BETHLEHEM, Penn. â€” On Saturday, I got to spend the entire day at Lehigh University at training camp for the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, I know, I should have posted this sooner. Give me a break.
As a football junkie, the sights and sounds of the opening weekend were very welcomed. This was my first camp experience as a media member so training camp was as new to me as it was to the shy rookies who were about to get hit by professionals for the first time. Here are my observations:
-Eagles camp is a bit of a circus this year. Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard isn’t happy with his contract and wants to be paid or traded. Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook is keg of dynamite on the field, and threatening to become one off of it as well; he also wants more money and has mentioned that he might leave camp if he doesn’t get it.
While these have been huge stories in the Philly media, they weren’t the biggest problem. Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews shocked everyone by not showing up to camp. More shocking is that it doesn’t seem money related. Word around camp is that he has some emotional issue. I spoke to several people that said that head coach Andy Reid is absolutely fuming. This is the weirdest hold-out story I’ve ever heard.
-Interesting note on the photography rules. During any kind of live passing drills, all photographers have to be at or behind the line of scrimmage. Apparently there was an incident years ago where a player caught a pass running out of bounds and had a collision with a photographer.
-Rookie seventh-round offensive lineman King Dunlap is a 6′ 9" mountain of a project that the coaches think they can turn into a real player. It’s only the first weekend, but it’s not looking good. He was getting smoked by everyone and anyone. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo was on him during one-on-one drills, yelling at him to explode forward before moving laterally.
-If you are imagining a quiet practice field with a few reporters looking on, you are way off. Philadelphia fans absolutely love their Eagles. Both the morning and afternoon practices drew about 5,000 screaming fans that pay attention to every play. To these loyal on-lookers, every 20-yard completion is a glimmer of hope that the team could be playing deep into January.
-I was a few yards from young running back Lorenzo Booker making a phenomenal one-handed catch on an awful Kevin Kolb throw to the sidelines. He snagged it effortlessly and then blazed up the sideline. This drew quite a cheer from the faithful.
-Speaking of which, if you’ve never been at an NFL practice or had a chance to see these guys do their thing up close, you have no idea just how big, fast and talented they are. Even the bad players are unbelievable to watch. To even get invited to an NFL training camp speaks volumes about one’s natural athleticism.
-The press and photographers are situated between the field and the fans. The fans who are pressed against the rail on the field level have to try to see through us and the players who are on the sideline watching the drills. A fan starts yelling at us, "if you aren’t taking pictures you have to move out of the way!" The photographer next to me looked at me likeâ€¦"what the hell rule is that?" I know the fans want to see their favorite players, but there are some people who are actually working.
-Uh oh. Big-ticket free agent signee Asante Samuel just left practice with an apparent hamstring injury. No one knows the severity, and it’s just the latest issue the Eagles have to deal with in this camp. It turns out, it’s a mild sprain and that he is day-to-day. It looks like someone didn’t spend his big signing bonus on gym equipment.
-Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb looks sharp and fit. Although he didn’t finish the afternoon practice the way he would have wanted, the rest of the day he was throwing darts that cut through the Bethlehem, PA humidity and found their marks. He is now fully recovered from his 2006 ACL tear and looks to have a spring in his step again.
-Of course it’s all well and good for McNabb to be accurate, but there also has to be someone to catch it. And that someone doesn’t seem to be starting wide receiver Reggie Brown. He wasn’t terrible the whole day, but he did let a 40-yard McNabb bomb slide right through the eight and the six (he’s #86) and hit the turf.
-Remember those passionate fans I mentioned earlier? They kind of noticed that Brown didn’t make that grab and they let him have it. I won’t repeat some of what I heard.
-Another photography note: Don’t leave as much as a camera bag on the ground during live drills. I was lightly scolded by an Eagles employee for having a video camera bag at my feet as the live bullets started to fly on the field. I’m not sure if it’s for player safety, or so King Dunlap doesn’t fall out of bounds and obliterate someone’s $4,000 lens.
-I get a phone call from former Philadelphia Eagle and current 610 WIP sports radio host Garry "G." Cobb on my cell phone. He tells me he just walked by super agent Drew Rosenhaus down by the fields. Rosenhaus is Sheppard’s agent and stopped by for a little sit-down discussion with Reid and COO Joe Banner regarding the cornerback’s status. One fan yells, "Hey Drew, how about you get them to trade for Anquan Boldin?!" Drew says, "yeah, that sounds good."
-Andy Reid is the A1 head honcho when it comes to calling the shots at training camp. If he sees something he doesn’t like, he will let you know. Loudly. And not just football stuff. One event staffer said he got it from Reid when fans were leaning too far over an elevated railing. He laughed and said, "Oh, Andy does not discriminate when it comes to going off on people." That sounds about right, everyone in that complex is fearful of Reid. After seeing his commanding presence, even I was! I didn’t dare ask a question during the press conference lest I be the object of his ire.
-Although, that didn’t stop other reporters from doing so. A guy with a prominent sports media outlet, which will remain nameless, asks Reid about Asante Samuel’s hammy injury. He wanted to know how hamstring injuries are treated as opposed to other injuries. Are you serious? I’m not a doctor, but I’ve watched enough sports to know that each hamstring issue is different and that you have to be careful with it because it can be re-injured very quickly if you rush back too soon. How do you not know this?
-Defensive tackle Montae Reagor gets inches from picking off McNabb. Tackles rarely get the chance to make INT’s and you could tell he was upset with himself. Tra Thomas yells, "man that was your chance, Montae!"
-For all those Philly fans that are clamoring to move on and close the McNabb era, you may want to hold off on that thought. Kevin Kolb was drafted in the second round in 2007 as McNabb eventual successor, but he doesn’t remotely look ready. I saw poor decisions and scattered passes all day. He may be fine at some point, but right now is not his time.
-I think this is running back Ryan Moats’ last training camp in Philly. He still hasn’t grasped the playbook and drops too many balls out of the backfield. As Charles Barkley would say, “he looks terrble.”
-Rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson gets perhaps the most fan attention. He looks like he can really play based on what I saw Saturday and I was praising him. Just fyi, I spoke to a few people today after his hamstring injury who didn’t have great things to say about his work ethic.
-I wrapped up the day drinking Gatorade and water in the press tent with G. Cobb. We discussed what we saw and who won’t make the cut at the end of August. It’s a numbers game and we think there are going to be some pretty big names sent to the waiver wire when the final axe comes down.