Shocking news over the weekend of the death of former NFL great Steve McNair, and another reminder that players are people who are subject to the dangers of our world. That was one of the points hammered home to NFL rookies in last week's Rookie Symposium in West Palm Beach, FL, and so let's hope that the young men absorbed what they were told by league officials and their team's Director of Player Development.
The Eagles have been fortunate to avoid much trouble off the field in this last decade. They have tried to bring to the team high-character players who have a sense of maturity and purpose to them, young men who understand how competitive football at this level has to be. Players must quickly grow to the pace of the game during their work hours and during their leisure time. It is a bottom-line business, and those who make it in the NFL are blessed with the physical gifts, the mental toughness and the intelligence to approach the game the right way.
McNair did all of that, and grew to be one of the most respected players in the league. What happened to him was simply awful, and a danger that faces all of us every day: There is trouble out there, everywhere. Whether you are a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback are a fan who simply loves the game, trouble doesn't go away.
The tragedy of McNair's death was a shock on July 4. A few days later, pray that some of these young men who are making the most dramatic leap of their lives felt the impact of McNair's death and that maybe they appreciate just a bit more the world they are now in. Everything changed for the kids once they were drafted or signed by the Eagles. The NFL is an exhilarating, scary, exciting place. Time here should be cherished and never, ever taken for granted.
By any of us.
Jeremy Maclin remains the lone draft pick unsigned as the team winds its way to the July 26 report date for rookies and selected veterans at Lehigh University. It is a nice feeling to know that the Eagles have their off-season plans working so well, and that the expectation of Maclin having his deal done prior to June 26 is here. Comforting. It's almost time to get on the field and get in pads and see what this team is all about, and the front office has done an excellent job of making certain that every piece will be in place on time, with no controversy or drama.
I would love to give you an update on Brian Westbrook and his recovery from ankle surgery, but that is more likely to come when Andy Reid addresses the media on July 26 (live on PhiladelphiaEagles.com, by the way). Westbrook is well into his rehabilitation program with head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, so we will see in a matter of three weeks how much progress they have made. I will say this again: I believe that Westbrook is going to be completely recovered and ready to go for the Panthers in September. I'm expecting a big year from Westbrook, and at the same time, I think the Eagles believe that LeSean McCoy has a chance to be a special, special running back.
I guess I don't see enough of Denver's Champ Bailey to make a true read, but SI.com's Bucky Brooks named Bailey ahead of Asante Samuel on his list of the best cornerbacks in the league. I saw Bailey a couple of times a year when he played for Washington and was never, to be completely honest, impressed that he was a shutdown cornerback. Good player, but not a big, big-time player. Don't you remember Todd Pinkston and James Thrash having big games against the Redskins when they had Bailey and Fred Smoot at cornerback? Maybe my memory is faulty, and I'm too lazy (I'm on vacation!) to look it up.
Will the Eagles keep four defensive tackles? I really wonder about that, because I like Dan Klecko so much and because I think he helps any football team. But if the Eagles keep six defensive ends, and with Trent Cole, Victor Abiamiri, Juqua Parker, Darren Howard, Chris Clemons and Bryan Smith the odds are that they will, can the team really devote 10 spots to defensive linemen? Things will work themselves out in training camp and in the preseason, of course, but that is one roster spot that could become critical. All of a sudden, you have 10 linemen, six wide receivers, five cornerbacks, five safeties ... it just can't work out that way.
Just a reminder that July 16 is the NFL's Supplemental Draft. It wouldn't surprise me if the Eagles are bystanders in this thing, but then again, I really don't know what they are thinking. Only one or two players will be taken, I believe.
What do you think is the team's deepest and most talented position? It's a very interesting question. I would probably say quarterback, because when I look around the league I don't see teams that have three quarterbacks who those teams really believe can go out and win games. Donovan McNabb is obviously one of the best in the league. The Eagles are very, very high on Kevin Kolb, who hasn't done it in the regular season but who has lit up the night in the preseason. And A.J. Feeley is maybe the best third quarterback in the league. Agree? No? Cornerback would be my second choice, because Samuel, Sheldon Brown, Joselio Hanson, Ellis Hobbs and some talent competing for a roster spot makes this a terrific group.
What kind of differences will you look for in DeSean Jackson when you visit training camp? OK, let's talk about it. He won't look any bigger to you. He hasn't become a body builder or anything. What you will see is Jackson running routes with more precision, you will see him coming in and going out of his cuts faster and you will see a player who plays with supreme confidence. If he doesn't dominate those practices, I will be surprised. I think Jackson is in line for a very significant season.