With an eye on the present (promoting Jordan Norwood to the 53-man active roster) and the future (signing tight end Brent Celek to a six-year contract extension), the Eagles were extremely productive on their weekly "day off" at the NovaCare Complex. This is the time of year when days off really aren't days off, when almost every player gets treatment of some kind or another and when the coaches dig deep to prepare for the playoff push.
OK, so where do we begin? Clearly, the Celek signing is a huge story and it is a terrific move for an organization that continues to keep the talented core of young players together for many years. What the Eagles have now resembles, in a lot of ways, the Eagles from the early part of this decade. They were a rising team, chock full of young veterans, and the Eagles wanted to keep the pieces in place for a long period of success. That's what happened.
And if you are tracing the fortunes of Andy Reid's Eagles, you know how many wins and how many playoff victories the team earned from 2000-2004. From 2005-2007, there was a bit of a lull, and then the Eagles rebounded to make a run to the NFC Championship Game in 2008.
In the off-season, the Eagles revamped the roster and became much, much younger at most positions. The average age of this team is skewed a bit right now -- who would have counted on, for example, Jeremiah Trotter being here rather than Stewart Bradley? -- but you look up and down the 53-man roster and beyond and see youth everywhere.
Celek fits right into the mold. I think General Manager Tom Heckert said it best during Celek's press conference on Tuesday, noting why the Eagles were interested in locking in a player like Celek for the long term.
"We want tough guys, smart guys that love football," said Heckert. "Brent, he's that type of guy."
He sure is. Celek will play through the pain of a sprained thumb on Sunday in Atlanta. He expects to have no restrictions and that is a good, good sign for the Eagles. Long term, the Eagles hope that Alex Smith continues to develop in the system, that practice-squad player Martin Rucker takes the next step and that rookie Cornelius Ingram recovers from his torn ACL to become a factor in 2010.
By keeping Celek, and Winston Justice and all of the young players who have long-term contracts here, the Eagles have narrowed their must-have needs on the roster. All of that, of course, is in the future. The Eagles have a game to win in Atlanta. That's where Norwood comes in.
To expect Norwood to be a difference maker is stretching it. We don't even know if he will dress against Atlanta. DeSean Jackson has a concussion and the Eagles are monitoring his recovery on a daily basis. Should Jackson not play, Norwood would dress as the fourth receiver and the Eagles would likely involve him in a package or two.
To this point, Norwood has run only scout-team reps in practice. He has gone through all of the individual work, has attended every meeting and he knows the system in his head fairly well. The Eagles aren't going to lay an entire game plan on Norwood and expect him to have it mastered.
What we know of Norwood is that he had a terrific career at Penn State and then was not drafted. He signed with Cleveland after the draft and nearly made the Browns 53-man roster. The Eagles liked him enough to add him to the practice squad and now, to the 53-man roster. They could have gone out and kicked the tires on some veterans, but the Eagles promoted from within. They have Norwood's fresh legs -- and his outstanding speed -- ready for Sunday.
"If they call on me, I'll be ready," said Norwood, who is 5 feet 11 and 179 pounds. "I know the offense and I feel like I can be part of an explosive offense. Right now, I'm just focusing on this day and working hard. I'm not thinking about Sunday just yet."
Atlanta has been challenged in the secondary this year by some big plays, but there is no doubt that the Falcons understand the importance of the game. They are going to play their best game of the season. The Eagles must be ready for a hostile environment and a pressure-packed situation.
If Jackson can't play, rookie Jeremy Maclin starts with veteran Reggie Brown. Jason Avant is the third receiver. Norwood is the fourth. Brown, patient all year, could have his chance to bust out of a season-long period of inactivity.
The Eagles won't change what they do. Reid has always expected the next player to step up and step in. This time, the Eagles could be without their most dynamic offensive weapon. It is remarkable, really, thinking that the Eagles could go win a tough road game without Brian Westbrook and, possibly, DeSean Jackson. Shows you how much things have changed around here in a very short period of time.
Tuesday was a day for keeping the core of the roster intact, and for making sure the team has enough on the field Sunday against the Falcons. It wasn't a typical day "off." Then again, there aren't many of those days remaining during the stretch run of the regular season.