Aug 112010

by Mike Prince

Eagles rookies prepare for first preseason game

Bethlehem, Pa — Several weeks ago, Nate Allen couldn’t wait to get to Lehigh for training camp. And now, after nearly three full weeks of proving that Andy Reid made the right decision in drafting the safety out of South Florida with the 37th overall pick, Allen is ready for his first NFL game action.

On Friday night, the Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars will meet at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for both team’s first preseason game of the year.

For veterans and players that were on the Philadelphia roster in 2009, it marks the first time since last December that any Eagle will step foot inside the Linc for any type of action that wasn’t against their own players. But for the rookies, it marks the first time that they get to throw on their pads and put a jersey on for an NFL game.

“It’s a big one for me,” said Allen regarding Friday’s preseason game. “It’s my first NFL game an even though it’s still the preseason, I’m still going into it like it’s the Super Bowl. I’m excited. I started to think about it a couple days earlier and once game day comes, I’ll just sort of zone out. I can’t speak for any other rookies, but I’m sure we’ll all be nervous for out first game, but we’ll be ready to go.”

Allen is one of a handful of rookies that will see plenty of time on the field on Friday. Defensive end Brandon Graham has been playing with the first and second teams and has been one of the most impressive players in camp to date. With players like Kevin Kolb not likely to see more than one or two quarters of action, players like Mike Kafka – a rookie quarterback from Northwestern – will get to show fans what he can bring the table.

“I’m just going to prepare like you would for any other game and go out there and try to execute the gameplan right,” Kafka said. “You want to make sure everyone’s lined up correctly and get some points because this is your first opportunity to hit someone from another team. Coach Reid has toned down practice and is getting us ready for game mode. I know I’ll be anxious when we make the drive up to the stadium that day.”

To fans, preseason games may be nothing more than their first opportunity to see their team play since the previous season, while holding their breaths and hoping that nobody gets injured. But for those who can’t make it to training camp, it’s also the first time they get to see the rookies play on any level.

For coaches, however, it’s an opportunity to see if the players they have been teaching the playbook and the fundamentals to for the previous few weeks have what it takes to step up their game when facing someone in another team’s jersey for the first time.

“It’s my job to help execute this team and make sure the players are fundamentally sharp,” Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “This is preseason and as far as that’s concerned, you have to evaluation how players respond with the process.”

One year after starting a rookie (Macho Harris) at safety, McDermott answered questions regarding the possible plan of starting another rookie this year in Allen.

“I think Nate (Allen) has earned the respect of his peers and he’ll take care of it,” McDermott said. “Each situation is different and Nate is a very mature, young man and to this point, he has been very unshakable. He’s done extremely well. I can’t think of a tackle that he’s missed to this point in camp and as a safety, that’s saying something.”

While players like Kolb, who is in his first season starting with the Eagles, as well as Allen, Graham and other rookies, who will all get the bulk of the attention, players such as Leonard Weaver hope to use this game as an opportunity to teach the younger players about playing in the NFL, as well as a chance to play in front of the fans for the first time in awhile.

“I think it’s important to get out there and compete at a high level and Friday night is a good time to prepare for some of the rookies,” he said. “We’re excited to get out there and play in front of the fans and the talent we have as far as youth is awesome. It’s been a great experience.”

The Eagles have a mock game on Thursday at Lehigh which is closed to the public. They have no afternoon practice and no practice on Friday. So from now until Friday, players such as Allen hope to use this team wisely and study the playbook as much possible.

Friday will mark the first time that Allen will show McDermott and Reid just what he can do against NFL-level type talent from a team other than his own.

“I’m confident in the playbook and what I have to do and I’m ready to go,” Allen said. “I just have to stay in the playbook and continue to ask a lot of questions when I need. I feel like I’ve come a long way and while we still have a lot of work to do, I’m just ready to get under the lights and play. I’m ready to go out there and make plays, whether it’s interceptions or big hits.

“I’ve gotten more comfortable and I know it’ll be high-energized when we get out there. It was fun playing there last week, but I can’t imagine how it will be on Friday. I know it will be packed and have lots of energy, so I hope I can go out there and show that I’m ready the first time we play.”

The first preseason game should tell fans a lot of what they’ve wanted to know since the Eagles traded away their franchise quarterback and used the pick on another position of need. After all, first impressions go a long way.


Other notables from Wednesday morning’s practice:

Brent Celek missed practice with what the team called an “illness.” [Editor’s note:  Celek has blamed his illness on eating bad cheesecake.  Seriously.]  Rookie tight end Clay Harbor played in Celek’s place on the first team. 

-Tight end Cornelius Ingram returned to action after sitting out of practice earlier in the week with knee swelling in the same leg that he’s had two ACL tears in. Ingram appeared to be running at close to 100 percent.

Dmitri Patterson intercepted a Mike Vick pass, while Asante Samuel had a perfect read on a pass from Kolb to DeSean Jackson, but dropped a definite pick-six.

-Wide receiver Kelley Washington continued to impress on Wednesday, this time blocking a punt on special teams.

-Safety Macho Harris, who has missed the last week-and-a-half with an injured hamstring, was at practice and walking around the practice fields. Reid said on Monday that Harris is improving and the second-year safety was not limping at all.

DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were seen standing next to each other and getting along in practice. Neither receiver threw any punches, nor had any arguments. The “feud” from Tuesday appeared to be settled.

Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, Nick Cole, J.J. Arrington, Hank Baskett and Victor Abiamiri all again sat out of practice with lingering injuries. David Akers, who sat out the past two days with an injured heel, arrived late to practice, but began kicking field goals again and appears healthy.

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Mike Prince writes for PSC, the Montgomery News and on his Blog.  You can also Follow him on Twitter.

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