What do you do to count down the days until training camp begins? This is the slow period of the NFL's off-season, a time when the coaches are off on vacation and the players are scattered, spending time with family and friends and keeping in tip-top shape because they know what waits. Speaking of coaches, let's talk about the Eagles' staff, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There are some challenges ahead ...
Jim Johnson remains on his leave of absence. We are all praying for his health. It is a very brave and difficult fight that he has, and nobody is better equipped for that fight than Johnson. With Johnson sidelined, the defense is being run by Sean McDermott, who I have no doubt is a rising star in the business and who will be a head coach and a darn good one some day in this league. But if McDermott is still the guy when the season begins, there is going to be an element of the unknown about him. He has never called a regular-season NFL game. His experience in the system is vast, and he is a mastermind that way, but what happens if he is in a third-and-goal moment late in a game?
Furthermore, the defensive side of the coaching staff has undergone major changes since last year. Line coach Pete Jenkins retired. Otis Smith is no longer with the staff. Rory Segrest is in his fourth season on the staff, but his first as the team's defensive line coach. Brian Stewart is only a couple of weeks into his time as the team's special assistant to the defense. Stewart coaches the defensive backs, and has newly-hired Michael Zordich as his assistant there.
Bill Shuey is suddenly one of the elder statesmen in his second season as the team's linebackers coach. He is joined by Mike Caldwell, in his second season as the defensive quality control coach and who works with the linebackers primarily.
So there are a lot of new pieces in place on the defensive side of the ball. Change always happens in the NFL, of course, but this is more than usual. As the players must go through the training camp and learn the system and become acclimated to each other and the X's and O's, so too must the coaching staff work through its adjustment period.
The defensive staff has a lot to do in a minimal period of time. McDermott is running the show in Johnson's absence, and there is no more organized man than McDermott. It is something to watch when training camp arrives. I can tell you this: The practices at the June Organized Team Activities were as crisp and precise as ever. The coaching staff has a sense of purpose and an understanding of the work that needs to be done. The practices are already scripted. The education process for the new coaches -- Stewart and Zordich, specifically -- is well under way.
- What is Kevin Kolb thinking with Donovan McNabb's restructured deal now in place? I don't know for sure, but I have all the respect in the world for Kolb and believe he understands the situation, that he is aching to play football, and that he is going to prepare as well as he can possibly prepare for training camp. Kolb isn't going to go to the front office and demand a trade. He isn't going to pout. The guy wants to play and be a great quarterback, and he will have to exercise every ounce of patience to be ready every day of the year in case his number is called.
- Condolences to the family of 6abc sportscaster Gary Papa, who passed away on Friday at the age of 54. Gary was a good man, a friendly fellow and a nice person. The last time I saw him was at Giants Stadium after the Eagles beat the Giants in the playoffs. Gary was very, very ill at that time and his condition was of great concern. My lasting memory is of Gary and Brian Dawkins in a deep embrace, both men understanding how much the win meant, how wonderful the emotion felt, and that Gary may not have much time left on this Earth.
- Nothing to report on the Brian Westbrook front, although if the initial estimations were correct when head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder addressed the media on the day that Westbrook had surgery, the running back should be able to bear some weight and should get into his rehab at the NovaCare Complex very soon.
- Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy remain the only two draft picks who have not signed contracts. My belief is that both players will be at Lehigh University on July 26, as scheduled.
- Best battle of training camp? There are many, including those at cornerback, at wide receiver, along the defensive line and at safety. I think, I truly think, that the Eagles potentially have the best depth they have had in training camp in many, many years.
- I guess I shouldn't be surprised or bothered by it, but why are so many people still speculating about what McNabb's contract means? Do we have to look to the 2011 season? Isn't it all about 2009 and the idea that nothing is given for anybody after that? All of these theories and "reasons" the Eagles and McNabb restructured two years rather than came together for an extension ... hey, it is what it is. No secret agendas. Let's go win the Super Bowl in 2009. That's all that matters.