It is like clockwork in the course of the week: Friday afternoon arrives and the Eagles' week of practice, the demanding practices, are finished. The players exhale. Ahead is a walkthrough practice on Saturday and then the flight to Chicago and Sunday's huge game against the Bears. This is a riveting battle, made even more intriguing with the Eagles' injury situation: cornerback Asante Samuel (knee), defensive end Juqua Parker (hip) and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon (abdomen) are listed as questionable for the game.
Those are three starters on a defense that is just now finding itself in 2010. But the rules of football apply here, and those rules include the idea that injuries are part of the game and with 53 men in the locker room, there is always someone else available to pick up the slack. So that is what I wanted to find on my trip Around The Locker room with the Bears ahead ...
**JOSELIO HANSON, cornerback
Should Samuel not play, Joselio Hanson will likely get the call to start at left cornerback. How it would all work is unclear from this perspective, with the nickel situation and the various personnel combinations that Sean McDermott uses, but rest assured Hanson would have increased playing time. That sits well with the sixth-year veteran, who has started 12 times in his Eagles career, including three games this season (when the Eagles have opened with three cornerbacks).
Samuel is the game's premier playmaker at cornerback, and Hanson doesn't have those skills, but he has rebounded well after last year's struggles. Hanson was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, and then he just wasn't the same player when he returned to the lineup.
However, Hanson has been solid this season. He has one interception and 9 passes defensed and he knows the routine very, very well.
"I'm just excited to go out there and play. I'm going to go out and have fun and try to get to 8-3," said Hanson. "I'm going to have fun, make plays. This is the NFL. It's a dream. I'm going to live the dream."
Chicago's receivers are fast and they are, if given the chance, touchdown-makers. Hanson, should he play, can't allow the likes of Devin Hester to run past him for big plays.
"They have a lot of speed and a lot of talent," said Hanson. "We can't lay back on them. We have to challenge them and try to get to 8-3. It's football. I know what is expected of me. If it happens, I'm going to be excited about the chance to play and contribute to this defense."
KEENAN CLAYTON, linebacker/safety
After spending the first seven weeks of his rookie season inactive, Keenan Clayton's playing time has increased the last three weeks. He has played a few snaps here, a couple of more snaps there as a hybrid linebacker/safety/cover man in McDermott's defense. The fourth-round draft pick from Oklahoma is making progress, albeit in a less-traditional manner.
And that is OK with Clayton, who has the requisite speed in coverage and the instincts to work well within McDermott's ever-changing scheme.
"I can't complain at all about the way I'm going used. The opportunity to play is overwhelming to me," said Clayton. "The fact that they are using me, working me in with some packages on third downs is great. I have no problem at all with that. It takes a long time to learn this defense. I'm a lot farther along than where I was in the summer, early in the season.
"If they want me to play linebacker, I'll do that. If they want me to play safety, I will do that. We have a lot of linebackers here who play multiple positions, so we help each other learn the entire defense. I talk to other guys around the league and it isn't that way on every team. I am very appreciative that these players, my teammates, have been so helpful. Each week, I'm coming along better and better. When I started I was a deer in the headlights. Now I'm getting it."
Clayton plays at about 225 pounds and it isn't clear how he projects into the defense in the future. The Eagles see him as a playmaker, a speedy cover player who has tremendous sideline-to-sideline ability. He hasn't harnessed it all yet, but Clayton is earning McDermott's trust more and more.
"You have to communicate and know what the checks are, and now I can communicate to them when I see, so that is a big step," said Clayton. "It's all different. The speed of the game, the way things are done. It's a business. At first, it was like, 'What have I gotten myself into,' " said Clayton. "Now it's coming. I feel good about where I am. You have to put all of your time into it to learn how to play at this level."
LeSEAN McCOY, running back
Durability in the NFL is just as important as ability. That's why it has been such a plus for running back LeSean McCoy to play through a fractured rib and a sore shoulder. It means something to him to have eclipsed 100 total yards from scrimmage in 6 of 10 games and that he has been the go-to running back in this offense in this, his second season in the big leagues.
"That is something that Brian (Westbrook) always talked to me about," said McCoy, "to take care of myself and stay healthy."
McCoy is a central figure in the team's plans, of course. He could carry the football quite a bit in Chicago against a rugged Bears defense. In any event, McCoy will get his touches. His 51 receptions lead the team. He is one of five players to have more than 700 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards this season.
Catching the football has added so much to his game, and an offense that relies on getting the ball to McCoy in space.
"It's been a learning experience, catching the ball, the routes, the timing," he said. "Everything has to be just right. I'm working at it."
McCoy says he is "sore" but that he feels "good." His off-season workout routine has paid off now. The Eagles need him down the stretch, especially with two games in a span of four days.
"I'm not too hurt to play," he said. "Everybody feels it now. I'm going to be out there every day working hard."
**TREVOR LAWS, defensive tackle
This has been a breakout season of sorts for Trevor Laws. A second-round draft pick who had a promising season in 2008, Laws took a major step back last year. He faced a crossroads when training camp began.
And then Laws busted it, and earned playing time and suddenly is a key part of the Eagles' defensive front. Laws starts when the team is in its nickel personnel. With Dixon hurting in practice and questionable for the Bears, Laws could see a substantial number of snaps in Chicago.
"I'm ready for whatever," he said. "I feel alright about where I am. I feel I've made progress this year. I think I have a long way to go still, but it is nice to be out there contributing, helping us win games."
Laws didn't contribute much last year. He played in only 11 games and registered a total of 12 tackles. A lot of people wondered if Laws figured into the 2010 picture at all, honestly.
He does. Laws put on strength and weight in the off-season and has his quick first step back. He has 3 quarterback sacks and has been an invaluable guy with his inside pass rush.
Sunday could be special for Laws, who played his college football about 90 minutes away from Soldier Field, at Notre Dame. Laws says that a lot of "Domers" from his college days have already asked him for tickets. Laws wants to put on a show against a tough, physical Bears offense.
"They're pretty good. They've got a pretty good offensive line with veteran guys in there. (Quarterback Jay) Cutler is a gunslinger and we can't let him go out there and throw the ball down the field like he wants to," said Laws. "They have a lot of fast guys out there. Our defensive line has to dominate their offensive line. That's our goal."