Sunday, May 14, 2006

Early Returns For Eagles

Eagles fans shouldn't get too hung up on depth charts. Players who are listed on top during minicamp don't always find themselves starting when the season begins.
Still, there has to be some pecking order. That's why following Sunday's morning practice, special teams coach John Harbaugh said that as of now, Reno Mahe is the starting punt returner. Now Mahe led the league last year with a 12.8 average, but that was slightly misleading. He returned only 21 punts, one more than the minimum needed to be listed among the leaders. And seven of those returns came in a 42-0 loss to Seattle.
So Harbaugh has anointed Mahe, but he shouldn't be penciled in ink.
"Reno is the starting returner," Harbaugh said. "He has earned it. "He was the leading punt returner in the league last year so he's our punt returner."
Then came one disclaimer.
"But I think there is some great competition for the job," Harbaugh said.
Book it that there will be plenty of competition. The Eagles didn't use a fifth round pick on Jeremy Bloom to have him not be a central figure in the return game.
Bloom, if he stays healthy, could be a return man on punts and kickoffs. And remember that J.R. Reed, who missed last year after damaging the peroneal nerve, which affects movement and sensation in the lower left leg and foot, could be a kick or punt returner.
Harbaugh said if the seaon started now, that Mahe and Bruce Perry would be the kick returners. Again, if Bloom performs to his ability and Reed shows he is indeed back, the Eagles could have one of their deepest return units in some time.
And Harbaugh and coach Andy Reid will have some of the most difficult decisions to make.

Dawkins Deserves To Finish An Eagle

Brian Dawkins hopes to end his career where it started, with the Eagles. Now entering his 11th season, Dawkins has been a starter at free safety since his rookie year with the Eagles in 1996. After this season he will become an unrestricted free agent and the Eagles coaches say the 32-year-old Dawkins hasn't shown any signs of age.
The Eagles have a reputation of discarding 30-something players, but Dawkins should be an exception. Even though he didn't have his best season last year, he ended up earning his fifth Pro Bowl berth (as an alternate) by recording 125 tackles and three interceptions.
"I have said that from the beginning that I would love to finish my career here," Dawkins said. "...I love being here and playing here. If I had my choice, I would certainly want to end my career here."
Football teams show no sentimentality when releasing players, but the fact is that Dawkins can play. He was a victim of a poor pass rush last year when the Eagles had just 29 sacks and forced their defensive backs into extended coverage.
Dawkins is still among the hardest hitters in the NFL and has plenty of football left. It appears that he could play three more years at an extremely high level.
The Eagles would be wise to extend his contract before the season for a player who has represented the franchise in an exemplary manner both on and off the field.

The Difficulties Of Learning A New System

It seems like such an elementary part of the game, but the one that the newcomers all seem to struggle with initially - learning the plays.
At the Eagles minicamp, the rookies are being thrown a steady diet of the playbook in rapid fashion.
"We've installed 30 plus plus passes every morning," said Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "For a new player that is a lot of things spinning through his mind."
For players such as offensive tackle Winston Justice, the second round draft choice from USC, it's a time deciphering the information overload in a major challenge.
"You have practice and meetings and then you go home and try to study as much as you can and remember it the next day," Justice said.
At first, the playbook is so complex that a player wonders when he will ever grasp a new system, but they had to do it from high school to college and now this is the another step, albeit an accelerated one.
For the rookies, they want to get to the point where they are reacting, instead of thinking on the field. There is still quite some time before that happens, but when they return for the rookie minicamp on May 24, all of them hope to have a better comfort level with the playbook after having a little time to decipher the information.

Eagles Have Mindset Of A Contender

While it's difficult to tell much when football players are running around in shorts and no pads, the Eagles workouts at their minicamp are being done at a brisk pace.
The Sunday morning session, just like the two sessions on Saturday had a crispness to them. The players and coaches were all business. There was very little joking around and plenty of instruction.
The rookies, who were given 27 plays on Saturday to learn, were taking everything in, realizing they are behind, but willing to absorb all the material.
There is also a quiet confidence around this team. To a man, the Eagles feel that last year's 6-10 mark was the result of injuries, the T.O. fiasco and more injuries.
Even though the rest of the NFC East has seemingly improved, the collective mindset of this team is that they will indeed be a contender.
Again, little can be seen on the field in a minicamp, when there is no real hitting, but it's quite clear that the Eagles have put 2005 behind them and one thing this group won't lack is confidence.
Whether that translates to contention in the NFC East, remains to be seen.