Philadelphia Eagles News

A Goodbye To Lehigh And Camp

What we all take away most from this training camp is, as always, the incredible support from the fans who make their way to Lehigh University and the beautiful Lehigh Valley. After four-plus months of inactivity during the NFL's lockout, the fans let loose once business opened and camp started.

They embraced this new-to-each-other team in a way unlike just about every year: It was a time of discovery and self expression and, yes, the outpouring of emotion that had been building during the listless spring and summer.

This is a big, hearty THANK YOU to the fans who filled the stands at the Goodman Campus of Lehigh University, who voiced their throaty approval of a team that made more than a dozen moves in a crazy-short period of time. The fans are why we are here, and everybody knows it.

The football here was memorable, too. The Eagles stacked the roster with talented veterans and promising rookies and made sure those players had the best coaching possible. A veteran coaching staff led the way with chest-bumping enthusiasm and relentless encouragement and to-the-point teaching and the players responded with the kind of training camp you always hope to have: Great competition, zero major injuries and the unmistakable sense that this team has something special ahead in 2011.

Off the field, well, Lehigh is always hospitable. The few nights out when work slowed down were a blast, from the Melt mash to the late-night (and delicious) pizza at Sotta Santi to the lip-smacking cold soda at Looper's. It was good to see Dave from Starters and to thank him for the warmth he provides to the team, and to stop in at my favorite store, Se-Wy-Co Beverages, to take care of my working staff.

I don't think I'll miss sleeping in the dorm room at Campus Square, but I most certainly will remember the fine dining in the campus cafeteria, and our staff always appreciates the work conditions at our Red Room in Taylor Hall, the finest work studio imaginable.

We broadcast without any major interruptions from the middle of a field with the help of the Philadelphia Eagles' IT department and our friends at Verizon Wireless, who provided a blazing-fast 4G LTE card that kept us screaming no matter the weather conditions -- and they changed all the time.

As always, training camp was a blast. As for the football, here are some of the things I take away ...

Best Player (Offense)

The usual candidates are Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, of course, but I'm going with wide receiver Jason Avant on this one. He was fantastic. Avant caught everything, sacrificed his body when he didn't have to and continued to be a great team leader by example. What a class act.

Best Player (Defense)

Again, a lot of candidates here, but how about cornerback Asante Samuel? Samuel missed the first few days of camp to take care of some family business and then was surrounded by the media and asked if he was "happy" that the Eagles added Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the cornerback positions. Samuel kept his cool and was a consummate professional on the field. He played with great energy and enthusisam. The fans loved it. Samuel is a terrific player and is an important part of this team.

Most Improved Player

I would not have even mentioned Rod Harper prior to training camp as a player to consider on this roster, but he had a terrific few weeks. Harper is still a long shot to make the team, but he showed up in training camp and in the preseason game.

Best Move

The entire strategy of rebuilding the roster was a master stroke by the Eagles' front office. How they kept it quiet and then went out and traded Kevin Kolb for Rodgers-Cromartie and and second-round draft pick, then signed free agents like Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Steve Smith, Vince Young and others was just remarkable.

All of the moves made for some long, long nights and a lot of frantic work behind the scenes by everyone in the organization, but it was certainly worth the effort. Everyone chipped in to the historic effort and, clearly, the team has a lot going for it right now.

Biggest Disappointment

It is always disappointing when injuries take a player off the field. We don't yet know the status of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, although reports indicate that the health verdict could be promising. Stay tuned. Missing from action all camp was offensive tackle Winston Justice and defensive end Brandon Graham. Lost for the year was defensive end Victor Abiamiri. Still off the field with injuries are safety Marlin Jackson and defensive tackle Trevor Laws.

Otherwise, there wasn't much to be disappointed about here. It was a great camp.

Best Rookies

Casey Matthews opened camp as the starting middle linebacker and is still the guy. He has played very well in training camp, showing excellent lateral movement and quickness to the ball. He is a smart kid and an instinctive player who is getting every chance to show his stuff.

Running back Dion Lewis has a chance to play more and more in the preseason after his strong start against Baltimore. Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett is improving every day. The kicking game is being handled by a couple of talented rookies, Alex Henery and Chas Henry.

And, very quietly, the offensive line is being transformed. Top draft pick Danny Watkins walked in and started right away after an early-camp holdout. Jason Kelce is challenging for a starting job at center. It is part of new coach Howard Mudd's way: He wants the best players on the line, no matter what they have done in past seasons.

Memorable Moments

  • The sounds of the Eagles fans and the chants, every single day. The fans were certainly glad to have Eagles football back, and they showed up in huge numbers at Lehigh.
  • Vick is a much better quarterback now than he was a year ago. He is more accurate and more on time with his throws. He looks terrific.
  • Seeing the fans rise and give an ovation when Asomugha first came on the field was chilling. And awesome. And seeing how much Asomugha gives back to the fans -- he signed autographs after nearly every practice on his own time -- makes it a relationship that is going to be very rewarding both ways.
  • Avant's diving catch of a Vick floater for a touchdown with Rodgers-Cromartie was remarkable. Incredible catch by a superb player.
  • The best hit of camp was delivered on Monday by defensive tackle Derek Landri, who lit up Graig Cooper, the rookie running back from Miami. Everyone cheered. What most people didn't notice was that leading up to the play, defensive line coach Jim Washburn was challenging Landri. "Everyone, look at 73. C'mon 73, make a play. I'm watching you. You get off the ball and get up the field!" That's what Washburn shouted, in that way of his. And Landri delivered with the huge hit. There is a clear reason for Washburn's success: He demands the most out of his players on every snap of the ball.
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