by Mike Prince
In the midst of an afternoon that saw the absence of two Pro Bowlers, a flurry of hamstring injuries and a multitude of players going down with dehydration, a pair of rookies took center stage and had what appeared to be their coming-out parties in front of the thousands of Eagles faithful that made the early-week trek to Lehigh.
While the wide receivers and running backs may have had the best showing, it was one of the newest Eagles’ defensive players that turned heads for nearly the entire final two hours of Monday’s practice.
First-round pick and defensive end Brandon Graham had easily his best day of training camp yet, impressing coaches and fans while manhandling offensive lineman Winston Justice for a majority of the afternoon practice. Graham’s one-on-one jousting with various offensive linemen has already earned him a solid reputation with the organization.
While he’s not shaking the hands of every reporter on the field, joking with coaches and the media and showing an almost veteran-type of relaxed attitude during drills, the former Michigan product – who has vowed to “kill QBs” – is showing each and everyone who has seen him play that Eagles coach Andy Reid made the right decision in taking Graham with the 13th overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft.
“You might as well make friends with them,” said Graham when asked about his new-found friendly relationship with the media.
If Graham can continue to perform as he did on Monday and take that to level of play to the regular season, then the 6-foot-1, 270-pound defensive end will be making more enemies than friends on the field.
At this rate, Graham’s quick footwork and his ability to defend the pass, combined with his use of his upper body strength in stopping the run should put his name at the top of the depth chart opposite Trent Cole by the time the Eagles host Green Bay in the first game of the regular season.
On the other side of the ball creating a buzz from the coaches and the fans is Riley Cooper, a fifth-round pick and rookie from the University of Florida, who has come into training camp and proved that he doesn’t need Urban Meyer’s offense and Tim Tebow’s dual-threat style of play to be a dangerous threat to opposing defenses.
The 6-foot-3, 222-pound wide receiver, who coincidentally was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 when baseball was his focus, caught his third touchdown of 50-plus yards when quarterback Michael Vick hit Cooper in stride in Monday’s 11-on-11 afternoon scrimmage.
“I’m just going out there and trying to play football,” Cooper said. “I do what I do, I try to be physical and try to move guys around and I’m not going to be real shifty from side-to-side. That’s not my style and that’s not my game. I have to get physical with guys and try to throw them around. I’m doing OK and I know I still need to work on releases and things like that so there is a lot of work to be done.”
DeSean Jackson, who sat out of his second consecutive day of practice with a lower back injury, has been a deep-ball threat for the Eagles for the past two seasons.
Jeremy Maclin, who lined up as the number-one receiver on Monday, has also become a liability for cornerbacks to cover the deep ball.
So when Cooper was asked if he could join Philadelphia’s top-two receivers in being yet another deep-ball threat for defenders to worry about, he wasn’t shy to talk about just how fast he knows he is.
“I’ve always been fast and (speed) has always been one of my best attributes since I was little,” the fifth-round pick said. “My speed is underrated and I know that. I keep telling everyone I can run a 4.6 or whatever, but I’ll try to keep my expectations low and then use my speed to keep doing my thing.”
Cooper dropped three passes in the morning scrimmage, but followed that up with six catches without a drop in the afternoon practice, including a few that brought some fans to their feet.
“I love it,” said Cooper when asked if the fans’ cheering helps his play. “It gets me pumped up. The fans are a big part of the game, so when they’re on your side, it’s all gravy. Some of the guys came up to me and told me it looks like I know what I’m doing, which is great.”
Kelley Washington, another 6-foot-3 wide receiver that is new to the team after being signed by the Eagles this past weekend, caught three balls in the afternoon practice, including a perfectly-placed sideline pass from third-string quarterback and rookie Mike Kafka (Northwestern).
On whether or not he believes he will be fighting for a wide receiver spot with Washington, who caught 34 passes for 431 yards with Baltimore in 2009, Cooper said: “I don’t really know what my odds are. I have to get in the playbook and get in more positions, which will give me a better chance at making the team this year. Especially as a wide receiver, special teams play is something I have to get into and I need to get in that playbook so when I get out here, I can just play football and not think about anything else.”
While players like Cooper and Washington are stepping in and trying to fill the final wide receiver spots of the depth chart, Jason Avant, who lined up in the slot for most of the day, is just excited at the idea of playing with a new quarterback.
“It’s not the same old thing this year,” he said. “We have different guys and we’re here at (training camp) and trying to work together as a team to get rhythm for the season. We have a long way to go with (Kevin Kolb), but we have to leanr how to get his timing down consistently and once we get it, we’ll be fine. It’s not even about me. It’s about all the guys together learning how to run routes differently and once (Kolb) knows all of that, I think he can easily choose the guy he wants.”
Other notables from Monday’s practice:
Brent Celek left the morning practice with dehydration, but returned for the afternoon practice and was in the middle of several plays with the first-team offense. Regarding being taken out of the morning drills, Celek said: “I was just low on fluids so I went inside and got hydrated. It’s hot out here and some guys are going to go down. That’s just part of training camp. We hope we get out of here healthy. Camps are tough and we know that every year, no matter what the weather is, you have to push through it and get your mind set.”
On running an offense with new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, Celek said: “When he first came in, we worked a lot together, but you practice with all of the quarterbacks, so you can get a chance to catch with all of them and get a feel of how they throw it and when they’re going to throw it. It’s been a smooth transition.”
On how starting two games with Kolb in 2009 will help the offense this year, Celek said: “We just need to pick up where we left off (from last year). I think we’re lucky. We’re out here hitting each other every day and we’re going to have nicks and bruises. I realized this year that you really need training camp. You need it as a team and as a player.”
Winston Justice, who jumped off-sides on two consecutive plays in the morning practice, said: “I had a mental lapse. That’s it. I just messed up and when you jump off-sides twice like that, you need to come out and realize what you just did.”
Rookie tight end Clay Harbor had two catches fairly deep down the middle of the field from second-string quarterback Mike Vick.
Trevor Laws forced a J.J. Arrington fumble. Arrington also dropped a pass in the afternoon practice.
Chad Hall, a 5-foot-8, 187-pound wide receiver from Air Force that the fans have refer to as “Rudy,” took a hard hit from safety Kurt Coleman while trying to catch a suicide pass up the middle from Vick.
Eldra Buckley and LeSean McCoy came out of the backfield to catch several screen passes throughout the afternoon practice. Andy Reid appears to be sticking with McCoy as an option at receiver throughout camp, as he did towards the latter half of the 2009 season.
Moise Fokou lined up as DE for the afternoon practice and had a solid day on the defensive line.
Trent Cole intercepted a Vick pass, which was initially blocked by safety Quintin Mikell on a blitz.
Ernie Sims, with his short frame, appeared to fit in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme very well throughout the day.
Tight end Martin Rucker joined a group of Eagles’ players that were nagged by hamstring injuries. Asante Samuel was nowhere to be found, recovering from a hamstring injury from Sunday.
Cornelius Ingram looked 100%. He was running just fine and didn’t seem to have a limp or any visibly lingering effects from his injuries.
Running back Mike Bell and wide receiver Jordan Norwood are both still recovering from hamstring injuries.
Norwood, along with Jamaal Jackson, Stewart Bradley (hamstring) and several other players appeared to be practicing boxing moves while participating in non-contact drills away from the main practice field.
DeSean Jackson left camp during the end of morning practice and did not return.
Mike McGlynn took over the starting RG job in the afternoon practice, in place of Stacy Andrews, who has an apparent shoulder injury and was nowhere to be found during the afternoon session.
After mildly injuring his hamstring in the morning practice, Bradley briefly returned to the afternoon practice before tweaking the injury in defensive drills.
Omar Gaither had a clean pick on a deep pass by Vick to left sideline, which he returned half the length of the field before the whistle was blown.
Sixth-round pick and rookie RB Charles Scott saw minimal playing time in the afternoon practice after dropping multiple passes in the morning session.
EAGLES TRAINING CAMP PHOTO GALLERY – Click the thumbnails for full size images:
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