Bethlehem, Pa — The final week of training camp began on Monday the same way the previous three have ended. A few players returned from injury and a few players went down with injuries. Asante Samuel was running his mouth for nearly the full two hours, while DeSean Jackson was beating defensive backs – including Samuel – nearly every play. And finally, we saw a big hit from none other than Ernie Sims, of course.
In only their second practice since last Friday night’s 28-27 preseason win over Jacksonville, the Eagles returned several key players to the practice fields who have been missing action for a number of days.
Offensive linemen Todd Herremans and Jamaal Jackson, safety Quintin Demps and running back J.J. Arrington all returned from injuries that have kept the players sidelined from a few days to most, if not all of training camp, in certain cases.
It was a pleasant sight to see several starters back on the field, especially for Jamaal Jackson, who returned to practice nearly eight months afte suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. However, the morning didn’t end without a few other plays going off with injuries.
Quintin Demps, who returned after being injured in the preseason game and was wearing a knee brace, left practice with an apparent injury. LeSean McCoy missed morning drills with a quad contusion and running back Martell Mallett left with a hyperextended knee.
Practicing on a wet, muddy field can cause problems for any player, but it was just another day at the office for those who were able to make it through the entire morning session. For Sims, however, just another day at practice has a completely different meaning than many other players.
For the fourth time during camp, the newest starting linebacker for the team played like he was in regular season mode. Jason Avant, Clay Harbor and Eldra Buckley were all subjects to blindside hits from the 6-foot, 230-pounder over the past three weeks. After Monday, you can add Brent Celek to that list.
Celek caught a short pass up the middle from Kevin Kolb and was laid out by Sims, causing the tight end to get up very slowly before heading over to the sidelines. While Reid showed his displeasure and pulled Sims to the side (for the fourth time), Celek said he had no problem with the hit.
“I just got the wind knocked out of me, but that’s football,” Celek said. “That’s part of the sport and you have to play with nicks and bruises and go on from it. I hope he does it to the opposing team every week. He hits hard and it’s good because I’m going to get hit like that in a game, so it’s not any different. It’s what we’re going to see when the season comes.”
Sims, who said after the hit on Buckley that he is not going to stop playing his game for anyone, was unavailable for comment after practice.
One thing Reid and Celek were happy about, however, was the play of Kolb.
Four days after stepping into his first preseason game as the starting quarterback for the Eagles, Kolb did less scrambling, threw zero interceptions and seemed to improve upon his accuracy and timing with his receivers. One of the main concerns about the season has been Kolb’s ability to perform as a starter, but his teammates believe he has proved that he can do the job that is asked of him.
“The relationship with (Kolb) is growing,” Celek said. “The first three years, we got to work together, but now, it’s every single day. Every time we’re out there, we’re learning new things constantly and I think communication is the key. He’s communicating with all the guys and we’re getting better every day that we’re out here. I think he’s doing a great job.”
If Jackson and Herremans can be healthy by the time the regular season begins, Kolb should look better, as he’s worked with roughly 10 different offensive linemen throughout camp due to injuries.
On the other side of the ball, rookies Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Trevard Lindley are not only having an immediate impact on themselves, but on other players in the secondary.
Since Brian Dawkins left the Eagles, the free safety position has been a bit of concern for the Eagles‘ organization. Quintin Demps had sub-par sophomore season and Macho Harris was plugged into a position in his rookie year that clearly didn’t pan out for him. But strong safety Quintin Mikell might have a bona fide free safety to play by his side, as Allen has surpassed any expectations that a second-round pick comes with after only a few weeks of practice.
With Allen now the mix and with another year of experience for Mikell along with what seems to be an improved Demps, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott expects this to be the best defense the Eagles have seen in years.
“With injuries to guys like Hobbs last year, you can see how quickly things can be taken away in this league,” McDermott said. “It’s how it is. But looking at the first game we played, you can see the managed the game extremely well and as you guys saw, they were very composed and aggressive. I want to see a playoff team from both sides of the ball and I think that’s what we have right now.”
Mikell, who spent several years learning from Dawkins and Michael Lewis before being put into the starter’s role, feels like Allen’s presence helps him more and more every day.
“I’m playing the same as I did last year, but with a lot less stress because Nate has done such a good job adjusting,” the eighth-year Eagles safety said. “We do things that let us be interchangeable. When I used to play with Dawk, it was hard for teams to pick up on what we were doing because we were the same type of player. Having Nate here now helps because he’s also a lot like me. The fact that we both carry each other and pick up on the blitz will cause teams to have trouble with us.
“It actually helps the play calling as well, as we are more focused and just playing ball this year and not coaching on the field. We’re not talking about replacing anybody. This is a real good defense. Dawkins isn’t here anymore and it’s a new era and the past has to be put to rest. Nate is Nate and we’re just going to go out there and play ball and he’s going to create his own legacy, as I’m going to create my own. That is that.”
Seeing the Eagles take the field without Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook may be tough for fans, but the players know they have a job to do. They’re not worrying about who was on the team last year or the year before. It just matters who is on the team this year.
Other notables from morning practice:
-With LeSean McCoy (left quad contusion) and Mike Bell (hamstring) out of practice, Eldra Buckley, who is coming off an excellent week, took snaps with the first team for the majority of practice. Martell Mallett took snaps with the second team, but eventually moved up to the first team to run drills inside the 10-yard line. It wasn’t the best day for tailbacks, however. As he was scoring his third touchdown in-a-row — all of which came on screen passes — Mallett took a helmet to the knee from Trevard Lindley, forcing Mallett to leave the field and go work with the trainers. Coaches said he had a hyperextended left knee. Mallett was put in after Buckley, who is fighting for the number-two running back spot with Bell, dropped two passes and was taken off the first team.
“I feel like my day didn’t go the way it should have,” Buckley said. “It should have been way better. I am expected to make those plays and I didn’t. Running with the ones is tough, but I have to keep up and make those plays. We’re trying to forwards, not backwards, and today seemed like a day where I didn’t step forward.
–Michael Vick hit Kelley Washington with two passes, while also hitting Hank Baskett with two more completions. Unless Reid plans on using six wide receivers, which is still a definite possibility, the two receivers most likely will be fighting for the final spot.
–DeSean Jackson beat Asante Samuel down the right sidelines and caught a perfectly-thrown pass from Kevin Kolb, which gained over 40 yards on the play. Jackson left the field to go to the training facilities at one point and the tent later on, but didn’t appear to have any noticeable injury.
–Joselio Hanson had a big open-field hit on Baskett, causing Baskett to drop the pass. The hit got a huge response from the fans in attendance.
–Austin Howard took reps with the first team offensive line while Jason Peters rested on the sidelines. Peters left practice a few minutes early due to fatigue.
-In one-on-one drills, Jeremy Maclin beat Samuel with a slant pass. Samuel asked for Riley Cooper on the next play, saying that he is “the best receiver on the team.”
–Jason Avant dropped his first pass of training camp after catching nearly 100 without one. The pass was poorly thrown and the receiver attempted a one-handed catch, but it was still the first time that Avant did not come down with a catch in all of camp.
–Macho Harris, who returned Sunday from his hamstring injury, took reps with the second-team nickel defense. Harris was later carted off the field and did not return to practice.
–Mike McGlynn continued to take snaps under center with the first team, as Nick Cole missed yet another practice with an injury. If Jamaal Jackson is not ready for the start of the regular season, McGlynn could steal the job from Cole.
–Chad “Rudy” Hall took reps with the first two teams at running back.
–Keenan Clayton played nickel with the second-team at SAM. Tracy White played behind him with the third team.
–David Akers continued to knock down every kick he attempted from beyond 40 yards, including two from outside fifty yards.
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