The first glance was a good one, as the Rookie Class of 2010 went through the frantic paces of the post-draft mini-camp and, by the accounts provided by the coaching staff, kept its head above the fast-paced waters. The evaluation was guarded, of course, because the players were merely introduced to the outer fringes of the playbook. The hard part, truly, is coming.
And a segment of that hard part is the week ahead. The rookies, and selected veterans (mostly those new to the team), are back this week for another camp, and the one-on-one instruction, and the classroom intensity, will be ratcheted up to a new level. The coaches want to see how much the rookies retained from the first camp, how much they actually got into their playbooks during the time that passed since the post-draft camp, and the coaches want to see how much more the rookies can handle as they install more from the oceans-deep playbooks on offense and defense.
The physical part is, of course, something to watch, but the two go hand in hand: Hesitant players unsure of where they are going are going to play more slowly, and they won't open up physically until they have it locked down mentally.
This happens every year, and every year the coaching staff hunkers down for some Elementary Football 101 with the newcomers. It is critical, critical time, and because of the limited number of players -- probably 35 to 40 on hand -- the players get more reps than they would have in a full-team camp and they benefit from the extra opportunities to learn from their mistakes.
"It always helps," says offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, "for the players to come in and show us how much they have retained, and then, moving ahead, how much they learn as we introduce more and more. They are given a tremendous amount of information to process and digest, and they have to demonstrate that they are going to work at it and really devote themselves to learning what it takes to play at this level."
All of the work done now is designed to prepare the players for when the pads go on and when the coaching staff can evaluate who should stay on the 53-man roster. The coaching staff wants to allow each player the best opportunity to display his skills, and that is impossible to do without having a good base knowledge of the scheme.
So the teaching goes up a level this week. It's an exciting time to see the rooks, and the newest Eagles, and even though they aren't hitting or wearing full pads, to watch how they move and how well they get to the right places on offense and defense.
No judgments are going to be made, but we'll get a tease. Training camp is around the corner, so to speak, but between now and then the Eagles have a lot of work to do.
The veterans are also at the NovaCare Complex, continuing the off-season conditioning program. The rookies are on the way, too. The buzz will be exciting as we get a small sampling of what is to come. Before we can see the players really playing football, they have to go through the mental grind. In many ways, it will be every bit as taxing as the physical challenge of playing in the NFL.
There is no debate here about the chicken and the egg. Without the mental mastery, the physical part just doesn't come. And so, in many ways, how well the rookies digest the X's and O's of this week will go quite a ways toward determining how much they can contribute in 2010.