Reggie Brown didn't practice on Thursday, which leads to the real possibility that the Eagles will start the season on Sunday minus their two starting receivers, meaning that rookie DeSean Jackson is going to be thrust into the role of a starter, meaning that Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis have a chance to emerge after a season of relative quiet.
And the funny thing is, nobody around here seems the least bit worried.
I'm not sure what that means. Every team has a lot of confidence as the season opens. Every team thinks it can create good matchups and find weaknesses in its opponents. Every team is racing to the starting line.
The Eagles are in the same boat as everyone else and it's just, well, for me, it is a time to overanalyze everything. I think the Eagles are going to play a great game on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, I really do. And I also think that the idea of opening the season without both Curtis and Brown is something that makes the wheels in my brain spin out of control.
Look, I have said only good things about this receiving corps since way back in the spring. Once I saw Jackson in practice -- and it probably only took a couple of days to see the gifts he has -- I knew he would get on the field this year. The holdovers from last year are good players who can produce when given the opportunity to do so. Hey, I'm looking forward to seeing Baskett and Lewis have their roles increase. I want to see a healthy Jason Avant in the slot.
At the same time, there is the reality that both starting wide receivers could be out for Sunday. If that happens, the true football adage will be tested: It takes an entire team to win a game.
See, the Eagles need to step up. Everyone on offense. Everyone on defense. Everyone on special teams. I don't care that the Rams were 3-13 last year. I don't care that not a lot of people are giving the Rams much of a chance on Sunday. I know that the difference in the level of talent across the board in the NFL is narrow, and that when a team plays a game without both of its starting receivers ...
At the same time, I'm as excited to see this receiving corps as at any time since 2004. Jackson brings sizzle to the table, and I'm sure the Rams have spent time looking at him and have plans to take him out of the offense. Baskett is a player who just disappeared last year, along with Lewis. I want to see how the Eagles use both players and I want to see how both players respond. I've long been high on Avant for the sharp routes he runs, his strong hands and his ability to be a physical blocker. Let's see what he can do here.
We are going to know more on Friday and into Saturday on Brown. The Eagles know they have to be prepared either way. They know the wide receivers have to make plays, keep the Rams honest and be there for Donovan McNabb.
Whew. Hey, I was there when Buddy Ryan drafted both Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams in 1990 and started both in that season. The two combined for 73 receptions, 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns. That team featured running back Keith Byars in the passing game. He caught 81 passes for 819 yards. Tight end Keith Jackson caught 50 passes and scored six touchdowns. Quarterback Randall Cunningham threw 30 touchdown passes that season and the Eagles went 10-6, earned a playoff spot and then bowed out to Washington, 20-6 in the final game of Ryan's time as the head coach here.
BATTLE TO WATCH: COLE VS. PACE
Orlando Pace is one of the greatest left tackles to ever play the game. Trent Cole is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, with his eye on many more to come. The Eagles' right defensive end against the Rams' left offensive tackle is a great battle to watch.
"I've watched him for a long time. Great player. Experienced. He may have some age on him or whatever, but he has technique. If you play the game the way he plays it, hey, it doesn't matter how old you are," said Cole. "He knows how to block a pass rusher. He already knows what he wants to do against me. He has seen guys like me. We played them in my rookie season, and I think I played pretty good. I have a big challenge on Sunday."
Cole's rise to this level has been attributed in large part to his voracious work ethic. Cole is never satisfied, never slows down, never considers failure. He watches tape for much of the time at the NovaCare Complex when he isn't practicing and then takes home DVDs to watch at night.
"I'm a speed guy and I go up the field, so I try to get a sense of what he is going to try to do against me," said Cole. "My job is to counter what he is doing and try to beat him. I love that challenge. I know I'm going to adjust during the course of the game and take my shots against him.
"Tape study is so important. You don't realize it when you're younger. You just go. Now you look for tips on how a tackle might set up for pass protection or the run. You learn to look at formations and to get a feel for the offense."
Cole knows he is a marked man after earning his Pro Bowl trip (he was voted as a first alternate and then made the trip because of an injury to Seattle's Patrick Kerney). He is no longer an "unsung" player.
He is a target.
"Oh, I know there is more pressure. I've got so much pressure on me, man, and I love it. I love pressure. That's part of my motivation. I'm always putting pressure on myself," he said. "I will never be satisfied. Never. Never. Never."
Odds And Ends
- Just wondering: With Quintin Demps and Jackson in line to return kickoffs (Demps) and punts (Jackson) on Sunday, have the Eagles *ever *had two rookies starting in the return game? Ever?
- If I'm Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, I am feeling mighty glad that Lorenzo Booker is here. Booker's ability to line up all over the formation gives the Eagles a lot of flexibility with Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. Is there any way the Eagles can get all three on the field at one time? That would be some fun ...
- Stay tuned to the weather forecast. A heavy storm is expected to roar through Philadelphia at some point this weekend, which could make for an issue before and during the game. Remember, Temple hosts Connecticut on Saturday, and if the field is wet, the Eagles' outstanding grounds crew is going to have a challenge with the field prep for Sunday.
- A side note: I love Claude Humphrey and all that he did in his NFL career, but why in the world was Harold Carmichael again ignored by the Veterans Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Carmichael caught 590 passes in his career, and retired ranked sixth in league history in number of receptions. I don't get it.