BETHLEHEM, Pa. --In the grand plan, the Eagles saw Cornelius Ingram as an X-factor in the offense, a 6 feet 4, 245-pound athlete who could line up and create mismatches and give the Eagles a huge target and another option in the red zone.
The grand plan has crumbled.
Ingram was injured in a goal-line play on Tuesday morning and did not practice in the days to follow because of "swelling" in his left knee. On Saturday, however, the Eagles learned that an MRI revealed the true extent of Ingram's injury: The dreaded torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the same one he torn 12 months ago at Florida. And although Andy Reid did not say so directly following the afternoon special teams practice, Ingram is likely done for the season.
Ingram joins starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley on the torn ACL list, and both are considerable losses. Bradley, of course, was a key member of a defense that last year ranked third in the league and has higher goals this season. Ingram was an impressive player from the very start of the spring practices, someone who gave the Eagles a different dimension at tight end.
For Ingram, suffering back-to-back ACL injuries in the same knee is devastating. He has a long road to take to recover and get back on the field.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have some serious work to do. They need to go out and get a tight end. They need to be creative here and provide starter Brent Celek with a strong complement at the position. Celek is fine, a good tight end, a solid player who is going to have a fine, fine season.
Ingram was going to be the second tight end. He's gone now. And Matt Schobel is sidelined with a calf injury that is slow to recover and Eugene Bright is just now learning the position at the most basic level after playing defensive end in college.
The Eagles may go out and sign a player from the streets (signing rookie free agent Rob Myers is a stop gap measure, so don't think the Eagles are going to stop there) -- somebody like veteran Bubba Franks, for instance -- but they have to make sure they are doing everything they can to make the two-tight end set a viable and dangerous formation upon which they can rely.
It is such a shame to see what happened to Bradley and Ingram. Both players will work hard all season and hope for the best next year. But as happens in this game, they fade to the background. A full season is ahead of the Eagles. Without having even played a preseason game, the team is down two players who were being counted on for big things this year.
Who is available? Franks, the former Packers standout who has been around forever. George Wrighster, who played in Jacksonville. Maybe they could take a flier on Nate Jackson, a converted wide receiver who is only 235 pounds.
Maybe a more secure route to take is to go out and get creative. Tennessee has a glut of tight ends, including disgruntled veteran Bo Scaife, who is playing with the franchise tag this season. Tennessee has Alge Crumpler, it went out and drafted Jared Cook in the third round in April and maybe has a tight end it would be willing to trade. There are other players the Eagles have graded who could come in and help.
Certainly, this is a major challenge to the Eagles' personnel department and front office. You feel sorry for Bradley and for Ingram, a pair of terrific young men who have great careers in front of them, but the goal here is to pick up the pieces and move forward. The Eagles can't go into the season with Celek and Schobel and they know it. They have to make a bold, decisive mood here, or they risk having real problems in their two-tight end set. They want somebody they can move around the formation. They want somebody who can block. I'm not sure a player who can do both well is available right now.
Look, the Eagles made the right move when Bradley went down. They had an opportunity to acquire a veteran in Matt Wilhelm and they did it, persuading a player other teams wanted to play in Philadelphia. The talent pool of available players isn't as deep at tight end right now, and so the options are more limited.
Something will happen quickly. The injury rash is disconcerting, to be sure, but the team has to provide solutions, and fast. The news that Ingram was hurt certainly was a shocker, out of the blue, and it is a blow. Not a KO, but a blow. Let's see how the Eagles react to the news and see what they can do to bolster a position that is mighty thin with just not enough firepower right now.