With a new head coach in the form of Chip Kelly and new systems on both sides of the ball, the Philadelphia Eagles are a team in transition. After a fight between wide receiver Riley Cooper and cornerback Cary Williams during practice on Thursday, however, it's clear that the Eagles are also a team divided.
This isn't the first time that Cooper has made headlines in the past month or so, as he was caught on video using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert in late July, according to Will Brinson of CBS Sports. Cooper's actions certainly stirred up plenty of controversy, but he has largely been quiet ever since.
That wasn't the case on Thursday, as he got into a dust-up with Williams, as seen in this video courtesy of CSN Philly:
With Cooper's racial slur still fresh in the mind of many, it is natural to question whether or not the fight had anything to do with it. After all, Williams wasn't particularly happy about Cooper's actions when asked about them back in August, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com:
We're trying not to make it a distraction, we're trying to get through it. But obviously the magnitude of the issues makes it a lot harder to cope with. Everyone's gonna come along at their own time. We're trying to find a way to forgive, find a way to be merciful. Everyone has their own perspective. We're having a tough time. We're at a crossroads.
Also, Jeff McLane of Philly.com is reporting that Williams said to Cooper, "I'm not a n- you [mess] with," multiple times during the skirmish.
That would seem to suggest that there are still some hard feelings involved. According to ESPN's Marcellus Wiley, however, there is no reason to think that Williams was trying to get back at Cooper in any way.
If you're saying Riley Cooper's fight in practice was racially motivated, you're not only intellectually lazy, but visually impaired #Eagles— Marcellus Wiley (@marcelluswiley) September 5, 2013
Regardless of the motivations behind the fight, though, it is extremely disconcerting with the Eagles set to open the season against the Washington Redskins on Monday night. Cooper downplayed the incident, according to McLane, as he basically blamed it on their competitive nature.
"Just one-on-ones," Cooper said. "Both being super competitive, going for the ball, and we were tangled."
Being competitive is obviously a great thing, but their aggression is misplaced. This type of thing is to be expected on occasion during training camp as young players are battling for roster spots, but Cooper and Williams are veterans who should know better.
According to Jimmy Traina of Sports Illustrated, Cooper seemingly had no interest in fighting Williams, as Williams was clearly the aggressor.
Interesting thing RE Riley Cooper-Cary Williams fight: Cooper wants no part of it while Williams goes nuts. http://t.co/2n2vIaxk9b— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) September 5, 2013
That further fuels speculation about whether or not Williams was trying to get back at Cooper, but Williams seems to be hotheaded in general as this wasn't the first time that he has gotten into an on-field altercation. With that in mind, it may have just been an isolated incident.
Comments made by quarterback Michael Vick, who reportedly attempted to break up the fight, point to bigger problems, though. According to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, Vick was distraught about the situation:
I try to be the peacemaker, but these young dudes don't respect me ... Our maturity level's gotta be on a whole different plane. Regardless of who the catalyst was for the whole fight, that doesn't matter. We've gotta be men. We're not guys who are out on the street, fighting one another. We're teammates ... It's game week. We don't have time for that. I don't. It's a distraction.
Will this the Cooper vs. Williams fight adversely affect the Eagles this season?
Vick's comments certainly suggest that he has matured and become a leader, but it's a big problem if he doesn't feel as though the young players are willing to listen to him. Somebody has to take an on-field leadership role in Philadelphia, and Vick is a logical candidate due to his status as a veteran.
With so many changes occurring on the team from last year to this year in terms of personnel, coaching philosophy and everything else, there is no time to worry about teammates fighting each other. The NFC East may very well be the toughest division in football, and the Eagles could find themselves in last place again if they don't get on the same page.
The Eagles have the potential to be a surprise team this season if Vick is able to run Kelly's up-tempo offense effectively, however, a lack of harmony in the locker room could potentially prevent any progress the Eagles are hoping to make.
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