Two weeks from now, a substantial group of players will be in helmets and shorts at Lehigh University taking part in a refresher course/look ahead at what is to come when the entire team is present. Training camp is nearly here! Feel the love ... Anyway, I am having so many random thoughts and considerations (and, no, I don't believe for a second the "rumor" out there that the Eagles are considering adding Warrick Dunn at running back) and one of the pieces to feature is which players will benefit so much from extra reps and the spotlight in camp.
Here is my list ...
LORENZO BOOKER, running back
For obvious reasons, of course. Booker is going to get a lot of reps as Brian Westbrook rehab his way back into the lineup. Until Westbrook is on the field, Booker and rookie LeSean McCoy get the lion's share of touches. What can Booker give the offense? Well, he sure looked good in the spring and part of the summer last year. And then he just, poof, disappeared. Didn't play particularly well in the preseason games. Looked a bit slower. Went down too easily. Just did not inspire confidence in the coaching staff.
So Booker, another year into the system, has an opportunity to prove himself and win some playing time. He has to be physical and durable and show the skills he showed last year when the Eagles got him the football a bunch in the spring practices.
CORNELIUS INGRAM, tight end
After a very impressive spring, the Eagles' rookie tight end dons the pads for the first time since his preseason practices last summer at the University of Florida. Ingram has to show he can get off the line of scrimmage and into his routes and that he can play the physical game at the NFL level. The Eagles project Ingram to back up Brent Celek, who will have a great opportunity in camp as well. A strong showing by Ingram would be a huge boost for a team that is going young, young at tight end. They have resisted the urge to add a veteran tight end (another one, Bubba Franks, is on the market now after being cut by the Jets) and instead are relying on youth. Ingram has to show up to the party and stay in camp.
JACK IKEGWUONU, cornerback
Finally, we see if the risk to use a fourth-round draft pick in 2008 was worth it. Ikegwuonu looked good in the spring, got better every day, and stayed on the field after tweaking a hamstring. The competition is thick at cornerback. How does a player who hasn't suited up in two seasons fit in? He is big and physical and looks the part. Ikegwuonu has to bring it every day to make this roster. He has his chance working against excellent receivers who give him every kind of look. The games will be extremely important. Ike has to make plays.
BRYAN SMITH, defensive end
OK, so he's up to 245 pounds and he continues to work hard to get stronger. Now Bryan Smith needs to put it all together and win some playing time. The Eagles invested a third-round pick in Smith, who stood out at times in the preseason last year and then didn't play a lick in the regular season.
With so much ability, Smith needs a lot of reps to sharpen his game. He will get a shot in camp and in the games. Here is a player who can use all four preseason games, so for those of you in the camp to reduce the preseason, think about what it would mean for a player like Smith. He has a tough rotation to crack at defensive end. Smith has to show that he is strong enough to play the run. He goes against top talents at offensive tackle like Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters. What a great way to learn.
LEONARD WEAVER, fullback
If you heard the things I have heard about Weaver and the way he performed in the spring, you would be excited. Now the Eagles need to see him in pads. Of course, Weaver played well enough in Seattle to have the Eagles interested in free agency, so his career speaks for itself. But now the man is in a new system and he has a lot of things to learn.
The Eagles loved what they saw from Weaver in the spring. Let's hope he plays just as well with full contact and pads. His contribution could be significant, indeed, for 2009's offense.
STACY ANDREWS, offensive lineman
We don't know when Andrews is going to practice, but my sense is that he is going to be ready to practice at least once a day early in training camp, and maybe from the very start. Obviously, Andrews has to show that he is healthy and ready to be a force at right guard. The Eagles have a lot to work with up front; now it is a matter of putting the pieces together. Andrews is a key piece. He made good progress in his rehab once he signed with the Eagles and spoke with confidence in June about practicing at Lehigh.
QUINTIN DEMPS, safety
Is there a player more in the spotlight than Demps, who is in line to start at free safety? The second-year man has all the physical tools, so this camp is more about testing his mental skills as far as recognizing changes in the defense and reading offenses. Then he can go into the preseason games with a better feel for the defense and how to adjust on the fly.
It's going to be interesting to see what the coaches do with Demps, who has sideline-to-sideline speed and the ability to cover receivers. Will he play deep, like a traditional free safety? Or will the Eagles move him around a lot as they did with Brian Dawkins? We will get a feel for things quickly.
LeSEAN McCOY, running back
One of the reasons I'm not buying the Dunn rumor is that the Eagles are absolutely in love with McCoy after his impressive spring. Look, as I understood it when everyone left the NovaCare Complex to take a vacation hiatus, Westbrook's rehabilitation was going well and McCoy was a spring sensation and the Booker Experiment was heading into a new season. So unless things changed drastically, I don't expect Warrick Dunn to be an Eagle. But who knows ...
Anyway, McCoy is in the same boat as Booker. He is going to touch the football a lot in training camp. It's going to be fun, fun, fun watching McCoy learn all the nuances of the scheme and to become more and more comfortable at this level. Then he can let his natural talents take over, which are plenty.
There is a lot to be excited about with this kid. He has the speed, the quickness and the intelligence to play at a high level here. He has great footwork. He wants to be a standout player. McCoy is going to get the football a bunch in camp, and we will all have the opportunity to judge if he is NFL-ready early in his career.