One of the by-products of the two-week camp that begins Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex is the chance for the entire team to gather and learn just a little bit more about each other as teammates and as men. It is a time to build more chemistry and to develop a ladder of leadership in the locker room.
You know this is going to be a topic throughout the season. The Eagles lost several veteran leaders like Brian Dawkins and Tra Thomas in free agency, and now it is time for the rest of the team to fill the void. It happens all the time in the NFL when players leave the team, or when they are injured: The resiliency of a team is remarkable, and all of these great players who have been leaders throughout their careers know the appropriate time to step up and assert themselves.
But who will it be? How will it work? We all know that the veteran leadership here is still plentiful with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown, Quintin Mikell and many others are waiting and ready to show the way in 2009. Still, there is an ongoing adjustment to be made. There are players who were staples here year after year after year. Some of those players are gone.
Does it matter? I've never been a big believer in the idea that some leaders can't be replaced. I think they are replaced all the time in sports. I also think it takes time to find out just how complete the leadership is until there are times of strife. Who steps up then? It's easy to be a leader when the going is good. What about when a team is struggling to find itself? Who steps up then?
We're not going to learn all about that over the next two weeks. But we are going to see the dynamic develop a little bit more here, a little bit more there. Most of the players have been at the NovaCare Complex during the course of the off-season conditioning program, but not since the post-draft mini-camp has the entire locker room been together.
So what's it going to be like? On the surface, it is going to be business as usual. Perhaps this time the players won't be bombarded with "How much will you miss Brian Dawkins?" questions, and maybe the focus can be on what the Eagles have here, rather than what they don't have. This is a pretty good team in place, one that may be able to take great lengths to be much better. That's going to take time. What we are going to see is a group of players who have a chance to develop some timing on and off the field, and to maybe get a clue about who is the spokesman of the locker room for the media.
Just because a guy gives a good sound bite doesn't mean he is a locker room leader. Brodrick Bunkley is as emotional and inspiring as any player on the roster, but he isn't nearly as comfortable in front of microphones. The Eagles have 10 starters coming back on defense and they have already developed some strong chemistry from the strong season in 2008.
The offense? McNabb is the face and the voice, with Westbrook very much in the picture. There are, however, some young players like Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson and even some of the returning offensive lineman who need to assert themselves some.
Leadership in the locker room is an issue, as it always is when so many veterans leave in an off-season. The Eagles think they have a great handle on the matter, but every day the players are together there is a sense of learning. It isn't as important as the Xs and O's right now, but it is a subtle story that continues to develop.