Posted: Tue, Aug. 14, 2012, 6:10 PM
Bob Ford: Andy Reid feels better about this year's Eagles training camp than last
Bob Ford, Inquirer Sports Columnist
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BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Eagles broke training camp at Lehigh University on Tuesday afternoon, and wisely did so before camp finally broke them. It wasn't a great camp, from a football perspective, and memorable only for tragedy off the field and an increasing number of question marks on it.
Otherwise, the annual sojourn in the hills was just a slog through the grunt work that must be done leading up to the regular season. It could be as easily accomplished at the team's home training base - an option employed by nearly half the NFL teams now - but the Eagles like giving fans a chance to see them practice, and Andy Reid still believes in the throwback concept of team-bonding at an isolated camp. Campfire tales, bull sessions, and all that. The winners of seven of the last 10 Super Bowls think it's overrated hogwash, but what do they know?
In any case, the Eagles pick up where they left off at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday and then it will be a quick three-week sprint to the regular season opener on Sept. 9 in Cleveland. On Tuesday, following the afternoon practice, the players said thanks and goodbye to the fans here, forming a long conga train led by Reid to shake hands along the fence line as their own traditional farewell to Lehigh. As always, the last shouted words of encouragement from the stands were drowned out by the thud of equipment being loaded into moving vans for the trip down the Northeast Extension.
As was the case a year ago, when the lockout ended and the Eagles appeared to have constructed a miracle overnight, the mood among the organization is one of confidence. Hopefully, there is more to it than misplaced optimism this time.
"There were a lot of moving parts [last year]," Reid said. "That isn't an excuse, so I don't want it to be taken that way because everybody had to deal with it . . . I thought it was important that we came together as a team. I thought we had good players, but . . . you've got to come together as a team and that takes a little time. When I reflected at the end of the season, it was too late, but I felt we had joined hands . . . which you wanted to do sooner than what we did."
Yes, it turned out that the 13th week of the season was too late to be finally figuring things out. And whether that is actually what happened or merely the mumbo jumbo of spin based on four meaningless wins doesn't matter anymore. Reid thinks it does - or says he does - but the organization (which means Reid) indicated otherwise when it made significant changes in both personnel and philosophy during the offseason.
"The thing I was looking for was, were they going to carry over [from] last season?" Reid said of this year's Lehigh camp. "Were they going to carry over that energy they had at the end of last season that they brought into the OTA's? Could they bring it into this camp here? They seemed to do that."
Reid liked the rate of work and the energy he got from the players, but that's a low bar for judging success. They had energy in last week's exhibition against Pittsburgh, too, and the first units stunk up the opening half.
Somehow, based on the offense's six plays while he was in there, left tackle Demetress Bell lost his starting job to King Dunlap, which isn't that easy to do. Bell is one of the applauded acquisitions of the offseason, brought in to fill a specific hole - the loss of Jason Peters - and he is on the way to being a disappointment.
The sample is small, but the Eagles aren't being blown away by the performance of DeMeco Ryans yet, either, the middle linebacker brought in to fill another specific hole - the absence of a middle linebacker. If Reid learned his lesson last season when the team forced Casey Matthews into the starting job in the middle, he doesn't have many alternatives if Ryans is not a three-down linebacker any longer.
Those concerns will either be alleviated or augmented when the Eagles play what should be a very interesting exhibition against the Patriots on Monday. We'll also get a better idea of just how worrisome the defensive backfield is, particularly the safeties. We'll see if the offense can look crisper than it did against Pittsburgh. We'll see if Michael Vick can get a first down.
The season depends on a lot, but it mostly depends on which Vick shows up - the Ultimate Machine That Breaks Opponents or the Turnover Machine That Keeps Breaking. If he is ineffective, they lose. If he is hurt, they lose. Otherwise, just another guy.
So, the Eagles turned a corner on training camp Tuesday and turned their backs on the Lehigh Valley for another year. They avoided any major injuries here, and can probably have their best players on the field for the start of the regular season. Of course, that would be a lot more comforting if they hadn't left Lehigh saying the same thing a year ago.
"It was just different," Reid said.
He should hope so.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at email@example.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.
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Posted 15 August 2012 - 05:43 AM