BETHLEHEM, Pa. --The fans came and they brought with them signs, and painted faces and heart-felt expressions of sympathy for the late Jim Johnson, his family and the Eagles organization. Coordinators Marty Mornhinweg and Sean McDermott talked about Johnson's death. The veterans who reported to their dorms spoke of the sadness of Johnson's passing.
And then, it was about football. It is a necessary transition to make. As difficult as it is, the show goes on. Johnson would have understood that. His family knows how it works. Johnson was a football man to the very end, and now the Eagles must put aside the personal feelings and move ahead with Training Camp, 2009.
There are developments to follow here. There are a lot of plans about to unfold. Let's delve into some of them here ...
- No. 1 draft pick Jeremy Maclin is unsigned as the full-team practices are about to begin, the worst-case scenario for anyone who thought Maclin would step in and make an immediate impact with this football team. Wide receivers probably need more time and more practice repetitions than just about any other position as far as rookies go. Maclin has already missed five practices. He could have lined up and taken, what?, 75 reps in the practices? Probably more. He could have refined some of his technique. He could have grown more comfortable in the offense. Now he is behind. There is no doubt about it. Maclin is behind. He can recover if a contract is done quickly, but the longer his absence continues, the more unlikely it is that Maclin is going to come in here and move up the depth chart right away. It is frustrating. It is disappointing. As it looks, it is the business of the NFL, where so few first-round draft picks are signed.
- They are done playing touch football at camp. Well, the practice on Thursday afternoon is not a tackling practice, and nor are the players wearing pads, but at least that practice -- the morning workout is a conditioning test that all players must pass before they can participate in practice -- involves the entire team. The standouts from the opening five practices, and the feeling is universal from anyone who watched: Running back LeSean McCoy, tight end Cornelius Ingram and safety/cornerback Macho Harris. All played very, very well.
- I'm going to give a shout-out to Byron Parker, who is trying to make this team as a hybrid safety/cornerback. He played cornerback exclusively during the practices Monday through Wednesday and he had a terrific breakup on a sideline pass to Danny Amendola that resulted in a Harris interception. Parker can play. Whether he can play well enough to crack this team remains to be seen. But Parker, a star in the CFL, is here to fight.
- Where is the drama? The Maclin contract status isn't really drama, but it is bothersome. Cornerback Sheldon Brown reported on time and is in the right frame of mind to have a great season after his spring complaints about his contract. Johnson's death is something a mature organization and a family atmosphere will overcome together. Donovan McNabb? Ain't no drama there, neither ...
- What are the emotions of the team now in the aftermath of Johnson's death? Certainly, there is mourning. That will never go away, not to those who became close with Johnson. But there is a sense of purpose with this group after the way last season ended. "That's a foul taste in our mouths," said middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. "We want to get back on the winning side of things right away and start it off the right way this season."
- There is no official depth chart made by the coaches, but expect Quintin Demps to line up with the starters at free safety, and to have DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis as the starting wide receivers. Juqua Parker starts at left defensive end and he has an advantage over the injured Victor Abiamiri.
- Enough of the talk about the offensive line and how good it can be. When the pads go on Friday morning, we will get a glimpse of the unit's ability working together. Can't wait to see it. I wouldn't be surprised to see Stacy Andrews work slowly into the two-a-day practices as he knee recovers from the surgery seven months ago. That Andrews was able to practice Monday and Tuesday twice each day -- no contact, understood -- was good.
- Good battle to watch: Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither at WILL linebacker. Jordan has the edge and goes in as the starter, but Gaither is trying to get his spot back and he attacked the off-season.
- I've been holding off on saying much about which defensive players look good, mostly because they aren't allowed to tackle. Starting Friday, we get a much better read on things.
- Perhaps the most interesting thing I observed on Wednesday morning was a one-on-one conversation between linebackers coach Bill Shuey and coaching intern Greg Lloyd, the former Pittsburgh Steelers great linebacker. They were discussing and providing examples of how to use leverage and hand placement and moves to shed blockers from the linebacker position. I like watching the technique part of things. You understand that at this level, with the talent level so high across the board, those who use technique the best are often the ones who succeed. It isn't about running the fastest or bench pressing the most. It is about leverage and angles and, yes, technique. Lloyd seems very, very passionate about coaching. Lloyd former Steelers safety Carnell Lake join former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston and former Eagles defensive lineman Brandon Whiting as coaching interns at this camp.
- For a player like Charleston Hughes, who stepped up and played well in the three days of practice here, the practice reps are going to be cut significantly and he will have to shine every snap he is on the field to find a place at linebacker. No doubt, though, that Hughes has come a long way since the spring. He improved each day there and seemed to have a good five practices here to kick off training camp.
- Just for the record, everyone who was expected to report to Lehigh did so on Wednesday evening. Let's get it started!!!