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Second-Year Eagles Must Catch Up

The Eagles had immediate contributions from last year's draft class, headlined by defensive end Brandon Graham and free safety Nate Allen. They got later-in-the-season help from much of the remainder of the draft class, including seventh-round linebacker Jamar Chaney's ascension into the starting lineup, seventh-round safety Kurt Coleman's rise as a starter and some valuable depth help from fourth-round linebacker Keenan Clayton, fifth-round tight end Clay Harbor and fifth-round wide receiver Riley Cooper.

There were 13 picks in all, and the Eagles believe that of the 12 players still on the roster, most will ultimately become valuable pieces of the big-picture roster.

But as the NFL lurches into another weekend with the business gates locked, the rising group of second-year players on this roster -- and throughout the league -- are the ones who have taken a huge hit. In the case of the Eagles, both Graham and Allen went down with late-year injuries and are rehabbing as we speak. While Allen figures to be in good position to practice when the work stoppage ends and practice begins for 2011, Graham is a gigantic question mark for the season ahead. If he isn't ready to go in September, as both head coach Andy Reid and Graham has said on the record, how deep into the playing schedule will it be before Graham gets all of his explosiveness back?

Beyond the injuries -- and you can count seventh-round pick, defensive tackle Jeff Owens, as a major casualty when he went down with a knee injury -- there has to be some concern about the development of the young veterans. It is often said in the league that players improve the most from their first season to their second, and we have seen many examples of that.

Players, for the first time, have an entire offseason treating their jobs with professionalism. They eat well. They hang at team's complexes to share time with coaches, work out the right way and reach definitive goals they set for their immediate careers.

But with the work stoppage, players have been on their own. Those who have been in the league for many years know how to handle the down time. They know how their bodies and their minds have to feel once the bell rings for training camp.

Those players who are looking to become more significant contributors to teams have to elevate their conditioning and their knowledge of the schemes without the benefit of spending every day in the office with the coaches and the rest of the roster.

How are they progressing?

What does a player like Daniel Te'o-Nesheim do after a rookie season in which he played very little? He hasn't had a chance to spend time with new defensive line coach Jim Washburn. He doesn't know if he should gain weight or what technique to work on or how Washburn sees him working into the rotation.

All Te'o-Nesheim knows is that he has to work on every phase of the game and report to the season in the greatest shape of his life. Same with Clayton, a linebacker in college who dabbled as a hybrid safety/linebacker as a rookie. He doesn't know with much certainty at all how new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will use him within the scheme. Is he a linebacker and should he bulk up? Does he have to lose weight to make a run at a roster spot in the deep secondary?

You can take a look at every second-year draft pick on this roster and wonder how they will fit. And when the work stoppage is over and the halls of the NovaCare Complex are again filled with players and buzzing with anticipation, one of the primary duties is to gain an accurate scouting report on the second-year Eagles.

The level of contribution from last year's rookie class was impressive, until the injury bug bit. What happens this year to last April's Wonderkids?

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