by Mike Prince
Philadelphia, Pa – Thursday night’s second annual Eagles ‘Flight Night’ marked a lot of firsts, very few memories and thankfully, zero injuries.
With an announced crowd of 31,124 on hand at Lincoln Financial Field, the most excitement the fans got most likely came from veteran kicker David Akers, who went into the stands for a meet-and-greet with fans, which was followed by him tossing footballs into the crowd. “Swoop,” the Eagles’ mascot, also went around the field giving away items, but the majority of the 75-minute practice was uneventful for fans and players alike.
Exciting or not, the Eagles met their goal of raising money for the Eagles Youth Partnership, while coming out injury-free – something that Philadelphia was unable to say in 2009, after starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley went down with a torn ACL.
“(Flight Night) was obviously better this year and the outcome is night and day and different from last year,” Bradley said. “I was just happy to get through the practice (without getting hurt) and it was fun. I am still trying to be smart, obviously, but we still have to get in contact shape and football shape. I felt good before practice last year, but it’s definitely a lot better to be able to play the full practice this year. It’s time for the season and it’s time to get healthy.”
Health has been a minor concern of training camp over the past two weeks, but it has certainly still been a concern.
Safety Macho Harris (hamstring) is out indefinitely. DT Antonio Dixon (concussion) and center A.Q. Shipley (ankle) sat out of Thursday night’s scrimmage. CB Asante Samuel (hamstring), RB Mike Bell (hamstring), WR DeSean Jackson (back) and WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) all sat out of practice with injuries, but not before each and every one jogged out of the tunnel after being announced with the other Eagles’ starters.
While Samuel is generally the loud one on the sidelines, it was Jackson who made his presence known to the Eagles faithful.
“We want to go all the way,” the Pro Bowl receiver said. “We want to go to the Super Bowl.”
After being reminded by Dave Spadaro that he caught eight touchdowns of 50 yards or more in 2009, Jackson, to an already roaring crowd from his previous comments, predicted that he’d catch 15 this year.
Other than a 60-yard field goal by Akers and a beautiful 55-yard touchdown hookup between quarterback Mike Kafka and wide receiver Jared Perry, there wasn’t much else for fans to get excited about – unless you consider Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and president Joe Banner trying to show off their throwing arms by tossing mini-footballs into the crowd as entertainment.
Lurie, however, had plenty to be happy about on Thursday night.
Other than the money raised, which assists more than 50,000 children each year throughout the Philadelphia Region through various programs, the team’s owner got to see probably the warmest reception that quarterback Michael Vick – a questionable acquisition by Lurie in 2009 that upset many fans – has received since he got to Philadelphia.
And the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect for Lurie, who one day earlier was defending Vick’s recent actions to the media and speaking of a “support system” for his quarterback that he would like enforced.
“It was a great reception for (Vick) tonight,” Lurie said. “I’m not surprised by it at all. I don’t think that this was the support system that I was talking about, but I think that people can relate to what he’s trying to accomplish and how he is trying to redeem himself and I think they appreciate his effort.”
While Bradley got to enjoy his first injury-free ‘Flight Night,’ Vick got his first reception that was 100 percent positive and the Eagles had their first day of practice that wasn’t marred by a single injury, many other firsts took place at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night.
Rookies Brandon Graham (DE) and Nate Allen (S) each got to experience what it’s like to play football in front of tens of thousands of Philadelphia fans inside the Linc for the first time ever.
As the top two picks in a year that marks a brand new Philadelphia Eagles team – one that has brought a complete youth movement roster after several veterans were either traded or let go – the expectations for Graham and Allen are high.
While Allen claims that he is “never satisfied” with his play and Graham has been one of the best players on the field at training camp in Lehigh over the past week-plus, the two rookies found it hard to hold back their excitement from playing at the Linc for the first time.
“I can only imagine how it really gets in here, but I was so pumped today – like we were really playing a game,” Graham said. “I can’t wait for next Friday. We have something to work on every day, but it just felt great to get out there right now. I can’t wait for Green Bay, but I’m just excited about right now. It’s been a long time at camp, but I don’t even worry about it and I just take it one day at a time.”
Next Friday marks the first preseason game for the Eagles in 2010, where the Birds will host Jacksonville at 7:30 p.m. Green Bay is the first regular season opponent for Philadelphia.
As for Allen, who stayed on the field signing autographs for fans until the firework celebration began, he felt like a completely different player after stepping foot on an NFL field for the first time in full pads.
“This place is great,” he said. “There is so much energy. I felt like I had a new pair of legs under me. The fans were great and the energy was great in the stadium and I’m just ready for the season. It was everything I expected and I now it’s going to be even better once (the Linc) fills up.”
With the return of Bradley and the additions of Graham, Allen and linebacker Ernie Sims, among others, there appears to be an unwavering confidence from the 2010 Eagles defense possesses that should be exciting for fans to watch.
“We have a lot of young guys with a lot of talent and a lot of guys around that like to fly around and hit people,” Bradley said. “I think it’s a very good defense. Me and (Ernie Sims) have a good relationship and we’re like neighbors. We hang out all the time and it’s great to play linebacker with him and with his ability. We push each other and it makes us better.”
So, while the defense appears to be ready for the season, fans may hope to see a slightly better performance from Kevin Kolb and the offense than they did on Thursday night.
But Kolb, who was officially introduced as the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time in the post-Donovan McNabb era, was without his top two receivers and hasn’t had the chance in the past week to get into any rhythm with all of the various injuries.
“We’re all in this together and you never know what’s going to happen with the team, but we appreciate all the support we can get,” Kolb said. “It starts with the fans. Initially, it felt like a game setting and we were talking about it in the locker room that once you get out here, it’s a little different. It’s a good transition to go from camp to the preseason to the regular season, so I like the way it’s setting us up. It’s great for the fans and it’s great for us.”
When asked how it felt to run out of the tunnel as the starting quarterback for the Eagles, Kolb said, “I just know there’s only 32 guys in the NFL at a time who get to be a starter QB and God blessed me with a lot of fortunate situations and I look forward to a positive experience and possibly a Super Bowl. It wasn’t a great practice tonight, but we’re going to get better and we’re going to go out there and start tomorrow.”
After all the 1-on-1 drills, the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 scrimmages, the special teams play and the six individual practices that the night included, the 31,000-plus fans enjoyed a stellar fireworks presentation, while several Eagles players also stayed on the field to sign autographs for fans and enjoy the final moments of the night.
One of the players that stayed on the field longer than most others was Graham.
And when the former University of Michigan defensive end was asked what he thought of the Philadelphia fans, he only had one thing to say before walking back to the locker room.
“Go Eagles,” Graham exclaimed.
Other notables from the second annual Eagles Flight Night:
-While there were no apparent injuries, new Eagles running back J.J. Arrington walked off the field for a few minutes and took a knee after he said he hurt his foot.
-Fullback Leonard Weaver took a minute away from practice and walked towards the crowd to get the Eagles faithful hyped up. Weaver was easily the most enthusiastic and loudest Eagle on the field Thursday night when it came to interacting with the fans.
-Rookie wide receiver Riley Cooper, who has had a stellar camp thus far, dropped a wide open pass from Vick, but followed it with a 20-yard reception on the next play. Rookie cornerback Trevard Lindley nearly had himself an interception, when Vick and Cooper tried to connect on another passing play. Lindley made several athletic plays in the secondary.
–Eagles radio play-by-play veteran Merrill Reese was introduced before the start of practice. The Philadelphia legend, who will be going into his 34th season with the organization, called some of the scrimmage from the radio booth.
-Wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who had missed practice earlier in the week with a hamstring injury, was in practice with the third team. The former Penn State wideout dropped the only pass that came his way, but impressed with his speed, as well as his route-running abilities.
-Kafka fumbled a snap from center Dallas Reynolds, who didn’t get the ball high enough for the rookie quarterback to control handily.
-Akers’ 60-yard field goal set an Eagles Flight Night record. In two days, the veteran kicker has now made field goals from 52, 54, 54 and 60 yards out without missing a single kick during official practice time.
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