Everyone has an opinion. The pre-season rankings are emerging. The favorites in the NFC and the in the AFC are being established weeks before training camp begins, and the Eagles are, well, the Eagles are right there in the middle of the pack. Nobody seems to know what to think of this football team, which is just fine for a team featured prominently on national television throughout the season.
It is an unusual position for the Eagles, who have been one of the favorites in the NFC for most of Andy Reid's years as the head coach.
"Doesn't matter," said wide receiver Jason Avant on Thursday morning. "We know in this locker room what we have and what we can accomplish. That's the fun part. Out there, they're just guessing. In here, we have a lot of confidence in our ability to win football games."
These are the down times in the NFL's calendar year, the days when most players go home, see friends and family and take their last deep breaths of relaxation before training camp begins. There are still a handful of players on their own at the NovaCare Complex doing the extra work, putting in the time, staying focused.
For the most part, though, the league shuts down. And the season forecasts crank up and the fans start chattering the predictors predict and all of the words mean nothing when training camps begin.
How good are the Eagles? Can they win the Super Bowl this year?
Well, they can win the Super Bowl. A lot of things have to happen in the right order, the team has to remain relatively healthy and some new players -- and ones from previous seasons here -- must respond to the challenge and step up into new roles. On paper, the offense is lethal (that comes with the expectation that Kevin Kolb will step in without a drop in production at the quarterback position) and the defense has a bunch of moving parts that need to jell very quickly in the weeks between now and September 12. Special teams, already an explosive element, could very well make the difference throughout the season with the addition of coordinator Bobby April.
Nobody really knows, though. The NFC East is as difficult as it has been in many, many years and in fact it reminds you of the rugged days of the late 1980s and 1990s. There are no gimmes in the division and there are none on the schedule. It is with great excitement that the 2010 season approaches.
At the NovaCare Complex, the mood is much more subdued for these next couple of weeks. Avant, Winston Justice, Leonard Weaver, Ellis Hobbs, Akeem Jordan ... these are some of the players present working out and preparing to be great during the year.
"I'm relaxed mentally and I'm also taking this time to stay sharp and condition myself," said Avant. "Five weeks is a lot of time before the start of training camp. If you don't handle that time the right way, you can lose some of your conditioning. I'm not going to do that."
All of the change throughout the off-season has clearly influenced those on the outside who, one year ago, loved the talent level on this roster. The Eagles were, in some eyes, the favorites in the conference. They had gone out and gotten left tackle Jason Peters in a trade. They had signed Weaver in free agency. They had an offensive line touted as the best in the league.
After winning 11 games despite a myriad of injuries, and then wheeling and dealing throughout the months that followed 2009, the Eagles are more of a mystery for all of us. That part of it makes the anticipation so painful, as these days are going to drag by slowly until training camp opens at Lehigh.
Until then, everyone will weigh in on what they think of the Eagles. It is all fodder to carry us through to the opening of camp, when we can judge what the Eagles have by what they do on the field, rather than how they look on paper.
* NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE OF THIS AND THAT *
- Head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder has been one of the keynote speakers as the National Association of Athletic Trainers has gathered in Philadelphia. Athletic trainers from high school on up have been part of the program, held in Center City Philadelphia.
- No word on the contract talks with the three unsigned Eagles draft picks: defensive end Brandon Graham, safety Nate Allen and wide receiver Riley Cooper. I'm very confident all three will be in training camp on time.
- Love the FIFA World Cup and all of the dramatics. I've watched a lot of the action from the NovaCare Complex, where even players are tuning in and paying attention. Something has to be done about the play-acting when the players are injured, and what's with all of the players ripping off their shirts after the games are over? We never did that in high school ...
- The longest tennis match in history was truly an historic event. And the fact that Wimbledon and the World Cup are happening right now helps bridge the gap to the open of the real sports season ... training camp around the league.
- Big loss for Carolina not having wide receiver Steve Smith through training camp after he suffered a broken arm in a flag-football game. Players are prohibited from taking part in a lot of non-football activities, although a lot of players try to sneak in their hobbies. It sure is costly when a player suffers an injury like Smith's.
- So I saw punter Sav Rocca in the cafeteria the other day and I wondered why he is still here, rather than in his native Australia. "I'm staying here all the way through the season," said Rocca. To which I replied, "Ah, you're going to experience the heat of the South Jersey summer." Said Rocca: "Beats the winter back home." True enough.
- Who is your kickoff return man this year? Is it Hobbs, one of the best in the game, even if he starts at cornerback? Is it Quintin Demps, who showed great ability there as a rookie? Or do the Eagles try to develop someone else? Knowing just a little bit about April, I would say he is going to keep his options open. Would that mean DeSean Jackson could be a candidate?