Philadelphia Eagles News

Locker Room An Ever-Changing Place

The hallway from the locker room at the NovaCare Complex to the cafeteria is right there, off the main corridor for the players on their way out to the practice field. Do it a few times and you understand where you're going. So, right about now, a kid like Ramzee Robinson isn't turning into the auditorium by mistake, or taking a right toward the exit when he should be taking a left to have lunch.

"I've got it down now," said Robinson, signed by the Eagles last week. "It takes a couple of times to figure out where the meeting rooms are, how they do things here. I'm getting there."

For Robinson, finding his way around the football field came more quickly than learning his way around the Eagles' world in South Philadelphia. He practiced for a few days with the Eagles and then was in uniform in San Diego, playing special teams mostly and making an immediate contribution there. Such is the state of the team when injuries and a costly suspension to cornerback Joselio Hanson left the team so thin in the defensive backfield.

It has been a remarkable change of face in this Eagles locker room over the past year. The Eagles made significant changes in the off-season during free agency and then again in the draft, and the spate of injuries furthered the addition of new faces. There is no way, and I guarantee this, that every veteran knows the name of every teammate. Maybe from the nameplate above the player's locker, but in no other way.

But this is all part of the culture of the NFL. There are injuries in every city. There is change every year. The Eagles made a conscious decision to get younger in the months after the NFC Championship Game loss in Arizona and they did that. They addressed the offensive line by signing Stacey Andrews in free agency and trading for Jason Peters. They turned the tight end job over to Brent Celek and added Cornelius Ingram in the draft. They brought in Leonard Weaver to play fullback. They filled the void at free safety with Sean Jones in free agency, Macho Harris in the draft and hoped second-year man Quintin Demps would step up.

LeSean McCoy was a second-round draft pick to back up Brian Westbrook at halfback. Young players on the roster last year appeared ready to move up the depth chart. It all looked so good on paper. Shawn Andrews would be healthy and team with Peters to give the Eagles a set of young, supremely-talented tackles and national opinions said the Eagles had the best offensive line in the NFL.

On paper.

Of course, games aren't played on paper in this league. The Eagles have been tested to the maximum to replenish the roster in light of injuries that robbed the team of standout middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, Shawn Andrews and Ingram for the season. Not too far into the year the team also lost key reserves/sometimes starters Omar Gaither and Ellis Hobbs for the year. Along the way, quarterback Donovan McNabb missed a couple of games with a rib injury, running back Brian Westbrook hasn't been himself since the first week of the season, defensive end Victor Abiamiri has been in and out of the lineup, wide receiver Kevin Curtis has made virtually no contribution because of a balky knee and linebacker Akeem Jordan is on the verge of missing his second consecutive game.

It has been such a crazy year that Jeff Garcia stopped by for a couple of weeks to say hello and Jeremiah Trotter came back after two seasons away from the game and is still here, albeit as a reserve who is seeing time running down the field on kicks.

There are names like Will Witherspoon and Antonio Dixon and Dimitri Patterson and Jason Babin making contributions for a defense that once had the same, familiar names in the locker room. There was always Brian Dawkins in the front right corner as you walked in, Hugh Douglas and the defensive line crew in the middle on the right, Trotter and his linebackers in the back left corner. They dressed across the room from Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas, and you always knew who would be where when you needed them for an interview.

That isn't the way the league works, however. Change is the only constant. The Eagles have a tremendous amount of talent and the future is so bright, and all of these new faces make you wonder if the chemistry can come together in the present. Can the Eagles pull it together for the stretch run of this season? They have always done so in this decade with a largely-constant cast of characters.

Now, they need players like Robinson to take advantage of his shot. We can talk about the losses on offense and defense because of injury, but has anyone considered that the starting gunners, Demps and Hanson, aren't playing and has anyone considered the change in strategy that has caused? When you don't have your gunners, and you are relying on Patterson and Robinson, who are not experienced in the art, what do you tell Sav Rocca? Sacrifice distance and instead hang the ball high and don't allow a return?

Could be. I don't know what happens in the meetings. I know there are significant coaching experiments happening -- Chris Gocong at middle linebacker, for example -- and the Eagles are trying everything and hoping for the best.

Sunday night is a huge, huge game for the Eagles. It is equally important for the 4-5 Bears. Both teams are in the muddle that is the NFC's playoff picture. Both teams have experienced changes in the lineup, and both teams have to prove they can overcome the challenges.

This is the NFL. Change and change alike. At least Robinson knows where to go to get his lunch, and how to get to meetings and what time he needs to be at the NovaCare Complex. After the hard part of settling into the locker room, football must seem like a breeze.

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