Jul 252010

July 25 Philadelphia Inquirer

“For each change made in this most transforming of off-seasons, the Eagles had an answer.

It could be argued – and, indeed, it has been – that the answers won’t prove to be the correct ones. But, by and large, when the Eagles dumped a player during a frenzied month of cuts and trades, they did so with a reasonable replacement in mind.

But there was one move and the lack of a counter-move that remains a head-scratcher for many.

When the Eagles open training camp in Bethlehem on Monday with the reporting of rookies and selected veterans, there will be new faces at positions that had been synonymous with their previous occupants.

For the first time in years, Donovan McNabb will not be the Eagles’ starting quarterback, and Brian Westbrook will not be the starting running back. But it’s not as if their replacements were picked up off the waiver wire. Kevin Kolb and LeSean McCoy are high draft picks that have been groomed to take over someday.

The same can’t be said at right cornerback, where Sheldon Brown started for more than six seasons.

However, when the 31-year-old Brown was dealt to Cleveland in early April, the Eagles said they already had his substitute in the system: Ellis Hobbs.

Hobbs, who couldn’t beat out Brown for the job last training camp and who was coming off season-ending neck surgery? That Hobbs? Surely, it was believed, the Eagles would expend one of their many draft picks in a trade, or, at the very least, use a high pick on a ready-to-start cornerback.

But the draft came and went, and the most the Eagles did to address the need was select Trevard Lindley, a prospect who was injured during parts of his senior season, in the fourth round.

“We had Hobbs coming back, and we had gotten a decent report from his doctor on his recovery,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said last month. “And then we drafted Lindley, and we felt like he has a chance to be a pretty good player. We knew that Macho [Harris] could do both [safety and cornerback]. We felt we could be OK there.”

Despite hardly practicing during spring workouts, Hobbs remains the starter heading into camp. Reid told reporters at the end of June’s voluntary practices that Hobbs would return during camp, but he never said when.

In May, Hobbs likened his surgery – anterior cervical decompression and fusion for a herniated disk – and the risk of reinjury to a game of Jenga. (Pull one piece out and the whole thing falls apart.) Other than that, he said, “I’m at no more risk than anybody out on that field.”

Even if Hobbs is healthy, he has to beat out a handful of competitors. The Eagles traded for the former Patriot last April in the hope that he would push Brown. He did not. Hobbs gave Brown or his counterpart, Asante Samuel, a spell or two. But it’s not as if they were world-beaters.

Brown and Samuel tallied an impressive 14 interceptions, but they were part of a defense that allowed 27 passing touchdowns, was ranked 17th in pass defense, and was undressed by the Cowboys in the last two games of the season.”

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