Did you ever have one of those days when you were part of so many things going on that it was just hard to pinpoint one or two good stories? That was the kind of day I had on Monday at Lehigh University. The football side was great, with the Eagles going through their final day of full-pad and full-contact drills, and the things that happened off the field were interesting all around, too.
First, on the field. It's to the point now where the players have made their latest impressions to the coaching staff. The depth chart -- released officially on Tuesday -- is set to this point. The rotation is vague in Andy Reid's mind, but he has an idea of how much he wants to play the starters and how much he wants to see the backups who are battling for roster spots.
Donovan McNabb -- more on him later -- looks extremely sharp as the leader of the team. He is spreading the ball around at practice, and the first-team offense looks good. The defense has been strong from the starters to the third team, and Jim Johnson is going to have some difficult decisions when it comes time to make cuts later this month.
Once practice ended on Monday, the fun began. Truly began. First, there was Jeffrey Lurie giving his State Of The Team Address, explaining the organization's philosophy on A) How to build a team that can win now; B) How the Eagles take the contracts of players and reward the players as well as any team in the league and; C) How much it means to the team that Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb have been together so long and have had so many productive seasons.
Lurie was great. He is always interesting to listen to, because he has a smart, aggressive, broad-based perspective on the organization's approach to things. Toward the end, Lurie was asked to talk about how he thinks the fans perceive him.
"I think you always want to be perceived positively. I try my best, and try to be proud of the franchise and the product and deliver a great stadium experience that's there. Just try hard to do the very best you can," said Lurie. "It's always going to be controversial, or 'what can you do more of?' It's hard for an owner to score touchdowns, keep everyone healthy, to sack the other teams' quarterback. You just do the best you can.
"I think I've been lucky to surround myself with really dedicated people who embody the same intensity that I have. We've been together a long time some of us, with Andy and (team president) Joe Banner and others. (There's) a lot of success and a lot of hunger to win a championship. I kind of feel, this decade, that we've accomplished virtually everything we can except win a championship. Multiple division titles, NFC Championship, a lot of number one seeds, but we haven't won a Super Bowl Championship, and that's what I want for our fans. And that's day to day all I think about."
Lurie, as usual, said the right things.
A short time later, McNabb visited the Training Camp Live! show *and, I must admit, is in great spirits. Like, seriously, he is in the best frame of mind I think he has been in for many years. He seems to be in a far better place than last year. Physically, there is no comparison. McNabb *thought he was ready for last season after going through training camp, but it turned out that he needed time to recover and get his burst back.
Now, McNabb knows he is all the way back.
"I'm having an outstanding camp. I thought last year I had a great camp, too, but the body feels a lot different this year. I think with the year of rehab and the year of kind of understanding the (knee) injury and being able to deal with it in certain situations, now having that strength and that flexibility and also having my lower body strength where I can use everything on every throw and also if I have to make a move out of the pocket I can do that, it's worked wonders right now. I think I'm showing it," said McNabb. "The team feels comfortable. We have some great things that we want to accomplish this year that we should have done last year."
Confidence. The man has confidence. No doubt last season was a trying one for McNabb, who endured a never-ending series of Is-this-your-last-season-as-an-Eagle? questions. Nobody asked those now. The questions are now about this year, this time, and can the Eagles get back to the Super Bowl.
To do so, of course, McNabb has to lead the way. He understands that. He embraces that. He is the team leader. He is back in the saddle, and he knows that to get back to the top, the Eagles must have a swagger about them.
How do the Eagles get back to that?
"I think we have to go out and win and develop that. When we went out and brought in T.O. (Terrell Owens, 2004), he had the swagger. Certain guys had that swagger knowing we were that close. When you go to three NFC Championship Games, you know what kind of team you have," said McNabb. "You don't want to go through seasons where you have to win eight games in a row just to get to the playoffs. You don't have that swagger yet. You have confidence, but you don't have that swagger.
"This year, I think we have some individuals who have that swagger, but not everybody. It has to be contagious and it has to develop over time as the weeks go on and I think it can."
Later in the day, the Eagles went through a 10/10/10 practice before an enthusiastic crowd and then headed for the dorms and meetings and dinner and more meetings. News broke about Shawn Andrews, who spoke to The Philadelphia Daily News and said he is battling "depression," so naturally the campus was abuzz with the story. The Eagles said nothing. The Eagles are saying nothing.
I visited the taping of The Coach's Show featuring Reid and Merrill Reese that airs on 94 WYSP every Monday night, and Reid didn't have a thing to say on the subject. In fact, the idea for the story was to simply observe the show, see Reid in a casual setting with Reese, who brings out the best in his interview subjects.
He did the same with Reid. The setting was a plush RV parked 50 yards from the practice fields at Lehigh, and Reid said on a couch wearing a golf shirt and red shorts and casual shoes. He looked comfortable, relaxed, and he spoke with measured confidence about the Eagles.
"We have to take it with a one-game-at-a-time approach. It is a long season ... Donovan has great command of the football right now and he knows the offense like the back of his hand. He's got people around him that look like they can play a little bit, too," said Reid. "The defense looks fast and tough."
Maybe the best nugget came when Reid talked about using Hank Baskett more, especially in the red zone. Baskett is a big, tall wide receiver whose production faded last year. For two seasons, the Eagles didn't take advantage of Baskett's world-class leaping ability, but now it seems, it really seems, that the Eagles will throw a fade pass or two in the right situation.
McNabb to Baskett, touchdown. I like the sound of that ...
Anyway, Reid spoke of the fade pass and how Director of Player Programs Harold Carmichael had been pestering Reid and the coaches about using Baskett more in that situation. Reid explained that Baskett has improved his strength and is now able to push off defensive backs and go up and get the ball, rather than "fall away from the ball," as Baskett had done, apparently, in the past.
"Harold has been bugging on us to put in the fade route. We tried to do that with Hank when he was younger, in his first year, and we experimented with it last year but he just wasn't strong enough to the football," said Reid. "We put it back in again this year -- mainly because Harold was bugging on us -- and Hank got a little bit stronger and now he's making the play."
Reid went on to call DeSean Jackson "probably the most refined receiver in the draft," and talked in glowing terms of what kind of promise the defense shows. It was all very exciting. It was all very encouraging.
It was one of those days when a lot of things happened, and when it was hard to encapsulate everything. A busy day in Eaglesland, in other words. A fun day. One step closer to the preseason opener, when we can judge the Eagles against another team for the first time this year.