Minicamp has come to an end without much fanfare. Over the eight-day camp, veterans and rookies worked out for the first time together and new veteran acquisitions began learning a new playbook in preparation for any football player’s favorite two words – training camp. Rookies and select veterans will report to Lehigh on Friday, July 27 while the full team must report by July 30th. The interesting story lines that began to develop at minicamp which will play out at Lehigh range from a rookie quarterback selected in the second round on a team with a franchise quarterback to an Aussie with a powerful leg.
Donovan McNabb found some time this week between his eating chunky soup and growing his Abe Lincoln beard to practice for the first time since his season ending knee injury on November 19, 2006. McNabb, who practiced for 4 days this week looked healthy and brought a new energy to minicamp not seen during the first week of practice.
Eagles General Manager Tom Heckert found his franchise quarterback a new weapon this off-season after the departure of Donte Stallworth. Newly acquired wide receiver Kevin Curtis took his first throws from Donovan McNabb this past week and looked to be adapting to the new offense well. Curtis is no stranger to the NovaCare Complex. Since being acquired by the Eagles, Curtis has been working out at the facility and studying the Eagles’ playbook to be ready for the season opener.
On the other side of the ball, one missing face from minicamp was pro bowl safety Brian Dawkins. Often seen as the team leader on defense, Dawkins was excused from minicamp for personal reasons by Coach Reid. ‘Weapon X’ -- as his locker room namecard would have you believe -- is expected to be ready to participate in training camp by July 30.
With the release of Dhani Jones, the Eagles made drastic changes at the linebacker position. Jeremiah Trotter will be joined by second year strong side linebacker Chris Gocong and 10-year veteran Takeo Spikes, who was obtained in an off-season trade with the Bills. Trotter has been given the unique role of tutoring backup middle linebacker Omar Gathier, who is the presumed replacement for Trotter over the next year or two, and helping Takeo Spikes fit into the Eagles’ defense. Spikes and Trotter spent a great deal of time together at minicamp as they hope to bolster the linebacking core.
Last year the Eagles’ ranked 23rd in punting average and 26th in punting percentage inside the 20-yard line. First-year special teams coordinator Rory Segrest has the job of watching a position battle unfold at punter. According to Segrest, incumbent Dirk Johnson has made "great strides in the off-season." However, the Eagles signed former Australian Rules Football player Sav Rocca to compete for the position in mini camp and training camp. In recent years, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets have signed Australian Rules Football players to punt with great success. Last year the Cowboys and Jets ranked 1st and 13th, respectively, in punting average. The Cowboys ranked 2nd and the Jets finished 4th in punting average inside the 20-yard line. This position battle is far from over with one extra twist. Pro bowl kicker David Akers is very picky when it comes to his holder. The punter Akers is most comfortable with at place holder could weigh heavily on the ultimate roster decision.
Philadelphia Daily News beat writer Les Bowen told me "the Eagles’ wide receivers are very underrated." If minicamp is any litmus test for the season, Bowen was right on. It appears as if the starting wide receivers will be Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett, with Jason Avant competing for more snaps. Last year, Brown finished the year with a team best 816 yards and 8 TDs. Baskett, who was the resident downfield receiver last year, finished the year with a team best 21.1 yards per catch. Second-year receiver Jason Avant could fit in nicely at the slot position. The line on Avant coming out of Michigan last year was that he doesn’t drop passes, which was proven with his tremendous display of talent at minicamp this week. Avant made acrobatic catch after acrobatic catch and never seemed to miss one. Kevin Curtis comes from a vertical offense in St. Louis, but he is finally ready to step out of the large shadow cast by Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt. Last season, Curtis caught 40 passes for 479 yards and 4 TDs as the fourth receiving option behind Bruce, Holt, and running back Steven Jackson.
When asked if he had a feel on this year’s team, Coach Reid replied, “I have a feel, but I’ll have a better feel at training camp.” Well, Andy, only 42 days to wait.
*Projected Eagles Depth Chart (subject to change due to injury and performance)*
QB: Donovan McNabb, AJ Feeley, Kevin Kolb (Rookie – Houston) (There doesn’t seem to be room for Kelly Holcomb)
RB: Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter, Tony Hunt (Rookie – Penn State)
FB: Thomas Tapeh, Jason Davis
WR: Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, Hank Baskett, Jason Avant (Greg Lewis and Jeremy Bloom will be fighting for any opening)
TE: LJ Smith (recovering from sports hernia), Matt Schobel (Injuries to both limited the ability to analyze this position).
LT: William ‘Tra’ Thomas, Winston Justice
LG: Todd Herremans, Max Jean-Gilles
C: Jamaal Jackson, Nick Cole
RG: Shawn Andrews, Scott Young
RT: Jon Runyan, Pat McCoy
LDE: Jevon Kearse, Darren Howard, Victor Abiamiri (Rookie – Notre Dame)
LDT: Mike Patterson, Monte Reagor
RDT: Broderick Bunkley, Ian Scott
RDE: Trent Cole, Juqua Thomas (Jerome McDougle has probably seen his last snap as an Eagle)
SLB: Chris Gocong, Tank Daniels, Stewart Bradley
MLB: Jeremiah Trotter, Omar Gathier, Dedrick Roper
WLB: Takeo Spikes, Matt McCoy
LCB: Lito Sheppard, Joselio Hanson, Dustin Fox
RCB: Sheldon Brown, Will James, Rashad Barksdale
SS: Sean Considine, Quintin Mikell
FS: Brian Dawkins, C.J. Gaddis
K: David Akers
P: Dirk Johnson, Sav Rocca
PR: Jeremy Bloom
KOR: Jeremy Bloom
LS: Jon Dorenbos, Mike Bartrum