On July 30th, yours truly visited the Philadelphia Eagles training camp as a member of the media. I've been to camp numerous times before, but this was my first experience with media credentials.
Therefore, I decided to go to both the morning walk-through practice as well as the afternoon practice. Being that I was a "newbie," my plan was to just sit back and observe not only the practices, but what the other members of the media did.
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect in attending camp in this manner.
Thankfully, what I found was that everyone I spoke to was nice, helpful and informative. This goes for several Philadelphia Eagles employees, other media members and the lone player I chatted with.
Here are some of my experiences along with some notes and observations of both practices...
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On the practice fields, there are defined areas where the media is allowed. However, there is also one area that is smack-dab in the middle of where I was told we could roam that apparently is off-limits—I suppose it's somewhat of a gray area for media members.
I was initially instructed that I could walk up the middle between the two practice fields in the back, and then down either sideline of the main two practice fields. There is an area in the middle (between the two sets of fields) that is right next to a tent that has refreshments.
I was like, "Oh cool, they're supplying water and Gatorade for the media." As it turned out, that wasn't exactly the case. It was actually for the players, not the media.
That must have been why I was the only non-Eagles employee standing there.
Before I realized that I was in this "gray area" of where I was or was not to be allowed, I had a chance to meet Cullen Jenkins.
He was just mulling around the tent there and came out and stood about 3 feet away from me. So, I decided to introduce myself and we had a brief chat.
One thing to note: Jenkins is a big dude, that's for sure. In the two minutes I talked to him, he seemed extremely nice and soft spoken.
After our introduction, he asked me if I was "up top." Me, not wanting to seem like some nerdy white dude, said, "nah," while shaking my head in concurrence with my answer.
Of course, this was me pretending to know what the hell he was talking about.
"Up top"? Am I from "up top"? No Cullen, no way, not a chance...not me.
But, then I broke down because I just had to know what I just answered "no" to.
"Wait, what do you mean by up top?" Jenkins then grinned and responded "from upstairs...upstairs in the offices."
"Oh," I said. Then the answer is the same..."nope." He then asked where I was from, to which I just said, "the general media."
In retrospect, I probably should have said, "I'm representin' Eagles Addict, dawg!" But, that probably would have come off a little pasty.
Also in retrospect, he probably assumed I worked for the Eagles in some capacity because I was standing where I was standing. And when I said I didn't, he was probably like OK, what the hell are you standing around here for?
However, he didn't, and we ended up having a nice little chat where I relayed to him that everyone is pumped about the team this year. He also acknowledged that he's getting some work at DE right now while Jason Babin is out.
Jenkins seems like a cool dude.
I also had the pleasure of meeting the two guys who have started up the awesome "Birds 24/7" blog, Sheil Kapadia and Tim McManus. They both seem like great guys and know their stuff about the Eagles.
I'd certainly recommend checking them out if you don't already.
Anyway, on to some observations of the morning walk-through practice...
Things are relatively laid back in shorts. It's more about instruction than actual "practice." The most active group during the morning was the offense.
They ran some plays with Michael Vick throwing to certain receivers out of certain formations. One interesting formation was LeSean McCoy lining up wide while Jeremy Maclin lined up in the slot.
Could be something we see more of in 2012.
The offense went through what appeared to be sets of "hurry-ups," series of three or four quick consecutive plays. This was done by the first-, second- and third-string offensive groupings.
The most vocal person I heard during that was actually Mike Kafka. Maybe his voice is just the loudest among he, Vick and Nick Foles (Trent Edwards didn't do this drill), but Kafka stood out the most.
His passes seemed to have a little more zip than the other guys too...but again, it was just a "walk-through."
Marty Mornhinweg held an interview session after practice. He answered questions in a mostly routine manner, nothing too exciting. The few tidbits from him were:
1. Bryce Brown has an "excellent opportunity" in front of him and has been working hard and studying.
2. When asked about having a lot of youth in the offense, he said we "got a lot of juice."
3. He has great confidence in Kafka as the backup to Vick.
The most interesting nugget may have been when he was asked about the fullback position and whether or not they will keep one on the roster. I found this even more intriguing since I wrote an article on that very subject earlier this offseason.
Mornhinweg did say that the "fullback has normally been a vital position for us." However, he left some wiggle room by saying that more teams are usnig one-back formations and that these things "tend to work themselves out" (in response to whether or not they will keep a roster spot for a fullback).
Put it this way, I didn't come away convinced that the Eagles will definitely be keeping a fullback on the roster this year.
This is the practice that fans packed the stands to see, and let me tell you, they were in mid-season form already! They also were not disappointed, as there was some good action to watch.
In order to simplify this a little bit, I'm just going to outline my observations and tell you what I saw, who stood out and who still appears to need some work.
—Overall, the first-team defense outplayed the first-team offense.
—Michael Vick looked very good, strong and accurate.
—LeSean McCoy looked like, well, LeSean McCoy. He's truly a gifted player and displayed that with some nifty catches and moves.
—DeSean Jackson just makes things look easy when he has the ball in his hands. He badly juked Brandon Hughes after he caught a quick sideline screen in front of him. Maybe Hughes didn't like to be made to look a fool, so that's why the two exchanged blows (more on that later).
—Nnamdi Asomugha had a nice PBU while having tight coverage on Jeremy Maclin. He was used a lot inside with Curtis Marsh playing outside. I hope this will only be used in certain situations and not as a base defense.
—The starting DL was Brandon Graham, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Trent Cole. Graham really stood out and had a "sack." Three second-team guys had sacks as well: Phillip Hunt, Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry.
—Vinny Curry actually threw Mike Kafka down on his sack, which is a big no-no in practice. But nonetheless, Curry pretty much destroyed him on that play.
—Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie displayed tight coverage again, but no PBUs that I saw.
—Curtis Marsh looks much improved over last year.
—Mike Kafka is clearly the second-best QB on this team and will easily win the backup QB competition. His arm looks strong, he had some nice zip on his throws and he actually displayed some wheels when scrambling.
—Nick Foles needs some work. Seems to have a strong arm on some throws but not so much on others. He threw one deep pass that was wobbly, which prompted a few fans to start yelling "quack quack" (because it was a "duck").
—The hit of the day went to Kurt Coleman who put a nice pop on Dion Lewis as he was running across the middle.
—Speaking of Dion Lewis, I can concur with other reports that he looks the best right now of the backup running backs. He's been having a very good camp so far.
—Not sure what to make of Bryce Brown or Chris Polk. Neither player stood out to me, and Brown actually dropped an easy pass. With that said, they ran mostly pass plays during the live scrimmages so I didn't get a real look at them running behind the line.
—Wide receiver Ron Johnson suffered a horrific injury to his ankle, as you've probably heard by now. From what I could see live, it appeared it got stuck in the turf and bent in a way that ankles are not meant to be bent. Tough break for him, I hate to see injuries like that.
—Cornerback Cliff Harris continued his bid to make the team. How many guys do you think could stick with DeSean Jackson one-on-one on a go-route down the sideline? Well, that's exactly what Harris did and broke up a long pass from Vick.
—If Harris keeps doing that, he will surely make this roster.
—If you're wondering about the slot CB competition, I'd have to say Joselio Hanson looks better than Brandon Boykin at this point. However, Boykin is slated to be the KO returner, so we'll see.
—The starting offensive line is a big, mean-looking group. If I were in a back-alley brawl, I'd want Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans on my side. It was hard to really analyze their play yesterday, but I'm very comfortable with this group, Bell included.
—Brandon Graham seems like a man on a mission. He stood out in a positive way today and is having an excellent camp.
Now for a few players who particularly stood out to me and a focus on DeMeco Ryans...
One of the things I set out to do was to watch DeMeco Ryans. I wanted to see if I could notice how he was carrying himself, if he was understanding the defense, if he was vocal on the field and see how he looked physically.
What I came away with is: I'm just not sure.
I'm not sure because in one aspect, it was hard to see and hear one specific player all the time. Also, there weren't very many live plays to grade him on.
However, what I did notice was that, just from looking at him, he has that certain confidence about him. He was more calm and collected. During drills for the back-seven on defense, he was barking out the calls as they came in from Juan Castillo.
During the live scrimmages, it appeared he was in the correct positions to make the tackles. That translates into him being good against the run. I saw him only a few times in pass coverage, and although he was "there," catches were still made against him.
The biggest thing I saw was him chasing Mike Kafka on a scramble. Not sure what to make of it since he never caught him. Either Kafka simply out-ran him, or Ryans was not in the best position to start pursuit.
So, you can take that one of two ways: Either Kafka has some wheels, which is good, or Ryans isn't as fast as we'd like him to be. Again, the play happened on the far end of the field from where I was standing so I'm not sure what kind of angle Ryans had in pursuit.
Unfortunately, I can't say Ryans stood out to me in any particular way, good or bad.
On the flip side, Mychal Kendricks stood out to me in a big way. He was another player I was interested in seeing, and I came away very encouraged.
He is an intense guy and loves to compete. Since it was mostly pass plays during the live scrimmage, I was able to see a lot of him in pass coverage. He appeared to always be in position and have tight coverage on his man.
The only player who caught a pass on him was a wide receiver. And even then, Kendricks was right there to make the tackle for a short gain.
Assuming he holds up against the run, I think the Eagles found themselves a real player here. I can't wait to see him in game action.
The star of the day was Jason Avant. He was catching everything that came his way, and not so coincidentally, it seemed that everything did come his way.
He made an excellent over-the-shoulder catch down the sideline in tight coverage as well as making his customary over-the-middle catches in traffic. He even showed me something I never knew he had—juke moves.
Granted, his jukes were on the running of the route and not after he had the ball. But, he put a double move on Brandon Boykin that left Boykin covering nothing but thin air.
Great stuff from Avant yesterday.
Okay, now for the news about the fight of the featherweights...
DeSean Jackson and Brandon Hughes came to blows after a play toward the end of practice. It was quite a scene, and the two players were really going after each other.
It's training camp, it's hot, and tempers flare. Nothing unusual about this, except that our frail but speedy starting wide receiver was part of it. Coaching intern and former Eagles receiver Greg Lewis had to pull Jackson aside and calm him down.
Here's what Jackson said about the incident afterward, compliments of Sheil Kapadia:
“It was an incident, we had got into it. It just happened (that) we threw a couple blows,” Jackson said. “It’s a part of football and a part of training camp, honestly. Can’t do that during the regular season, during real games, but I get on the field, intense like that, heat, tired, holding on. It’s a part of the game.”
“I’m a starter on this team,” Jackson said, noting that Hughes is not. “And I’m one of the leaders. You don’t want to cause anything, me getting hurt, things like that. Me being able to go out there, anything stupid happening and I’m out for the year.
"So you just gotta be smart with things like that. That was the biggest thing. He didn’t want me getting hurt and things like that, so like I said, once again, it’s football. It’s part of the game so you live with it.”
All of that is true, no question. However, call me crazy, but, I like the fact that the 5'10", 170-pound star receiver who just got paid is showing this kind of emotion and intensity at practice.
The funniest thing about the fight was Danny Watkins. As the fight was still being broken up, Watkins was going up and down the sidelines yelling "Tweet about it! Tweet about it!"
This, of course, was probably in reference to all of the media members immediately grabbing their phones to post on Twitter about the fight, myself included.
Funny stuff from Watkins.
Overall, it was a good day at training camp. Many of the Eagles star players looked good, as did many of the backups.
It was just one practice, but it was a good one.
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