Saturday marked the first appearance of pads at Eagles training camp in Bethlehem, and the excitement on the part of both fans and players was tangible. Philly Sports Muse ventured to Lehigh University for a first-hand look at this Eagles squad.
The fact that there is still a good deal of work to be done before the first preseason game against the Steelers in 11 days and the start of the start of the regular season on September 9th against the soon-to-be Joe Banner co-owned Cleveland Browns a month after was apparent. But so was the fact that there is a lot to be excited about with this team.
The worst news of the day was the broken collarbone suffered by wideout Riley Cooper in a play that saw him going up against Curtis Marsh. At the end of the play Cooper was clearly in pain, ultimately needing to be carted off the field. It was supposed to be a camp to start a big year for Cooper, but unfortunately his promise for this third season with the team will have to wait to reveal itself until the injury heals.
Cooper’s injury gave the crowd an opportunity to see what rookie receiver Marvin McNutt has in him, and apparently the answer is a lot. He had a great day at practice, using his size to pull in some great passes and showing just why the Eagles hope he can help the team in the red zone.
Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin suffered a right calf strain in practice, which led to an opportunity of one of the most talked about players at camp to get plenty of on-field action: Brandon Graham, who had a strong showing and will continue to be focus on this training camp. After practice Graham re-iterated the fact that he relishes his role as underdog and likes the pressure of knowing that it is a do-or-die season for him.
Graham did receive an earful from special teams coordinator Bobby April towards the end of practice when the team focused on kickoff returns, with April saying to Graham, “Come on, BG! You’re not hustling.”
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a sight to behold on Saturday, showing that he has truly found way on the team’s defense. He has a quiet, stealth speed–at times appearing as though he is a step too slow to match the receiver. But then he suddenly pulls ahead of them and makes the play. Rodgers-Cromartie broke up about six passes total on the day, including besting DeSean Jackson for in one-on-ones for an interception. Though there were several impressive performers at Lehigh on Saturday if a player of the day award was issued, it would go to DRC.
Nnamdi Asomugha was still being played in the slot (to the clear displeasure of the fans at Lehigh) and with mixed results. At one time he had what should have been a sure interception, but he couldn’t hang on to the ball and bobbled it right back to where it was going, to Jason Avant. After practice, Asomugha said that he knows that he did some things well, and that there are some things he needs to take this time at camp to improve upon in order strengthen Philadelphia’s defense overall. Seeing how Asomugha is used in practice, and how he performs, will continue to be a major storyline of Eagles training camp 2012.
Rookie Brandon Boykin impressed on Saturday, making several notable plays, among them the hardest hit of the day. It was on another rookie consistently putting in a good showing, Damaris Johnson.
Speaking of Johnson, he could have had the play of the practice if excitement hadn’t gotten the better of him. He outran defenders and made a 30-yard catch. He may have gotten the touchdown but tripped himself up, stopping his own advance.
He’ll learn from it.
All of the Eagles quarterbacks saw time on the field, though the focus is always going to be on Mike Vick. Every connection with DeSean Jackson was met with a round of applause from the crowd. But he had a few overthrows to Jackson in 11 -on-11s.
Offensive weapons Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and LeSean McCoy had great days at practice, all displaying why their contributions are so critical for this Eagles squad.
Dion Lewis, expected to give Shady some relief this season, had a good day as well at one point making gaining significant ground (about 25 yards) on a play and breaking up a few tackles along the way.
Something else that caught my eye on Saturday was the offensive line. There has obviously been concern over how left tackle Demetress Bell will handle the duty of stepping in for injured Pro Bowler Jason Peters. The unit seems to have already gelled, a critical component of any line, and is working together well to provide protection.
Trying to determine which of the 90 men currently on the Eagles roster exhibit enough talent to stick around until the regular is the task at hand for the team’s coaches. And it’s the biggest challenge of the players fighting for spots on that list. What do you do to make yourself stand out heads and shoulders above your competition? There’s no recipe for that but those who can figure it out will be the ones we can expect to see for the regular season opener six weeks.