They gathered under a warm sun and blue skies at the NovaCare Complex to begin their final leg of the OTA off-season. Two weeks, containing eight days of practices, are what separate the Eagles from their respite before they begin the marathon of a 2009 football season. And so while the stories out there may be about what -- or, rather, whom -- is not taking part in the camp, the Eagles know that what is important is their approach with who they have and what they must accomplish between now and next Friday.
"A lot of work," said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "This is about being taught in the classroom, taking it out to the field and retaining what is being taught. All of that takes a lot of dedication and hard work. These players have to focus on what is right here in front of them."
With that, there are some themes to discuss, on a more broad sense, with this team. Sheldon Brown, as you know, did not take part on Monday and may not, according to what head coach Andy Reid said in his Tuesday press conference, be here through this Organized Team Activity. That's his business. The Eagles have plenty of other things on which to focus.
**RETURN OF THE WALKING WOUNDED
This is the biggest story of what is going on right now at the NovaCare Complex. Stacy Andrews, Todd Herremans, Max Jean-Gilles and Kevin Curtis stepped back on the field on Tuesday and took part in the work, in varying degrees. The practice was particularly noteworthy for Andrews, who saw his first work in a helmet as an Eagle. He worked during the individual part of the practice, moved laterally, sharpened his technique and then had a sideline view of the rest of practice as the Eagles worked seven-on-seven drills and had a team portion of offense and defense.
Jean-Gilles took some reps with the first team at right guard. Herremans was back at left guard. Curtis looked good at wide receiver. Andrews, of course, is the key figure in the whole picture as far as the injured players go. He is going to take it day by day and not rush his recovery. The Eagles are excited about where Andrews is with his knee. If it all adds up and rehab goes without a hitch, Andrews should be ready in training camp.
Having Jean-Gilles on the field was huge, too. He suffered a nasty injury last year and with all of that body mass, coming back to full strength is a challenge. But Jean-Gilles looked agile and confident in his movements, and when you think about Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole having shown what they can do last year, the Eagles already have much more proven depth along the offensive line than they had a year ago.
Running back Brian Westbrook didn't practice because of a sore ankle, and the mystery of his injury is probably somewhat of a concern. But the Eagles have time to make sure they are completely on top of this injury and to make sure Westbrook is right for training camp. He certainly won't miss some reps in the spring.
*SHARING THE REPS *
With the veterans back in town, the young guys saw a severe reduction in reps after owning the practice fields the last two weeks. Donovan McNabb made a couple of poor early throws and then was simply scintillating in the pocket. Cornelius Ingram worked a lot in tandem with Brent Celek in two-tight end sets and looked outstanding. LeShon McCoy was outstanding. Jeremy Maclin had a very nice grab from McNabb in the seam, and Jason Avant ran away from coverage down the gut in the passing game.
The most entertaining part of practice was the work of the receivers running routes against the defensive backs. Some of the standouts: DeSean Jackson, who destroyed all the coverage, Quintin Mikell, who made an outstanding breakup of a pass intended for Avant, and Samuel, who was entertaining with his us-vs.-them chatter during the period. And you know who continues to look good in this defense? Safety Sean Jones, who seems to move pretty darn well for a big man.
TWEAKING THE SCHEMES
Remember that the Eagles moved some pieces around on their coaching staff in the off-season and that both David Culley and Mornhinweg have their responsibilities expanded a bit. And remember that Doug Pederson is on the staff now, and that there are bound to be some formation variations and changes in the playbook on offense.
On defense, Sean McDermott is running the show as Jim Johnson takes his leave of absence, and while McDermott is well-versed in the X's and O's of the scheme, he could add some tweaks.
And Ted Daisher is the new special teams coordinator, so the special teams will have a whole new flavor.
I didn't see anything drastically changed on Tuesday. The Eagles aren't going to a 3-4 defense, for example. They are installing the offense and defense in phases and when it is all in, and the team approaches the regular season, we will see just how much of a different look this team has in September.
TEACHING THE KIDS
More than anything, this camp is about teaching the rookies and the new Eagles. Oh, it's great for the veterans to knock off some rust. But Mikell, let's say, knows the defense inside and out, so what is he really gaining from being here? He is here and playing well and the communication within the defense is vital.
The most important part of the camp is teaching the rookies and players like Quintin Demps, who is the starter at free safety. This is a teaching camp, and what happens in the classroom, and then how the players take what they learn there and use it on the field, is of utmost importance.