Training camp is underway and we've already got plenty to talk about. Before we get into details remember what camp is about. Training camp is a process. Don't expect to see a finished product. Things are not always going to be smooth. Players will get hurt. Some are going to thrive early on, while others will take a week or even 10 days before they hit their groove.
The big story on everyone's mind right now is the injuries. Defensive end Victor Abiamiri hurt his wrist early on and has already had surgery. He's gone for all of camp. He might be back early in the season, but there is at least a remote possibility he could end up on injured reserve. Abiamiri was expected to compete for the starting left defensive end spot. He's the biggest of the ends and was expected to play a key role because of that size. He was going to be a big part of the run defense in certain sets. Now that is up in the air.
A wrist injury is tough for a bigger end. Abiamiri isn't the kind of quick, speedy guy who will fly by blockers off the edge. He's more of the type to get into the blocker and then shed the block by using his hands. An injured wrist could have a huge impact on that style of play. Abiamiri won't be able to move blockers as easily with the injured wrist. He simply won't have the kind of strength and control you need to shove around 300-pound offensive linemen. The thing to hope for is that Abiamiri recovers quickly, regains his strength and is able to get on the field.
Defensive end is still a pretty strong position even with the Abiamiri injury. We do lose our big guy, but there are still plenty of pass rushers. Those guys are more important in Jim Johnson's attacking scheme. The right side will be Trent Cole backed up by Darren Howard. The left side will likely be Juqua Parker backed up by Chris Clemons. Beyond that group you still have rookie Bryan Smith and Jerome McDougle. Johnson can also mix in Chris Gocong from time to time and might be able to do the same with Andy Studebaker if he makes the roster.
Clemons had a scare on Tuesday as he was taken off the field and to the hospital due to dehydration. He's fine now. That was a temporary setback, albeit a scary one. Clemons has looked very quick and fast off the edge. I'm excited to see what he can do in game action.
Asante Samuel is sitting out right now because of a hamstring problem. I'm not too concerned about this. I think the Eagles are being cautious with him. Hamstrings can be tricky. You are best to let them get well, erring on the side of caution. You don't want a player to have nagging "hammie" issues all year long.
DeSean Jackson has missed some time with a hamstring problem of his own. He's back on the field and getting a lot of work. All the reports speak highly of him and how he's looked both as a receiver and returner. That is very encouraging news. Jackson could add a dynamic element to the offense and special teams that hasn't been there in a while. He is one of those guys capable of turning any play into a big gainer. I'm also excited to hear that the coaching staff is being aggressive with him. That shows you that they have confidence in his playing ability, but also his ability to handle pressure and responsibility. Most rookies have to get worked into things. Jackson is being used at different receiver spots. The coaches want to know just how much they can use him during the season.
Another player who is getting a lot of work is running back Lorenzo Booker. As with Jackson, the coaches seem to be trying to figure out exactly what they have. The good news is that Booker's getting rave reviews from everyone. I think people have finally let go of the "he couldn't even play much for the horrible Dolphins" mentality. They now see that this kid is fast, quick and elusive. He is an ideal fit for the kind of offense we use.
We all know the offense needed some help coming into 2008. The team didn't add the big name receiver so many wanted, but I think people are now realizing that guys like Booker and Jackson could have real impact and help right away. It also sounds like many of the holdovers are playing well right now.
Donovan McNabb is getting a lot of praise. I'm still going to wait for live game action before I'm comfortable that he is back to being a top ten quarterback. Training camp and even preseason games are important, but don't give you the whole story. We'll need to see what he does in September before we can breathe a big sigh of relief and know that our star quarterback is back for real.
Brian Westbrook came to camp in search of a new deal. There is no better way to help your cause than by playing really well and making big plays. L.J. Smith has dealt with a couple of minor injuries, but seems to be back to his old self. That certainly is good to hear.
Jason Avant and Hank Baskett are both playing well. Avant is getting high marks from several people. He's fully healthy and it is showing in his play. A healthy Avant gives the offense a good slot receiver. The West Coast offense needs guys who thrive in the middle of the field. Avant could be a great slot receiver if he can play with some consistency. He's got great hands, he's fearless and he understands how to get open, even with a lot of traffic around him. Baskett had a disappointing 2007 season. I've heard some good things about him. Hopefully Baskett realized that he needed to really shine at Lehigh in order for the coaches to feel obligated to get him more involved in the passing game. There was even a report that Baskett caught a couple of fade passes in the red zone. That would be a good wrinkle for the offense and a great way to make use of Baskett's size and jumping ability.
One of the big mysteries of camp is the status of Shawn Andrews. He still hasn't reported and rumors are flying about what the reason is. There's no use for me to speculate. I think things will work out in the end and Andrews will be back. He's an elite lineman in his prime. I just can't imagine him missing actual games. Be patient and just let this situation play out. The upside is that Max Jean-Gilles is getting reps with the first-team offensive line in Andrews' absence.
It sounds like Andy Reid is running a tough, physical camp this year. I think that is what the team needed. Last year's team was too complacent. We couldn't afford for that to happen again. Reid needed the new guys, young guys and returning players to all fight for jobs and playing time. There is no better way to do that than letting the guys get after it and really battle. There have been several fights/scuffles. Those things are generally glorified slap fights, but I do like the players being emotional in camp. You have 80 guys fighting for 53 spots. I want to see the competitive side of players. Normally I'm an "execution over emotion" guy, but camp is a different setting.
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