Philadelphia Eagles News

Rookie Class Takes An Early Stand

A one-and-done run at the Super Bowl, as some have suggested? You have to be kidding me. The Eagles have one of the most interesting mixes on this training camp roster that I can ever remember, as the rookie class surprisingly takes on some critical jobs.

As the preseason open against Baltimore nears (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., 6abc in Philadelphia), the team's kids are stepping up. The kicking game is being handled by fourth-round draft pick Alex Henery (kicker) and rookie free agent Chas Henry (punter). No. 1 draft pick Danny Watkins moved right into the starting lineup at right guard once he reported to training camp. Chris Kelce is, apparently, neck and neck with Jamaal Jackson in a shocking battle for the starting center position. Julian Vandervelde, another drafted offensive lineman, is seeing a ton of reps along the interior of the line.

On defense, fourth-round draft pick Casey Matthews has taken every practice rep as the starting middle linebacker. And second-round selection Jaiquawn Jarrett is having an impressive camp at strong safety and figures to battle Kurt Coleman for that job.

It is far too early to make any definitive statements on the 2011 rookies other than this: Even with the four-plus-month lockout and no break-in time before training camp started, the rookies aren't backing down. In fact, they are responding to the tough-love approach from the coaching staff, which has, in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's words, "thrown the kitchen sink" at the kids.

And while the rookies are no doubt dizzy from all of the mental responsibilities on top of the physical demands of training camp, they are responding well enough to have earned very serious consideration throughout the lineup.

Anybody who thinks the Eagles loaded up with veterans to make one, last run at a Super Bowl doesn't understand what is going on here. This is a very young roster, along with an ample sprinkling of experience. The Eagles have covered their bases with experience, although many wonder about middle linebacker and the kicking game. Will the Eagles go into such a huge season with unproven players at such important spots?

At this point, the answer is yes. Absolutely. There is no spoon feeding happening in the heat of Lehigh. The coaching staff is moving at break-neck speed and those who don't keep the pace get trampled. The rookies are keeping their heads above the waves.

"It's a lot of volume," said Matthews. "It doesn't end. You just go with it and keep your head in the playbook and learn the mental part of it. The physical part, you have to take care of your body. Everything moves so fast."

The Eagles felt that they greatly improved the coaching staff when they made so many substantial changes following the playoff loss to Green Bay. That heavy investment is paying off now. Great coaches are great teaches, so with such a short period of time to get players acclimated, the role of the staff has never been more important.

We march on, then, keeping an eye on such an interesting roster. The collection of egos and Pro Bowl appearances is staggering, but seems to be working. Nobody is slacking. Nobody is dismissing the very real idea that the rookie class is going to play a major factor in the 2011 season, even if didn't appear that would be possible as recently as two weeks ago.

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