Eldra Buckley spent two seasons on San Diego's practice squad learning to play in the NFL, taking care of the details, understanding that being a running back at this level requires a whole lot more than simply running the football. That hard-knocks education enabled Buckley to earn a spot on the Eagles' 53-man roster last year, contribute throughout the season and then, well, understand that nothing is secure in this world.
"Oh, they're going to challenge you every chance they can," said Buckley. "I know that. I don't expect anything less. They want to make the football team as good as it can be."
Buckley, then, didn't flinch when the Eagles signed Canadian Football League star Martell Mallett in the spring, nor did he panic when Charles Scott was a sixth-round draft pick. Instead, Buckley kept doing what he set out to do ... become the best football player he could be.
The approach has paid off. Buckley has been a human ping-pong ball in this training camp, taking one heavy hit after another and barely noticing. He has clearly moved ahead of Scott, who has been converted to a fullback (mostly) and Mallett, who impressed with his preseason debut last week. Even J.J. Arrington, a former second-round draft pick who was acquired in a trade from Denver, has yet to dent Buckley's practice reps.
At this point, with No. 2 running back Mike Bell dinged up (hamstring injury, then a calf injury) sidelined, Buckley's play is ultra-important as the Eagles prepare for Friday's preseason game in Cincinnati. Buckley backs up LeSean McCoy, is firmly in place to win a job as the third-string back (or better) and likes his place on the team very much at this moment.
"I'm a much better player now than I was with San Diego. I came here with a focus. I understood what was required to make it at this level. In San Diego, looking back, I realize I wasn't ready to play. I wasn't ready to be a complete player," said Buckley. "Everything I went through in San Diego, learning behind those players (LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles) helped me become the player I am now.
"It was more mental than anything else. Being a running back here, you need to learn to pick up the blitz. You need to run your routes correctly and catch the ball well. There are so many things involved. I'm working at it. Every day I just go out there and work at it."
If you made it to Lehigh in the three-plus weeks that passed, or watched any video here, you no doubt saw Buckley run hard and take hits. Oh, he took so many hits. And every time, whether it was Ernie Sims or Stewart Bradley or someone else from the defense lowering the boom on Buckley, the burly running back bounced up off his feet and went right back into the fray 100 mph.
As far as tough guys go, Buckley's name is near the top of the list.
"It's football and I enjoy that part of it," he said. "Sometimes they're going to mess me up and sometimes I'm going to mess them up. It's a physical game and I'm a physical player. That is what football is all about."
He is a player to keep watching. Buckley has taken steps forward in this camp to become more ingrained in the offense. He has earned that right. And he has the bruises and the welts to prove it.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
The line of the day came from defense end Trent Cole when asked by Bob Grotz of *The Delaware County Times* what he would miss from training camp. "Nothing," said Cole. "I want to go home. I'll miss it when I'm done playing football."
- Don't count out wide receiver Hank Baskett. He has been tremendous since returning from his knee injury. Baskett made some spectacular catches on Monday and Tuesday and appears to be working in as the fifth receiver, with Riley Cooper fourth.
- Keenan Clayton is playing WILL linebacker now after the Eagles took a look at him on the strong side. Clayton can run like the wind. He is worth watching on Friday night against the Bengals (8 p.m., FOX).
- Austin Howard has been the subject of some compliments, and for good reason. Juan Castillo saw him while attending an Iowa-Northern Iowa game (Castillo's son, Greg, plays for Iowa) to open last season and the Eagles followed Howard since then. Now Howard is one of the big-time surprises of this camp, and a young prospect who looks like he has a chance to be the real deal.
- It was a great scene on Tuesday when the Eagles broke after their morning practice and circled the field shaking fans' hands and signing autographs. The fans then gave the team a standing ovation following the afternoon 10/10/10 practice. Thanks to the great crowds and completely enthusiastic fans who came out every day to Lehigh for a highly-successful training camp.
- Who is the most talented player on this team? I'd have to go with wide receiver DeSean Jackson. I won't ever take him for granted. The kid is spectacular, a special player. I don't think Brandon Graham is far behind, however. He hasn't accomplished anything at the NFL level yet, but give him time.