an advantage over Boykin as the starting nickel cornerback. It isn't that Boykin has struggled. To the contrary, in fact. Hanson is just a good player who deserves some respect out there.
- I'm not sure how the Eagles are going to manage all of these linebackers. They sure have a lot of them in camp, and some aren't getting many reps. Jamar Chaney has bumped up to starting in the nickel (along with DeMeco Ryans), a good sign for him. It appears that Chaney and Casey Matthews are going to get long looks in coverage.
- How is it going to shake out at wide receiver? Good question. If the Eagles keep five, and four of the receivers are Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper, who is the fifth receiver? It's so important for Johnson to show something as a punt return man. He, Chad Hall and Marvin McNutt appear to be the leading candidates at this point.
- Brandon Graham gained early headlines for his play in the first few days of camp. We all read them. The key to taking a game to the next level is to sustain that production. He's done that. I don't think it's a reach to say that Graham has been the best defensive linemen in this training camp, all things considered.
- Don't get too bent out of shape by the injury news just yet. Knock on wood, but the injuries to date won't keep those players out of action in September.