Rookies and selected veterans report to Lehigh today and Eagles training camp begins in earnest tomorrow. Yes, our long national nightmare is over and football is back.
So for today's top 5 we present the players to watch over the next month at Eagles training camp.
Ellis Hobbs, CB - After a couple seasons of asking to be either traded or given a new contract, the Eagles finally gave Sheldon Brown his wish... and shipped him off to Cleveland. Be careful what you wish for... By shipping Sheldon off to football wasteland, the Eagles weakened themselves an already dubious corner back position. Outside of the starters last year, the Eagles really had no one whom they got consistent play out of. Ellis Hobbs, who was acquired from the Patriots during the draft last year was injured early on and missed the rest of the season. Joselio Hanson was suspended for part of the season for taking a banned diuretic and never seemed to regain his form when he came back.
This year the Eagles enter camp with Asante Samuel and not many guys with starting NFL experience. The only guy to start a full season is Ellis Hobbs. Ironically enough, the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl with a starting CB tandem of Asante Samuel & Ellis Hobbs. This year appears like a battle between Hobbs and Hanson for the starting spot opposite Asante. Hobbs has more speed than Sheldon Brown did, but it's hard to say he's an upgrade in any other area. Despite that, Hobbs was a decent starting NFL corner in his time with the Pats. If he can at least be average, I think the defense can survive the loss of Sheldon Brown.
Michael Vick, QB - I struggled with whether to include Vick on this list for one simple reason. I don't actually think the team would be worse if he weren't on it. If any other guy on this list were lost for the season in training camp, I would probably want to revise my expectations for the team this year. Not so with Vick. That said, it's hard to forget what kind of playmaker this guy was before he went to jail. He was arguably the best athlete in the NFL. He didn't show much of that athleticism last year, in fact he looked like a shell of his former self. We can't forget though, that Vick had literally no offseason last year. He was signed during a preseason game. A few weeks later the season was underway. This year, that's different. Vick has been in the Eagles offseason conditioning program, he's participated in the OTAs, and he'll be there for every day of camp. It really can't be understated how much that will mean to his physical conditioning. He very well may never be the Mike Vick of old, but he's going to be a lot faster and in a lot better shape this year than last.
It's hard to argue that an in shape Michael Vick can't be a tremendous weapon for a team. It remains to be seen whether Andy Reid can find an effective role for him... but he certainly can be a weapon.
Nate Allen, S - We all know pretty much why Nate Allen was taken with the second round pick the Eagles got for Donovan McNabb. It started last offseason when the Eagles let Brian Dawkins leave in free agency. But hey, that was ok because they had second year man Quintin Demps ready to step in and start. Only he wasn't.... You may remember back to last training camp when Demps complained of being "irritated" that he was not yet officially named the starter late in camp and claimed that he would have worked harder had he known the team would leave their decision of who would be the starting free safety so late. A week later, rookie Macho Harris was named the starter.
Problem was that Macho Harris was a rookie 5th round pick who had never played safety in college... yet here he was the opening day starter at free safety. He suffered through the kind of mental mistakes and lapses you might have expected. Then the team signed Marlin Jackson hoping he could get over two knee injuries and regain the solid form he showed with the Colts... but that didn't happen. So rookie Nate Allen enters the camp as the presumed starter at free safety and hopefully the true successor to Brian Dawkins. Unlike with Macho Harris, Allen is in a much better position as a rookie. For one, he actually played the position in college was a top prospect.
Stewart Bradley, MLB - Heading into last season, it looked like Stewart Bradley was headed for stardom. In fact, Sports Illustrated's Peter King had named Bradley as the starting MLB on his All Pro team. He was big and strong, yet also rangy and quick. He seemed to have the smarts to make the defensive calls and looked like an emerging face of the team. Then came the disastrous "Eagles Flight Night" in which Bradley tore his ACL and was lost for the year. The team tried a stream of different guys to try and fill the void including Joe Mays, Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong, Jeremiah Trotter, and Will Witherspoon... None were able to replace Bradley's presence in the middle.
So now we turn to this year. Bradley says he's 100% healthy and did participate in some of the OTAs earlier this offseason. His injury did occur before preseason of last year so he's had a full calender year to heal from surgery and build himself back up. Still, a guy coming off a knee injury is always something to be wary of. Plus, Bradley's experience is very limited. He's only started one year and while that year was promising, it remains to be seen whether Bradley can finish the ascent to pro bowl caliber LB that he appeared to be on before his injury. I really don't think I'm overstating things by saying that he's as important as anyone to the success of that defense next year.
Kevin Kolb, QB - This one really is a no brainer. After the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb this offseason and installed Kolb as the starter he immediately became the most important guy in camp this year. Bottom line is that if Kolb can play, this will be a good team this year. There are other questions that need to be answered before anyone can say if they'll be a real contender, but if Kolb is good there's enough talent on this team to put it in the playoffs.
This is his team, it's his year, and it's his town if he proves himself as a franchise QB.