Now they get back to work with more of an understanding of where they are as a football team and as individuals. Training camp resumes Sunday with plenty of stories, sub-plots and notes worth filing as the team bounces back from the preseason opener against the Steelers and gets in some work looking ahead to Carolina.
After a day off on Saturday, the Eagles have three more days at Lehigh University. They aren't going to line up with full pads and knock the stuffing out of each other, but the tempo will be high and the teaching level will be intense. The preseason is far from over. The Eagles have not come close to finalizing their 53-man roster. In fact, Sunday and Monday are two critical days for a number of reasons, which include ...
THE RETURN OF OFFENSIVE GUARD SHAWN ANDREWS
It is expected that offensive guard Shawn Andrews will be back on the field at some point on Sunday. He must first pass a conditioning test before suiting up, and then he has to get back in his football groove. Not only that, but Andrews must meet with the media, and a circus atmosphere is sure to play up that event.
After missing more than two weeks with a bout of depression, as Andrews described his condition, the Pro Bowl lineman has to prove that he is healthy and ready to go full bore into the 2008 season. The Eagles have been on top of the situation -- Andy Reid in particular -- and their first concern is Andrews' health as a young man. The football part comes second.
Reid said on Friday that while Andrews was expected in on Sunday for practice, Andrews wouldn't step right into the starting job at right guard. The Eagles are very pleased with the play of Max Jean-Gilles, which is great for the big picture up front.
Andrews has a lot to overcome in the next couple of days. He has to deal with the emotions and the scope of his return. He has to start getting himself mentally and physically ready for the season.
AN UPDATE ON CORNERBACK ASANTE SAMUEL
Reid doesn't seem all that disturbed that Samuel has practiced so little since he became an Eagle. Samuel is a veteran in the league and he has been part of the meetings for the secondary, so at least he is getting his mental repetitions in the defense. But it would be a benefit to all involved for Samuel to get back into the swing of things on the field.
Samuel is officially day to day, which obviously means he could return Sunday, Monday or even Tuesday. The key is for him to reach 100 percent health and stay there, and then get in his reps and make sure the timing and the communication with the rest of the secondary is right and ready for September 7.
An important part of the defense, Samuel is an ultra-talented player who is expected to be a difference-maker here. His skills are undeniable. Even in the limited time on the field, Samuel showed the great ability to break on the ball, to change direction and to play well in coverage.
Nobody is frustrated, but maybe a better word is "excited." We all want to see Samuel on the field. His patience is being tested as he rehabs from a hamstring injury that has robbed him of most of his training camp.
TWEAKS TO THE DEPTH CHART
What changed from Friday night to now? Who made strides and will bump up the depth chart? Who drops a notch? The coaches spent their day on Saturday grading the film from the game in Pittsburgh, and they no doubt liked many of the things they saw. The Eagles lost because the Steelers took their first possession down the field for a touchdown, because the Eagles committed a costly turnover on an ill-timed snap from center Nick Cole to quarterback Kevin Kolb that resulted in a fumble and three Steelers points and because the Eagles failed to score more points when they had the ball in Pittsburgh territory.
Players like middle linebacker Joe Mays and defensive tackle Trevor Laws solidified their roles as second-team reserves. Defensive end Jerome McDougle had a strong game, so maybe he opened some eyes. Tight end Kris Wilson was open all game. Linebacker Andy Studebaker seemed to be around the ball most of the time he was in the game. Left tackle King Dunlap and right tackle Winston Justice played solidly during their long stints.
Did anybody fall? Sure, probably, but the coaches know, not me. They watched the film over and over and over, and they will point out the problems players had and work to correct them in the days before Carolina.
CLOSING TRAINING CAMP
Reminder to the fans: the two-a-day practices Sunday through Tuesday are free and open to the public. There is still plenty of football to see at Lehigh, with the emphasis on continuing the installation portion of the three phases done.
The fans have been supportive and positive during the nearly three weeks the Eagles have practiced. There is certainly a sense of wonderment about the Eagles. Are they good enough to win the Super Bowl?
Once training camp breaks on Wednesday after the mock game (closed to the public), the team packs up and leaves for the game against Carolina on Thursday night. On Saturday, the Eagles start practice at the NovaCare Complex, and those workouts are, of course, closed to the public.
BEARING DOWN ON X'S AND O'S
The Eagles really kept it simple on Friday night. There were only a few blitzes -- one which didn't work when Sheldon Brown came off the corner and the Steelers went right to Santonio Holmes for a completion. He then ran away from Brian Dawkins for a touchdown -- and the offense was very, very basic. All of those reverses and fade routes? Didn't happen against the Steelers.
One of the evaluations the Eagles must make as they work through the practices and the preseason games is to keep track of what worked and what didn't work. The offense ran the ball well at times, but also committed too many penalties and missed plays down the field.
The playbook is vast and loaded with things we have never, ever seen. It is vital that Reid and his staff weed out the plays that have a poor track record of success when the opener against the Rams rolls around.
FINDING THE NEXT BIG STORY
Now that Brian Westbrook has signed his new contract, what is the big story to chase? Andrews and Samuel are going to top the list, but those stories are going to blow through pretty quickly after a couple of days. Surely, the Lito Sheppard story continues, but to where?
Is it possible, then, that football and football only becomes front and center for this football team heading into the opener? Wouldn't that be great? The Eagles emerged from Friday night healthy, pleased with a lot of things they saw on the field and eager to improve in every phase for the game against Carolina.
The next big story is the football side of this team. The Eagles need to play better and better every time they hit the field and prepare to peak when the regular season opens.