It has been a whirlwind ride for the young men who comprise the Eagles' 2009 Draft Class. After months of prepping and preening for NFL scouts and coaches, the players learned their professional fates two weekends ago, became Eagles, and then were given a glimpse of life in the big leagues during a weekend mini-camp that finished on Sunday.
Now the rookies have a sense of what is expected from them. And the coaching staff has a sense, just a teeny, tiny notion, of what the rookies might be able to do this season. The Eagles are in a position where they don't necessarily need a rookie to start right now, but sometimes it just happens. The opportunity presented itself, for example, last year when injuries sidelined Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, and DeSean Jackson was in the lineup in the opener against St. Louis. He was ready to play. He was ready to contribute.
The coaches are taking the same approach with this group of rookies: The kids have no choice but to be ready.
So who *is *ready? Right now, none of them. They have a loooooonnnnnggg way to go. The rookies understand only a fraction of the playbook. They are just beginning the long journey that is an NFL season. The travel tour is over. It's time to get in the weight room, become devoted to the playbook and know that only the strong survive in this league.
But let's have some fun here and take a close look at the draft class based on what they showed over the weekend and on what they could provide this season ...
JEREMY MACLIN, WR
First Impressions: Extremely bright young man who is not easily rattled. Maclin did everything the coaching staff wanted during the weekend and he showed excellent hands and the burst you want after making a catch. Of course, that is much easier to do when there is no tackling, but Maclin looked good in the mini-camp. He has an air of confidence and an understanding that he has a lot of work to do in the months ahead to play a lot this season.
Where He Needs Work: At this stage, the easy answer for every rookie is that he needs to work on everything. At the top of Maclin's list is refining his routes after playing in the spread offense at Missouri. The Eagles' system is exact and timing is essential. Visiting Donovan McNabb in Arizona would be a very beneficial move in the months to come. Maclin is going to face physical cornerbacks on every snap in every game, so he must adjust to that, too. The speed of the game seems to come naturally to him.
How He Could Fit In:The Eagles don't need Maclin to walk right into the starting lineup, but it would be quite a boost to the offense if he is able to get on the field in a rotation and use his speed to create favorable matchups. The sky is the limit here, of course. Maclin is a highly-talented player who instantly provides the kind of upside that gives the Eagles a very, very dangerous wide receiver corps.
**LeSEAN McCOY, RB
Great hands, maturity and natural instincts as a back used in the passing game. McCoy really did look great over the weekend, weighing in at a higher-than-expected 211 pounds (a good thing, I think) and still having a good burst and quickness. McCoy ran with the second-team offense and seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He enjoyed a good weekend of football.
Where He Needs Work:McCoy has to detail his work in pass protection and blitz recognition. He needs to become a better route runner and he is going to have to show he can bring it between the tackles at this level. McCoy's 308 carries last season at Pittsburgh prepared him for some of the physical grind of the NFL, but training camp will be a real test running up against this blitz-heavy defense.
How He Could Fit In: McCoy is expected to back up Brian Westbrook and provide quality snaps as a rookie. There is definitely going to be competition with Lorenzo Booker, but the fact that McCoy ran with the No. 2 offense right away says something, doesn't it? He has to have his head screwed on right and absorb all of the volume of this offense quickly. Playing in a pro-style environment at Pittsburgh helped McCoy, no doubt about it.
*CORNELIUS INGRAM, TE *
First Impressions: Smooth on his routes, extremely athletic and soft hands that snatch the football, Ingram looked comfortable in the offense in the camp. Of course, that's what we saw on the sidelines. No question tight ends coach Tom Melvin picked apart Ingram's performance, understanding just how precise Ingram has to be in this offense. But for a player who saw his first practice action since suffering a major knee injury last summer, Ingram wowed a lot of folks watching.
Where He Needs Work: There is so much more to playing tight end in the NFL than playing all over the formation as Ingram did in Florida's spread offense. The technique required is another world compared to the college game. Ingram needs to show he can block at the line of scrimmage and that he can get off the line and into his routes quickly against defenders who are going to try to jam him off the snap. Routes, recognition and succeeding in small windows in the red zone are also part of Ingram's upcoming test.
How He Could Fit In: Ingram backs up starter Brent Celek and the Eagles clearly hope Ingram is ready for some early-season action. How much they run two-tight end sets largely depends on how quickly Ingram advances in a short period of time. He and Melvin are going to spend a lot of time together in the months ahead.
MACHO HARRIS, S/CB
First Impressions: Active defender, not afraid to call out formations and assert himself as the free safety. Good head on his shoulders and hungry to be in the NFL and to succeed. Other than that, it was impossible to tell for Harris, or any defender. There was no hitting at this camp, so a real gauge for Harris comes much, much later.
Where He Needs Work: Harris has to learn Jim Johnson's complicated defense and all of the signals and responsibilities that come with playing free safety. Harris also has to show he can play special teams and earn a spot on the roster that way.
How He Could Fit In: The Eagles would love to see Harris pick up the system quickly and also show he can cover well enough to be a swing cornerback. Harris could provide a lot of value as a player who can do both, similar to what Quintin Demps showed a year ago. Special teams are, obviously, a top area for Harris to show he can help.
FENUKI TUPOU, OT
First Impressions: Big body, good feet and an eager learner under offensive line coach Juan Castillo. Tupou is likely to get a long look at right tackle, but not until the pads go on will we know how he handles the speed off the edge in the NFL.
Where He Needs Work:As with any lineman who comes to the Eagles, Tupou has to adapt to the tempo of Castillo and the coach's demand for perfection in his technique. Tupou also has to demonstrate that he is enough of an athlete to play at this level.
How He Could Fit In: The Eagles love to develop young linemen, so Tupou fits into the developmental category. Who is this team's backup right tackle? Heck, who is the team's starting right tackle? Tupou will get good tmie in the preseason to show what he can do and he will try to make this team as a backup tackle.
*BRANDON GIBSON, WR *
First Impressions:Really good hands, smart kid and good body control. Gibson is not a burner by any means, but he seemed to run good routes and get to his spots. Gibson made a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone during a Sunday morning drill, and he left Philadelphia feeling good about his performance.
Where He Needs Work:Can he run at this level? Can he separate from cornerbacks who are going to challenge him from the very start? Along with the normal learning curve and figuring out the offense and all of its adjustments, Gibson must show he is strong enough and fast enough to play here.
How He Could Fit In: It is a crowded, crowded field at wide receiver. Gibson has to stand out on special teams and make every play that comes his way in practice and in the preseason. Can he make the roster? Gibson is a long shot, but he certainly has a shot. The Eagles drafted him for a reason.
*PAUL FANAIKA, OG *
First Impressions:Another big body to work inside and provide bulk and some power. The Eagles like his feet and his punch. Hard to tell much more about Fanaika after a weekend of work and of learning Castillo's hand placement and foot positioning.
Where He Needs Work:Fanaika has to get the technique down and demonstrate that he has the power to deal with NFL defensive tackles and the games they play inside. He is going to enjoy the work with Castillo and see how quickly he improves.
How He Could Fit In:Lump Fanaika into a group with Mike McGlynn and Mike Gibson, a pair of draft picks from a year ago. There is excellent competition inside as the Eagles search for more depth at the guard and center spots.
**MOISE FOKOU, LB
Quick on his feet and active chasing in coverage, Fokou was around the ball quite a bit over the weekend. He showed good ball skills in his drills with the linebackers.
Where He Needs Work: Fokou isn't the biggest player on the field, so he will have to shed blockers and get to the ball quickly at this level. How well does Fokou drop in coverage? Is he fast enough to cover backs in the passing game? Playing linebacker is not an easy thing to do in this system.
How He Could Fit In:Fokou comes in looking for a job as a reserve among a talented group of players at linebacker. The key for Fokou is to earn a roster spot on special teams, first and foremost. Look for Fokou to compete with the likes of Joe Mays, Tank Daniels and Tracy White for a spot. We won't know much about Fokou until training camp comes.