It is hard to believe, thinking about what has been, that nearly a year has passed since Jim Johnson's death. He left this world last July 28, and yet his presence is felt in the hallways of the NovaCare Complex and, certainly, as training camp opens at Lehigh University. He was such a special man and an outstanding football coach and his energy and enthusiasm for the game, as well as his genius, will be missed forever.
The show goes on in the NFL. You don't look back. Pausing in this league gives another team a chance to speed by, and so the men in this profession tend to keep their heads down and their blinders on and their focus on the here and now. Johnson was like that, too, but the memories of him shuffling along in the building, having a side word to say to everyone, all of those blitzes lined up in his office on his whiteboard, the pictures of his family ... how can you not think about Johnson as the sun beats down and the heat rises at Lehigh.
Of course, the Eagles have a brand new season ahead. Sean McDermott is in a different place now than he was 12 months ago. You think about everything he went through as such a young man in such a pressure-packed situation and you marvel at everything he accomplished last year. Remarkable. Not until the end of the season, well after it was over I imagine, did McDermott have a chance to exhale and decompress.
McDermott has Johnson looking over his shoulder as he works at building this defense. It is a massive and exciting task. The Eagles have some considerable changes on defense from last year, and as much as my eye is drawn to the offense in the daily practices, I think this year I'm going to watch the defense more than I ever have.
I feel, and maybe this is an oversimplification, that the offense is going to be fantastic and will a very short learning curve with quarterback Kevin Kolb. He and the coaches are on the same page. He and the receivers know each other very well. The offensive line is going to love the idea of dropping back and getting rid of the football.
The offense has pretty much every other piece in place. There are questions about the offensive line that only practice reps can answer. As far as down-to-down timing and continuity throughout, the offense should get into its rhythm very quickly.
Defensively, it could be a different story. The front four is the same, plus some exciting additions, but there are substantial changes in the back seven. The coaches have to make sure everyone has the terminology down, that everyone is together with the checks, and then they have to sort through the depth chart and properly evaluate each player.
Defenses usually keep it simple in the preseason games, but I wonder if McDermott will open things up just a touch to see how he players react. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more the defense bears scrutiny.
Anyway, these are the times when I think of Johnson and how excited he would be to have his hand in this defensive transition. Then again, I know he is here in the hearts and on the minds of everyone associated with the Eagles. One year later, the man and the coach remain a part of the Eagles' family.
* NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT *
- Nothing in particular to report on any contract negotiations regarding first-round draft pick Brandon Graham or second-round pick Nate Allen other than to remain optimistic that Allen will sign at some point prior to the first practice and that Graham won't be too far behind. Both players will benefit greatly by having a full training camp under their belts.
- One of my sleepers to watch is safety Kurt Coleman. A seventh-round draft pick who isn't exactly the prototypical size, Coleman is a feisty, physical player who has some ground to make up after missing much of the spring drills. The first five practices with rookies and selected veterans only will be extremely critical.
- All three quarterbacks will be in for practice starting on Tuesday. I think, and I'm guessing, that Michael Vick will address the media today and that any word he has gotten from the league will be positive regarding the incident in Virginia Beach in July. My sense is that Vick will be free and clear for the season.
- The players don't wear full uniforms and there is no tackling until Saturday morning. That will be a practice to remember. Get to Lehigh early!
- The weather forecast for the week is mostly sunny with temperatures in the high 80s for Lehigh. Practices are free and open to the public.