Who are the leaders? To whom do the Eagles look when they are in need of a front man? How is the team camaraderie after an off-season of so many changes? It's early in the process, for sure, but the Eagles have rallied around the youth of the team and appear to have a locker room with as many vibrant personalities and diverse cultures as they've had in many years.
Training camp will further bond the team, and then the start of the season will cement the team concept once the 53-man roster has been established, so we aren't going to know for sure until the Eagles hit bumpy times and need to recover. Over the last couple of years, of course, the roster has been overturned, so we're entering new territory here. There is no Brian Dawkins. No Jeremiah Trotter. No Donovan McNabb. No Brian Westbrook. All of those great leaders, those "faces" of the organization in the Andy Reid era, have been replaced by the current cast of very talented younger players who have a working knowledge of winning in the league and of overcoming adversity.
There are plenty of leaders here. Kevin Kolb is a natural, and he has transitioned to starter without a hiccup. Kolb has the respect of every player and of his coaches and those in the organization. Of course, Kolb has never been on the road in December in a must-win situation, so he has to go through that process. To this point, though, he has done everything right since taking over as the starter.
The offensive line isn't dominated by the personalities that both Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan brought to the field every day. Jason Peters is a quiet guy at left tackle. Winston Justice is not a vocal guy. Nick Cole and Stacy Andrews are not yellers and screamers, although I am interested in seeing Andrews on game day after he gets a few starts under his belt.
The Eagles need to make sure they have leaders up front. Todd Herremans is one. He has been here and he knows the routine. Without Jamaal Jackson, though, who steps up?
Brent Celek is a natural fit as a leader, for the other players see his work ethic and admire the way he has lifted his game after the Eagles drafted him in the fifth round. Fullback Leonard Weaver's presence should be felt more in his second Eagles season. The wide receivers, in their own way, are leaders. They are the showmen of the offense, and they are in positions that are often ridiculed for their showmanship. But no players work harder than DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. Everyone respects their toughness and their energy.
On defense, the leader is Stewart Bradley at middle linebacker, but there are many others to consider. Quintin Mikell is one, no doubt about it. He grew up in tough times last season. Asante Samuel is a vocal, high-tempo force in practice and in game situations, and his big-moment success is not to be taken for granted.
Trent Cole is a Pro Bowl end who commands respect for the way he approaches the game. Brodrick Bunkley is an emotional sparkplug, the yeller and screamer in the locker room who has that intensity you rarely witness. Mike Patterson is a quiet guy who just goes out and plays hard and prepares the right way every day.
It is an interesting team. The "faces" are probably Kolb, and Jackson and Celek and Bradley and Samuel. That media part of it will develop over time. What we know to this point is that the Eagles have come together in a very short period of months and have started to form their identity. They held crisp, intense practices. Aside from Samuel's constant chatter, which actually added to the intensity, the practices were very matter of fact, very intense and extremely disciplined.
You will see it at Lehigh. Maybe you will notice the difference. There is a young, vibrant energy, and that is not to be confused with a lack of ability. This is an extremely talented team with a strong foundation for leadership. They are having fun. They are growing together.
This team is similar to the early teams of the Reid era. Those teams had a young quarterback in place and developing talent scattered throughout the roster. Those defenses were more veteran laden, and certainly proved to be extremely good groups. How the defense performs here is a big question for 2010.
The Eagles aren't a finished product now, not by a long shot. What they are in a work in progress, and that includes the categories of leadership and chemistry. The early impressions, though, are very positive. Another chapter waits to be written at training camp.