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Young Players Stepping Up In Playoff Chase

Had LeSean McCoy stayed in college, he would be attending classes, resting his body and preparing for a bowl game. He wouldn't have to grow up as fast as he has, wouldn't have the responsibility of making football his life. A rookie season that began in April is still going strong with four games remaining in the regular season before the real fun, hopefully, begins.

You wonder how the youth of this football team playing key roles -- McCoy at running back, Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver, Macho Harris on defense and on special teams -- are handling the long, long season.

"You just go day by day," said Harris. "Nobody can really prepare you for how long the season is and how demanding it is from day to day. You hear about it after the draft, but it's something you have to experience. Mentally and physically, it is a totally new experience."

The good news for the Eagles is that their rookies have held up to the flame very well, indeed. McCoy has been used wisely as the Eagles called on him to replace the production lost when Brian Westbrook went out of the lineup with his concussions. Maclin has responded beautifully stepping in when Kevin Curtis went down with a knee injury at wide receiver. Harris, a starter at the beginning of the season at free safety, doesn't start now but still plays significant reps in the defense and on special teams. Even Moise Fokou, a seventh-round draft pick, has contributed at linebacker and on special teams and still has his energy.

With Sunday night's huge game at the Giants looming, the Eagles are again ready to call on the rookies to deliver. McCoy is primed to start at running back and is hoping to shrug off his 6-carry, 2-yard game in Atlanta. Maclin, nursing a case of plantar fasciitis, is expected to start at wide receiver after his 4-catch, 83-yard game against the Falcons. Harris should return kickoffs and play a reserve role in the secondary. Fokou is one of the core players for the Eagles on special teams.

It really is a fascinating development for the Eagles, who are accustomed to veterans leading the way down the stretch of the regular season. The organization made an important decision in the off-season to get younger and, hopefully, better. That remains to be seen, of course. The roster has been deep enough to withstand, to this point, major injuries across the board. Depth has been tested at every single position.

And the Eagles are 8-4 with a chance to get a stranglehold on their playoffs chances by beating the Giants on Sunday night.

"I'm holding up fine," said Maclin. "You're beat up and you have to spend a lot of time in treatment, but the difference here is that football is your profession. You have to think, eat and sleep the game. You aren't going to school. Football is everything. From that standpoint, it's easier because there are no distractions. You have to take care of your business every day. There are no letdowns, and being in the NFL is exciting every day. It's a challenge every day.

"I like that."

Reinforcements could be coming soon, should the Eagles need to tap further into their depth. Westbrook and Curtis have taken part in practice on a limited basis this week. Cornerback Joselio Hanson and linebacker Akeem Jordan are in line to play against the Giants. If the rookies hit "the wall," then maybe the Eagles will have the resources to give the kids a chance to recover.

This is the part of the season when we'll find out if the move to get younger and to add fresher legs pays off for the Eagles. Playing in the final month with a playoff spot within reach is nothing new for Andy Reid's Eagles. Reid has an impressive 29-13 record in the final month of the season during his 10-plus seasons here. If it's December, the Eagles must be making a playoff run.

Now they are, for the first time in Reid's tenure, doing it with rookies at key positions. They are leaning on 21-year-old kids to carry the football in critical NFC East games and to catch touchdown passes. Remarkable.

"We have a lot of trust in the players here, all of them," said Reid. "If we didn't, they wouldn't be here."

McCoy, Maclin and Harris have traded in the school books for the playbooks. And as the Eagles get ready for the playoff environment of Giants Stadium, they are going to have to prove again they are ready to play just a little bit faster and with just a wee bit more precision to help the Eagles win a game that could go a long ways toward determining their playoff fortunes.

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