The mini-camp gave us our first look at the 2010 Eagles team. I'm pretty happy with what I saw. Of course, it wasn't real football. Players are running around in shorts. There's no hitting or tackling. Still, there is some value. You get to see guys coming off injury and where they're at. You get to see how quickly the rookies adapt to an NFL environment. You also see young guys taking over starting roles and how they handle things. Overall, I thought the Eagles had a good weekend.
I know some people have serious doubts about the 2010 season. Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook are gone. The offensive line has some questions. Free safety is unsettled. Right cornerback remains a question mark. The team is also young. Those are all legitimate points and concerns. I think the one aspect that too many people overlook is the talent level. There are still some tremendous players in place. The Eagles had a good off-season and were able to bring in a mixture of starters and backups. This is a talented team with excellent speed all over the depth chart.
Let's start at quarterback. Either you believe in Kevin Kolb or you don't. I do believe in him. Kolb passed his first test this weekend. He looked the part of a starting quarterback. He ran the offense and threw the ball well. He's been groomed for this situation for a while and sure seems ready to seize the opportunity. For those who may downplay what you can read from a quarterback in a camp setting let me put you in the wayback machine and set it to the spring of 1998. I watched Bobby Hoying back then and you could see some serious flaws. I had a friend ask me why Hoying wouldn't throw the ball to the wide receivers. All Hoying did was dump the ball in the flat to Duce Staley or Charlie Garner. That got me real worried. Hoying lacked confidence in himself and the players around him. It showed on the field. Kolb is nothing like that. He carries himself like a starting quarterback. I think Kolb is ready for the challenge of leading this team.
The overall quarterback play was solid. Michael Vick and Mike Kafka each had good moments. Both of them showed good progress from Friday to Sunday. The Eagles have had excellent depth at quarterback in the past four years. Now it appears that trend will continue in 2010.
I understand the questions that some people have about the offensive line. That is a critical area. What good is a talented quarterback if he doesn't have a clean pocket? I thought Jason Peters looked really good. The question with Peters has never been talent. It has always been whether he's willing to pay the price to be great. Guys like Orlando Pace, Walter Jones and Tra Thomas had great size and natural physical gifts. They also worked their tails off to be the best possible blockers they could. Peters doesn't have the size or experience of those players. He has to work hard to play at their level. Has he done that this off-season? We won't know that until the season, but I'm certainly encouraged by what I saw. I thought he looked good.
We didn't learn much about the center position. Mike McGlynn and Nick Cole split time in the middle. You have to see them in a live setting with blitz looks to really get any feel for their ability to handle the job. I'm happy that the coaches gave McGlynn a lot of reps. I've been a fan of his since he was at Pitt. I'd love to find a way to get him on the field. He's got some Jon Runyan in him, in terms of nastiness and an aggressive style of play. That was missing from our blockers last year.
It was great to see Stacy Andrews on the field practicing. We saw virtually none of that at this time last year. He watched and watched and watched. He rested his knee and took "mental reps." That's OK for a player who is established in our system, but it wasn't for Andrews. He was trying to learn a new offense, blocking style and position. That's a lot for a guy to do without being able to actually take practice reps.
I think it is fair for people to question whether he can get the job done. What we saw last year from Andrews wasn't good. He probably still has nightmares about Jay Ratliff. The coaches trust Andrews. They could have cut him if they had strong concerns about his ability to perform in 2010. Instead, all I hear are good things. Juan Castillo and Andy Reid believe that Andrews will play well this season. Normally when they have doubts they go get an insurance policy for that player. Back in 2007, the front office wasn't sure if Chris Gocong could handle the starting role. They drafted the best 4-3 SAM linebacker in that class - Stewart Bradley. Gocong had a solid year and Bradley was shifted to the middle. This off-season we didn't draft any linemen or sign any key free agent blockers. That tells you, right or wrong, that the coaches expect Andrews to bounce back and be a good starter.
I'm not sure anyone can have serious questions about our skill players. We're absolutely loaded at wide receiver. Add in the fact that rookies Riley Cooper and Chad Hall played well and you can see great depth at that spot. Who would have believed that notion a few years back? Tight end looks pretty good. We're all curious to see Cornelius Ingram in live action, but this is the best looking group of players we've had at tight end in a while, possibly in the entire Reid era.
Running back is another deep group. Shady McCoy seems poised to go from talented rookie to big-time feature back. Behind him we have some big guys. Mike Bell, Leonard Weaver, and rookie Charles Scott are all in the 230-pound range and are good downhill runners. Weaver gives us our best fullback since Kevin Turner.
If the offense stays healthy, I fully expect them to put up some big numbers and be one of the most explosive units in the entire NFL.
There isn't nearly as much to say about the defense. How do you judge that side of the ball when players can't hit, tackle, or even blitz? We'll have to wait for training camp to really know, but I did like the athletic ability our guys showed. I get the feeling that some people are underrating our defensive line. We return the starting group from last year. We replace Darren Howard, Jason Babin and Chris Clemons with Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham, and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. I'll take that trade any day of the week. The argument that some make involves Howard. He had 16 sacks over the last two seasons. That point is absolutely true. The point that gets lost is that we're not replacing the 2008 or 2009 version of Howard. We're replacing the 2010 version. How many sacks was he going to get this year? We can only guess, but Howard's level of play fell off from 2008 to this past season. There is a good chance his play will decline again. This isn't meant as an insult to him. We're simply talking about getting older. Very few guys are able to ward off Father Time and stay at the same level.
Linebacker has been an odd position in the Reid era. You'd think George Steinbrenner was in there firing guys the way players have come and gone. I was really excited following the 2008 season. It looked like Gocong, Bradley and Akeem Jordan would be the linebacking corps for years to come. Oops. Gocong flat-lined in 2009. Jordan became inconsistent. Bradley got hurt. Now, we have Moise Fokou as the SAM. Bradley is back in the middle. Ernie Sims, Sean McDermott's ""shark in the water,"" is the new starter on the weak side. I am cautiously optimistic about this group. There is tremendous potential, but we've been down that road before. We need to see these guys play well for an extended period of time. Fokou has bulked up in the off-season and is now almost 240 pounds. That's solid size for the SAM spot. Sims showed how athletic he is with the way he flew around the field. We need to see if he can handle the rugged nature of the NFC East, but this is a player I'm starting to get excited about.
Probably the best news of the entire weekend was the return of Bradley to the field. I remember hearing about his knee injury last summer. I was bummed to lose such a good player, but I felt OK because we had such good depth. Joe Mays had been a star in his first training camp and we all expected him to improve. Omar Gaither was the fallback plan. With depth like that, what could go wrong? Boy, was I off by a mile or two. After the 2009 middle linebacker nightmare, we now get Bradley back on the field. He moved around really well and looked good. Bradley is the key to the middle of our defense. He can stuff inside run plays. He's fast enough to chase plays to the edge. He also has enough athletic ability to be effective in coverage. Last season, teams got into a three-receiver set and shotgun alignment and ran the ball on us. We didn't have anyone between the tackles who could be a stout run defender. Bradley will have major impact on those situations. Getting him back is huge. Really huge.
The secondary remains a question mark. Ellis Hobbs wasn't healthy enough to practice in the team drills. Neither was rookie Nate Allen. Marlin Jackson is still mending from knee surgery. Macho Harris stayed at free safety despite all the recent talk that he was moving to cornerback. We know that Asante Samuel will be the left cornerback and that Quintin Mikell will be the strong safety. Beyond that we have a lot of shuffling to do.
My hope is that Allen can win the starting free safety job. We can then have Hobbs, Jackson and Harris battle for the right corner spot. Rookie Trevard Lindley did some good things this weekend, but I don't know if he's ready to fight for a starting spot at this point. Dimitri Patterson is a good role player for us, but I don't know if he has starting potential.
The good news in the secondary is that we have plenty of bodies and still plenty of time left to sort things out and build up a good depth chart. The bad news is that we have plenty of positions up for grabs. It is a lot easier when you have a stable group and only one position is open for competition.
There is still a long way to go, but I like where the team is right now. We don't have any major contract disputes or holdouts. We don't have bizarre sideshows. We don't have any key players going under the knife. There are some situations, but they seem minor compared to recent years. I'm sure Akeem Jordan isn't happy about being a backup. We do have Max Jean-Gilles coming off a unique medical situation. We have Victor Abiamiri rehabbing from microfracture surgery that could affect his status for August and September. I'll gladly take that stuff over some of the melodrama that surrounded Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Corey Simon, Lito Sheppard and Brian Westbrook over the last five years.
I don't mind the fact we're such a young team because I focus on the talent and speed we have. I remember watching the Cowboys put their young, fast bunch up against our tough veterans in 1992. They won two of three meetings and the Super Bowl. That was devastating, but a good lesson for me. I'll be highly disappointed if we don't make a run at the NFC East title. I think putting pressure and expectations on the young players is important. If you want to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, you better win games.