July 26, 2012;Bethlehem, PA. USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant (81) catches a pass during training camp at Lehigh University. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
The Eagles have been practicing up at Lehigh for a week. What are the noteworthy happenings so far? Who looks good? Who doesn't? Let's take a look.
We now have seen a week of training camp practices. Only a couple have involved hitting and tackling, but plenty has happened in the week. Let's take a look at some of the key developments to this point.
The biggest news so far is that defensive tackle Mike Patterson is out for the remainder of camp and could even miss time into the regular season. He had part of his skull removed for brain surgery. The piece of skull was then put back into place and has healed well enough for a normal person, but since Patterson is a football player who regularly engages in violent collisions involving his head, the doctors are being ultra-careful.
With Patterson sidelined, the nose tackle position was wide open. Antonio Dixon was the favorite to get that, but isn't off to a good start. He was too heavy last year and still looks that way. He has looked slow off the ball and isn't showing the kind of power that he did in 2010. Derek Landri, a personal favorite of mine, is currently running in Patterson's old spot. He is off to a good start. Landri is quick off the ball and being disruptive, which is what he did last summer and last season.
The star of camp so far has been Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He got off to a great start last year, but the signing of Nnamdi Asomugha then shifted him to the third corner spot and DRC wasn't the same the rest of the year. DRC is now the starting left corner and is playing lights out. He is able to be physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage. DRC is also a playmaker. From 2008-2010 he had 13 interceptions. He is showing off that ability at Lehigh, making at least a pick a day. Many fans thought the Eagles were wrong to trade Asante Samuel, but one of the reasons the team did that is because they believe in DRC's ability to be a top shelf corner. He still needs to play like this in the regular season to truly prove himself to Eagles fans, but DRC is off to a great start in camp.
Another defensive back who entered this year needing some redemption is Jaiquawn Jarrett. The second year safety failed to shine as a rookie and didn't do much in the mini-camps. The team has Kurt Coleman penciled in as the starter above Jarrett and also signed veteran O.J. Atogwe to challenge him. The question for Jarrett wasn't so much about starting as simply making the team. He failed to stand out in the non-contact days, but had a very strong practice on Sunday. Finally Jarrett looked like the player that the Eagles had in mind when they spent a second round pick on him in the spring of 2011.
One good practice hardly means that Jarrett is where he needs to be. It is a great start for him. Jarrett was a star at Temple. Opposing MAC coaches thought highly of him. NFL scouts liked him. Andy Reid and Juan Castillo loved him. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell had him very highly rated. Jarrett needed to get back some of the confidence he played with at Temple. Secondary coach Todd Bowles challenged Jarrett and other defensive backs to be more physical on Sunday. Jarrett responded.
Jarrett started off with a good hit on LeSean McCoy on a run down the sideline. There was no hesitation. He went right through him, which is what coaches want. Don't run to the target, run through the target. Jarrett got everyone's attention when he hit McCoy on a run up the middle and knocked the ball loose. McCoy doesn't normally fumble. For that to happen tells you that Jarrett hit him good.
The challenge for Jarrett now is to play like this again and again. And again. Players earn the trust of the coaching staff by being consistent. One good day is a nice start, but nothing more. I'm sure Bowles will keep talking to Jarrett and do his best to keep the young man focused and motivated.
Arguably the Eagles player with the biggest chip on his shoulder is Brandon Graham. He had a solid rookie year, but then tore his ACL and 2011 was a complete waste for him. Graham is now healthy and is playing well. He was outstanding on Saturday and good on Sunday. Jason Babin is out for a week with a calf strain so Graham will get some reps with the starters. He needs to make the most of this. That means getting off the ball quickly and spending a lot of time in the backfield.
Rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks doesn't need pep talks or second chances. He is off to a very good start. The best compliment that I can pay him is that he doesn't look like a rookie. Kendricks definitely has NFL talent, but he also has the confidence of a player who knows what he is doing and is ready to go. Linebacker has been a sore spot for years. If Kendricks continues to play fast and physical, he just may be the kind of star talent the team has needed for a long time.
2012 is a key season for Riley Cooper. He's showed serious potential in his first couple of years, but has yet to break through and look like more than a role player. Unfortunately, Cooper broke his collarbone over the weekend and is out for about six weeks. That means no more camp for him. He'll also miss the preseason and possibly a game or two.
Cooper's injury opens the door for some young receivers. Marvin McNutt was picked in the sixth round this year and the Eagles thought they had a real steal on their hands. McNutt then struggled in the mini-camps and OTAs. He didn't look athletic. He struggled to get open. What a difference putting the pads on can make for some guys. McNutt played well over the weekend. He was finally in full pads and there was full contact as well. McNutt is a big guy (6-3, 216) so running around against air isn't going to do much for him. Now he's able to be physical with corners and use his size/strength. McNutt looks infinitely more confident than he did in the spring. He is catching the ball well and making some tough grabs.
Another rookie of note is Damaris Johnson, the diminutive receiver from Tulsa. He did have a great spring. The question with him was how he would adjust to contact. So far, so good. Johnson has continued to get open, catch the ball, and make things happen. Reid has even moved him to the front of the line at punt returner.
There is a lot of talk among Eagles fans about the team now going after Plaxico Burress or some other veteran wideout. Reid says that will not happen. I think the Eagles are happy with the young players and want to continue to give them lots of practice reps. The top three receiver spots are set. Cooper will make the team, assuming his injury heals according to plan. He can't be counted on for the first game or two, though. That's where McNutt and Johnson have a big opportunity. They can not only make the team, but possibly get into the gameplan. Each player must continue to play well and Lehigh and then the preseason games will be critical for them. One area both players will need to shine on is special teams. Cooper was a key guy on the coverage units.
The Eagles have taken a similar approach at running back. The team is going with Dion Lewis as the primary backup for now. He looks terrific. He's quick and fast. He is as elusive as ever. Lewis is embracing the chance the Eagles gave him. Pass blocking is the one area where he needs to continue to get better. Behind him, the Eagles have a pair of rookies battling it out. Bryce Brown is the most impressive so far. He is in the lead to be the number three back. Brown had a strong spring and looked very good on Sunday. Not only is he athletic, but Brown ran well on the inside, showing toughness, vision, and power.
Brent Celek is dealing with a minor knee injury. The Eagles were already talking to veteran tight ends when Celek was healthy so many expected them to pounce on someone after the injury. Didn't happen. The team stuck with Clay Harbor and Brett Brackett as the key guys. Harbor had a poor spring and the team likely worked out veteran Visante Shiancoe in part to get Harbor's attention. If so, it worked. Harbor is playing well up at Lehigh. He's catching the ball well. Harbor is staying after practice to catch extra passes. That's the attitude you want your young players to have.
Brackett, the former wide receiver from Penn State, has also looked good. He's been especially impressive at catching the ball downfield. I still haven't seen enough of him as a blocker to know if he can be counted on by the coaches. Brackett must show that he can be effective as a blocker. No one expects him to dominate. He'll also need to stand out on special teams in the preseason games to help his cause.
I didn't cover guys like Trent Cole, Michael Vick, and Shady McCoy because those guys are established stars and only would be worth a mention if something had gone very wrong. The stars have all played well. Rookie Fletcher Cox hasn't looked like a star yet, but he looks like a normal rookie. Nothing wrong with that. All in all, things are off to a good start. Let's hope it stays that way.