BETHLEHEM, Pa. --Shawn Andrews termed it a "roadblock," the injury to his lower back that KO'd him from the first full-team practice of training camp. On the surface, having his back tighten and bowing out of a non-contact, helmet-and-shorts practice is not the largest concern on the Eagles' plate right now. The expectation is that Andrews will go through the treatment process and get on the field in no time and then, well, what?
Is Andrews going to get back on track in a career that just a couple of seasons ago looked like it would be one of the best ever for an Eagles offensive linemen? He had been selected to consecutive Pro Bowls, had the NFL world in his hands, all the talent in the world ...
And so you wonder about Andrews. What happens next? He is an enormous young man, a tremendous athlete, with a pair of the best feet to don football cleats the Eagles have ever had in uniform. Andrews dominated at the right guard position since the day he was drafted and, a broken leg in his rookie season the exception, played the kind of football that earned him a long-term contract extension and acclaim as one of the very best offensive linemen in the league.
Football is a game that doesn't care how big a man is, or how tough a man is. This is a violent, nasty game. And Andrews, a mountain of a person, crumbled last year with back pain and lost a season. Combined with a bout of depression that forced Andrews to stay away from training camp, 2008 was a washout of a year for Andrews, who played just one full game and one quarter of the second when the Eagles played in Dallas against the Cowboys.
A natural question after '08 was how much the Eagles would count on Andrews. Was he physically and mentally ready to play as he did in 2005-2007? Was he dedicated to the game? Was he ready to sacrifice to be a great player again?
Andrews was on the field every day through the spring. He looked great. He felt great. Even as recently as Wednesday, when the veterans checked in to Lehigh University and training camp, Andrews said he felt in tip-top shape. Somewhere between then and the start of practice on Thursday, Andrews' back tightened and he wasn't even able to participate in the off-to-the-side workout by the other five players who were unable to practice. Andrews was still in the training room receiving treatment, preparing for the inevitable question.
What is next with Andrews?
Obviously, Andrews will continue to take treatment and the Eagles will get him on the field as quickly as possible. And everybody will hope that Andrews can stay healthy and that his back cooperates and that he plays with confidence and that he is the anchor on the right side of a rebuilt offensive line that needs every practice rep it can get to be ready for the Carolina front seven on September 13. Neither Andrews nor Jason Peters (quad spasm) practiced on Thursday, and both were part of a group of six players who opened camp on the Physically Unable To Perform list. Those six players -- including Brian Westbrook (ankle), Trevor Laws (hamstring strain), Asante Samuel (hamstring spasm) and Victor Abiamiri (pectoral muscle) -- aren't permitted to practice until the team takes them off the PUP list. They must be deemed healthy enough to practice before they are removed from the PUP list.
By the end of a day or two or three, this back injury may be a thing of the past for Andrews. You have to wonder, though. The Eagles are fortunate to have guards Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles, who showed last year that they can play at a high level in this league. The Eagles have some depth along the offensive line that they haven't necessarily had in past camps.
On Thursday, Winston Justice took the reps in Andrews' absence. Justice has been a disappointment since he was a second-round draft pick in 2006 and he faces a make-or-break summer here. He is going to benefit from the increased action, if, in fact, Andrews is out for any length of time.
The clear hope is that, as Andrews believes, the back tightening is a minor hiccup and that he will loosen things up and never look in the rear-view mirror. The Eagles have to know, of course, that they must prepare for every possibility. Depth wins in the NFL. There is not a single player guaranteed to play every week.
Andrews, after an encouraging and hard-working off-season, had a curveball thrown his way on Thursday. Let's hope it is just a minor setback, and that Andrews is back on the field very quickly and without any hesitation.