Each step is a small one, and there are many, many to go before Sean McDermott admits to knowing much about how his 2010 Eagles defense will look. There remain two weeks -- eight practices -- of non-contact work with the full team, and then a month of training camp practices and then maybe, just maybe, McDermott will have a feel for the group he will count on in 2010.
There is so much promise here. You watch practice and you see speed from front to back on the defense. You see a lot of young players who, once they get the hang of this defense, have the chance to really step up and help this season.
And you see McDermott, in his second season as the team's defensive coordinator, fully aware that it is impossible to get ahead of the game right now. Right now, he is measuring progress in baby steps.
"To make judgments right now doesn't make much sense," said McDermott. "I know that we're a work in progress. I think that's the way we are and I think that's the way any defense in the league is right now. We have a ways to go, a lot of work to do. I'm excited about it. We have a lot of energy and a lot of speed and when you have energy and speed and a willingness to work hard and players who are good people of the field, too, that's all you can ask for at this point in time.
"I'm looking at this camp and I want to see how the players execute the basic fundamentals of football that don't include getting off of blocks and making tackles. We aren't doing that now. So it's premature to make any statements or draw any conclusions. But the players are here learning and we see how quickly they are learning, how well they are putting themselves into the right spots on the field, things like that. If you were to put on a film of today's practice and watch it side by side with a film of the first practice after the draft, or even of this camp, you would see a big, big difference. The players are picking things up well, and that's a credit to the coaches who are teaching them and the players who are putting so much time into learning."
What conclusions are to be drawn from the rookies and selected veterans camp? No conclusions, only some hazy images. With all of these new faces and the young bodies, the practices whizzed by and the action was fast and furious and the players narrowed down their mistakes each day. The veterans report on Tuesday and, well, we won't hear quite as much about the rookies. Their reps will decrease and their opportunities to make plays become more limited.
For those two weeks, McDermott will continue to install packages within his defensive scheme. He knows, for example, that linebacker Ernie Sims is picking things up quickly and that he is smooth and fast and fluid in the open field. He knows that Macho Harrris, now at cornerback, is going to have a chance to help the secondary there. Marlin Jackson is on the field and is looking good, says McDermott -- "To be where he is, after the injury, I'm impressed," said McDermott.
He knows that in those eight practices, some rungs must be climbed to keep the team on pace for its growth heading into training camp.
"There is a growth chart, and a timeline, that you follow, and you want to make sure that you are hitting those benchmarks, so to speak, as we develop and progress," said McDermott. "Each day, you try to stay on course with that expectation."
One of the best days of the year comes in training camp when the full team is in place and the pads go on and the defense pins back its ears and plays tackle football. It is a telling time for the defense. No more touch football. No more avoiding contact. Then, and only then, will McDermott start to really make his decisions on players.
Until then, he is going to feed and teach and nurture the players and demand that they get in their playbooks and that they do what is required of them in these practices.
"It's exciting to be around these guys," said McDermott. "They are working hard and improving every day. I like what I've seen."
CLEANING OUT THE SPRING CAMP NOTEBOOK
- Mike Bell missed the last couple of days of practice with a hamstring strain and Martell Mallett took a bunch of reps in his place. "It helps a lot to get snaps and have a better feel for what the offense is all about," said Mallett. "I think I'm coming along OK."
- Sims clearly is enjoying his time as an Eagle, and his play has been stellar, even without the tackling. "I understand what I'm doing out there and I have the language down. They kind of throw it all at you at once, and you need to get into the playbook and stay there," said Sims. "I've done that. I feel good about where I am."
- Rookie linebackers Keenan Clayton and Jamar Cheney appear to have a good feel for the defense to this point, and linebacker/defensive end Ricky Sapp is making progress. The Eagles are going to keep moving the pieces around until they know where the players best fit.
- Most improved player in this early spring period? It could be quarterback Michael Vick, who is throwing a beautiful football out there. He is so much more accurate and confident in his throws than he was last season. Vick has worked hard on his game and his mechanics and his knowledge of the offense.
- Great to see tight end Cornelius Ingram make it through every practice without a hitch. He is going to make a push heading into training camp.
- Stewart Bradley was a full go in the post-draft camp and is expected to be the same for the next two weeks as the Eagles put on the finishing touches of the spring before training camp starts.