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Tackling Some Issues Facing The Eagles

BETHLEHAM, Pa. -- New day. Something is going to happen today that will make you scratch your head and wonder how much of an impact it will have on the season. It's all about September 13 and beyond. And through the ups and downs of this training camp, we must keep that in mind. How much of what is going on now will make an impact starting on September 13?

Losing Stewart Bradley, definitely. The Eagles are going to miss a three-down linebacker who is a leader on the defense. No question about it. The Eagles have to replace a player with great range in coverage, the size and strength to shed blockers and stuff the running game and the brains to run the defense.

Having all of these players sidelined with injuries that are healing and don't appear to be serious enough to extend much beyond the end of this week, in most cases, is not nearly as much of a concern. Happens with every team. This is the NFL. Players are injured every day in training camp. And once defensive tackle Trevor Laws returns to practice, and once end Victor Abiamiri is cleared to go, and once Jason Peters shrugs off this nagging quad injury, the Eagles will have a much more complete look on the field. Shawn Andrews, yeah, it's fair to wonder what is going on with him. Another injury that hasn't been explained to the public? Sure, that is one to watch.

With Andrews, because of the mysterious nature of the injury -- he is fine one day and then tweaks his back in a conditioning drill the next and now "can't run," in the words of head coach Andy Reid -- and because of his immediate history certainly merits concern.

Juqua Parker and his off-the-field incident? Big mistake. Poor decision for both he and Todd Herremans to be included in such a story. No doubt head coach Andy Reid is seething, and no doubt Reid will handle the matter in-house, as he has largely done in the past.

This has been an up-and-down training camp. If you thought the Eagles would waltz in here and have all systems go from Day 1 and bust out of Lehigh looking like a team ready to win the Super Bowl, well, it isn't the case. Not yet. This team is a work in progress. You look around the league and it is the same story everywhere. Too many players are on the sidelines. Depth is a question mark. Injuries are devastating.

What I've seen in this camp is a team that has started to answer its major questions. The rookies appear to be legit. Shady McCoy has been a standout every day in training camp. Cornelius Ingram appears to have a chance to make an impact as a rookie, assuming the swollen knee that kept him out of Wednesday's practices is nothing serious. And I don't think it is serious.

Jeremy Maclin is now in the tempo of the camp and he stayed late after both the morning practice and the afternoon practice working with wide receivers coach David Culley and camp intern Todd Pinkston on the details of routes and recognition. In practice, Maclin looked good. Natural. He ran away from a defensive back on a go route. He muscled past coverage to break clear on a post. He caught the ball with ease and confidence. Maclin has a long way to go to catch up, but he retained his information well from the June OTAs and has the physical skills to play at this level.

Other questions? Quintin Demps appears to be doing what the Eagles need him to do at free safety. A better gauge comes next week when the preseason opens -- hey, it's time right now to play another team, because the Eagles-vs.-Eagles is getting old -- but Demps has played fast and is making the right calls and the defense looks like it "fits" and is in the right spots on the field.

Joe Mays continues to run with the starters in the base defense at middle linebacker and I know the Eagles are excited to see him in game situations. Matt Wilhelm is in the crash-course phase of learning the scheme. Omar Gaither is a good, solid linebacker at both WILL and in the middle and he is going to be on the field a lot this season.

The offensive line coming together? The clock is ticking and the Eagles have not yet had their best five linemen on the field together. Yeah, that is a concern. The good news is that Stacy Andrews is coming along well at right guard, and that Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles are playing well as reserves and that the Eagles have one of the best coaches in the league in Juan Castillo preparing for all eventualities. What happens if, somebody asked me and I've thought about a million times, Shawn Andrews can't play on September 13? What would the Eagles do? They have been using Winston Justice at right tackle here, and they would love him to blossom in the preseason games. That is one option, although I think moving Herremans to right tackle and inserting Cole at left guard is a better move. You want to play your five best linemen, and those five would make it right in that scenario.

Keep in mind that while the Andrews injury is concerning, there is no sense that the back injury he has now is related to what he had last season. This is, according to Reid, a muscular injury. We can only wait and hope he improves every day.

There have been a lot of positives here. Donovan McNabb looks great. Leonard Weaver is better than expected. Brian Westbrook is coming along very, very well in his recovery from his ankle surgery and moved with a superb burst in his post-practice practice on Wednesday under the watch of Reid and head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder. Westbrook is way, way ahead of schedule, and while he may not play in the preseason, he is on target for Carolina.

The wide receivers in camp have been every bit as talented as hoped, and Brent Celek has made a bunch of plays at tight end. The Eagles defense has been flying around, playing fast. Sean McDermott seems to have control of the group, and you can definitely see some wrinkles in what he would like to do this season (for example, using Chris Gocong more as an edge pass rusher). Ted Daisher is running crisp, intense practices for special teams.

So while this has been far from a picture-perfect camp, the Eagles are still a team with the highest of expectations and a roster brimming with talent. I'm looking forward to this new day rather than dwelling on what happened -- good or otherwise -- yesterday.

The picture changes constantly in the NFL. How much of what happens now impacts September 13 and beyond? That is the question that needs to be asked as you sit and watch and wonder so many things going on with this football team.

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