Three draft picks remain unsigned, so it's probably fair right about now to feel a twinge of anticipation for completing the process there. It is no surprise that first-round pick Brandon Graham has yet to sign, and second-round pick Nate Allen is in the same boat as the rest of the NFL. But fifth-round pick Riley Cooper? Is there a reason for the delay? Ah, the questions we don't have answers to at this point ...
It would be a major, major shock if Cooper isn't signed by July 26, the day that Eagles rookies and selected veterans report to Lehigh University, with a first practice on July 27 (open to the public, free of charge). And why he hasn't signed know, I don't know. But I actually think that all three draft picks will be done in time for July 26-27, and that all three have a chance to contribute this season.
Graham has a lot to learn as far as technique and the defensive scheme, but it was obvious from watching him in the spring that he has the quickness off the ball, that he plays low to the ground and with excellent leverage, and that he is a fast learner. Will he start at some point this season? You'd like to think he will make a push. But with Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp around, Graham has to bolt past some talented veterans on the depth chart.
It is far too early to judge Graham, or any of these rookies. We will see him every day when the pads go on and, hey, the kid needs to be at camp from the start. Those first few practices are vital to the smaller group. So much individual coaching goes on then. And nobody wants to see Graham have to play catch up. It just doesn't work for defensive ends when they report late to their first training camps.
Allen is in line to start at free safety. He obviously can't afford to miss a moment of training camp. Allen has a lot to absorb, and seeing him grow is going to be one of the most important storylines of training camp.
Cooper was an impressive player in the spring. He is a big body with strong hands and if he can play on special teams, he has a chance to dress on game days and be a contributor. Hank Baskett is still ahead of Cooper, deservedly so, but it could be a good battle to watch in training camp.
So, the negotiating game will soon rear its head again as the Eagles look to sign the final three players of its 13-man draft class. Training camp is, well, right around the corner. The Eagles need all of their hands on deck from the very beginning of the practices.
- How close is Jamaal Jackson to returning to the practice field? I had kind of mentally written him off for this season, to be honest. He tears his ACL in December, an injury that usually robs a player of an entire next season. But these days, with medical technology as it is, players are making progress faster and faster. Jackson is able to sprint -- as much sprinting as a center does -- and he looks great and says he feels great. Is it unrealistic to think that he could get on the practice field at the tail end of training camp? Maybe not. But there is also some strategy here. If he practices once, Jackson won't be eligible to open the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would buy him six weeks of the regular season to continue his rehab. If he starts practicing, Jackson either has to stay on the active roster when the Eagles cut down to 53 players, or he has to spend the season on Injured Reserve.
- By the way, if the league ever goes to an 18-game regular season, they must change the IR rules and implement four- and six-week "disabled list" options. That is one of the several rules changes I would like to see should the landscape change in the NFL.
- Tight end bears watching in training camp as Brent Celek leads the way. Behind him, the Eagles have three talented young players and only one, maybe two, will make the roster. Cornelius Ingram tests his knee on a daily basis as he recovers from surgeries that have kept him off the field for two seasons. Martin Rucker is a long, athletic pass catcher who has worked very hard at his blocking. He runs really, really well. And draft pick Clay Harbor looked terrific at times in the spring -- to be fair, he had some struggling days, too -- as he opened some eyes. This is a position that offers excellent competition for a roster spot, or two, behind Celek.
- Once the Eagles sign all of their draft picks, they will have to trim two players from the roster. Tough calls. There is a lot of good, young talent here.
- I'm so high on running back Mike Bell. Can't wait to see him in pads and see if he runs as hard as he did in the spring. The Eagles aren't going to turn into Ground Reid, no shot, but they could have some success in the power running game with a big offensive line and some bulk in the backfield. Wait until you see Charles Scott.
- Which do you like more: NFL free agency and the draft, or the way the NBA does things? NBA shifts of power happen very suddenly -- witness Miami -- while in the NFL free agency is hardly a guarantee of success. Some of those NBA contracts are incredible, but you wonder how the business of the NBA thrives with so much huge money and guaranteed dollars out there. I'll take the NFL's method. Nothing like draft weekend ...