Injuries can ruin a season. Just ask the New York Giants, who have had a rash of serious injuries in the last couple of days and weeks, and they are going to enter the 2011 season with some urgent holes created by the sidelined players.
The Eagles have some key players on the sidelines recovering from injury. How are they progressing and how do they fit in for 2011?
WINSTON JUSTICE, RT
Andy Reid said that Winston Justice is experiencing some knee pain but that progress is being made. Justice continues to rehab from his knee surgery and it is conceivable that he could be ready to go soon. It seemed like Justice was closing in on returning to practice based on Reid's reports recently, and that could still be the case. To be ready for the opener in St. Louis, Justice would likely have to practice within the next week.
The Eagles are starting King Dunlap at right tackle and they are taking a look at Reggie Wells, but a healthy Justice offers the most stability. He is a key to returning to the lineup.
BRANDON GRAHAM, DE
The second-year man from Michigan is a relentlessly positive, and he is going to fit right into what line coach Jim Washburn wants: Explosiveness and hustle on every play. Brandon Graham looked good in training camp working out and he is pushing his recovery from microfracture surgery.
Can Graham be on the 53-man roster for September 11? That may be a bit of a reach, but there is every reason to believe he will be healthy enough to contribute this season.
JEREMY MACLIN, WR
The intention is for Jeremy Maclin to start in St. Louis. Maclin looks great and he says he feels great. It is just a matter, at this point, of getting back into football shape. While the Eagles practice each day at the NovaCare Complex, Maclin spends his time running sprints and conditioning. He runs route after route when practice is over.
From an energy standpoint, Maclin says he is great. He has his strength. The clock is ticking -- fewer than three weeks remain before the Eagles play the Rams to open the regular season.
STEVE SMITH, WR
Maybe it sounds crazy, but don't bet against Steve Smith opening the season on the 53-man roster. He says he feels so much better one day after the next. Finding a comfort level in the scheme and establishing timing with Michael Vick will take some work, but Smith is eager to jump in.
The Eagles aren't saying much about Smith's condition, but they clearly signed him for a reason. They expect him to get on the field early in the season. The word is that Smith is progressing well in his recovery, so don't be surprised if Smith is on the field in September catching passes in this explosive Eagles offense. A healthy Smith will add another difficult-to-cover dimension in the passing game.
JUQUA PARKER, DE
A strained calf has kept Juqua Parker sidelined through the preseason to date and he won't play on Thursday night. There doesn't appear to be too much concern that the injury will linger into the regular season. The challenge is that Parker hasn't worked much in Washburn's scheme, so can he step right in and help in the rotation?
Parker would certainly seem to have a place here. He is the kind of player Washburn wants: Parker goes all out and is physical and technically sound. He is also a leader in the locker room and he should be a nice part of the defensive end rotation.
Hopefully he can get back on the field within the next week. That would give him a chance to be ready for the Rams.
ANTONIO DIXON, DT
The Eagles could really use Antonio Dixon's big body and run-stuffing skills. Dixon has been out the last few weeks and is on the mend, aiming for St. Louis. He is like the rest: The injuries he is battling aren't threatening his season, but they are taking away his prep time for the first week of the regular season.
Who starts at defensive tackle? I'm sure that it matters, because Washburn is going to rotate his linemen to keep them fresh, but Dixon is losing valuable time. The Eagles like what they've seen from Anthony Hargrove and Derek Landri, and with Mike Patterson returning on Thursday night to team with Cullen Jenkins, the Eagles already have a good foursome. Rookie Cedric Thornton took quite a few reps in Pittsburgh, too.
Dixon is a piece here, no question about it. He could really benefit from Washburn's expertise.
RYAN HARRIS, OT
Back spasms have kept Ryan Harris off the field for the most part since the opening preseason game, and Reid indicated on Tuesday that Harris is now seeing a back specialist.
That is not good news for Harris, who has battled back injuries the last couple of seasons. Shortly after he signed here, Harris looked like the answer at right tackle. Now he is a question mark. Can he get healthy and stay healthy enough to help this team?
MARLIN JACKSON, S
Marlin Jackson is making good progress from groin surgery, but it is difficult to see him getting all the way back in time to make an impression on the coaching staff. He has had so many season-ending injuries the last few seasons. Can he be trusted to stay healthy?
Too bad. Jackson is a Class A guy and he has been an outstanding player when healthy in this league.