We all know the old joke that the NFL stands for "Not For Long." The average career simply doesn't last many years. Players have to take advantage of every opportunity they are given. Some get more chances than others. Teams will be more patient with players who they've invested a lot of money in. Teams also like to hold on to high draft choices and players with a lot of potential. Even these guys will run out of time at some point. You produce or you hit the bricks.
The funny thing about so many players is that they aren't used to the situation. Most guys in the NFL were stars in college. Almost all were big stars in high school. Having to fight for a job is something new them. It is always interesting to see which guys adjust and have the mindset to keep their career going. Other players can't handle the challenge and drift out of the league. You'll hear their name mentioned in a workout that some injury-riddled team does about midseason, but not many make that cut. They just don't have the mental and emotional edge that it takes to stay in the league.
Several Eagles went to Lehigh this year needing to have a real sense of urgency to keep their jobs safe. The good thing for this team is that several of those players stepped up to the challenge and played well.
The most obvious guy to start with is defensive end Jerome McDougle. He was a first-round pick in 2003. Think about that. Todd Pinkston was still a player on the rise at that point. Brian Westbrook was a backup with some potential. The Patriots only had one Super Bowl ring. We're talking ancient history. McDougle has had a career with more setbacks than sacks. The one thing you could never question was his attitude and effort. While those are admirable qualities, they don't keep you in the NFL forever.
McDougle could have easily figured that his career was nearing its end. He could have quit or come to training camp and just gone through the motions. McDougle did neither. He had a good camp. The next test was the preseason. McDougle played well in the opener. He didn't relax. He had a sack and looked good in the win over the Panthers. He had another sack against the Patriots. There is no let up in his game this summer. McDougle understands that he's playing to keep his career alive. He has responded to the challenge.
Now the challenge for the Eagles will be fitting him on the roster. There is a surplus of defensive ends the team wants to keep. McDougle is one of them. He might end up on the roster. The team could possibly trade him. No matter what happens, McDougle has earned an NFL job for the 2008 season. Good for him.
Scott Young has had an up-and-down career. He was a reliable backup offensive guard in 2006. His future looked good. For whatever reason, he didn't have a good showing in the preseason of 2007 and fell out of favor with the coaching staff. When the team needed a backup guard it was either Max Jean-Gilles or Nick Cole who got the start. Young skipped some voluntary camps this spring and it sure seemed like his time as an Eagle would be coming to an end. Then a funny thing happened. Young went and played pretty well at Lehigh. He's played very well in the preseason. I studied his game tape and see a guy capable of starting for some teams.
Young has earned a spot on someone's roster. As an Eagles fan, I'd love to see him stick around and provide us with good insurance. There is also a part of me that would like to see him traded to a team where he could have a chance to start. I'd like to see what Young would do with regular playing time. I know he'd love to be a starter. No matter what happens, Young stepped up when he needed to.
Tony Hunt is only in his second year. As a former third-round pick it wasn't likely that Hunt would be on the hot seat. The way things worked out, though, he did have some pressure on him. The Eagles have a good one-two punch in Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. They traded for Lorenzo Booker on draft day. Hunt slid down to fourth on the depth chart. That isn't a good place to be for a team that likes to throw the ball a lot.
Hunt had a good spring, but relaxed too much and reported to Lehigh a few pounds heavier than the team wanted. That was not the signal to send the coaching staff and front office when trying to show them you wanted to fight for playing time. Hunt didn't get many reps early on and there was a lot of speculation that he was on the way out. Hunt started to get more reps in camp and played better.
His preseason got off to a rocky start. Hunt didn't do a lot to impress in the opening game. However, he made big-time strides in the next game. He had a 51-yard touchdown run. He ran hard in the game. He made two tackles in kickoff coverage. The light finally seemed to go on. Hunt was playing with a sense of desperation. Just when things started to look up for running back Tony Hunt he became fullback Tony Hunt.
The coaches decided to move him and Hunt started at fullback against the Patriots. No one has given an in-depth explanation for the move, but you have to think it was a combination of the fact the team isn't ready to give up on Hunt and no player stepped up and won the fullback job. Moving Hunt killed two birds with one stone. Sounds good in theory, but could it work? Hunt was up and down against New England, but I thought he showed promise as a fullback. Maybe the most important thing he did was embrace the move. Whether it works or not, teams will see that Hunt is a team player and will do what it takes to make a roster. Hunt is in the mix to be the starting fullback. He needs a good showing against the Jets to help his cause. His work is far from done.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR THURSDAY
The Jets game is going to be important for several guys. There is a lot of competition at several spots.
- Hunt, Jason Davis, and Jed Collins are all fighting for the fullback spot. All three still have a legitimate chance to win the job.
- I don't see any obvious leader in the battle for the fifth cornerback position. If Kyle Arrington, Nick Graham or Therrian Fontenot doesn't step up, the Eagles may stick with just four corners.
- Does the team keep Rocky Boiman as the backup strongside linebacker? Is there any way that Andy Studebaker makes the roster?
AROUND THE LEAGUE
- The Giants have not had a good few days. They lost defensive end Osi Umenyiora for the season. They tried talking Michael Strahan out of retirement, but that failed. Their defensive line was crucial to them winning the Super Bowl. Repeating just got a lot harder.
- It sounds like John Harbaugh is in for a long year in Baltimore. Injuries and age have put that team in a tough situation. I'll be pulling for Harbaugh. He was a big part of our success for a long time.
- What has happened to the Bears? They were in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and now have Kyle Orton throwing to Marty Booker and handing off to Matt Forte. The defense finished 28th in the league in yards allowed last year.
- Matt Leinart caught a lot of flak for his poor showing against the Raiders, but the whole Cardinals offense struggled. That team is pushing to make the playoffs and Leinart will be on a short leash, if he does get a chance to start. Kurt Warner is waiting in the wings and would love to get the job.
- I wrote about Buddy Ryan and Gang Green a few times over the summer. I'm happy to report that I saw the 46 Defense being used recently. The Seahawks ran the 46 for a play in their second preseason game. A blitzing linebacker hit the quarterback on the play.