SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the Eagles' camp in Bethlehem, Pa. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
The Eagles are ensconced (forever, seemingly) at Lehigh University, an hour north of Philadelphia in Bethlehem, Pa. The players and staff live in dorms on the very hilly campus, and then take their own cars (vets) or vans (rookies) on the 2.5-race to the plush practice fields on the edge of campus.
1. Andy Reid is playing mind games with Jason Peters. I approve. Peters was a dog last year in Buffalo; the staff there didn't think he tried hard and wasn't dedicated to football, mostly because he knew the Bills would never pay him what he thought he deserved. He allowed 11.5 sacks last year, a ridiculous number for a man with the talent to be the best left tackle in football. And so Reid put the onus on him the day Philadelphia acquired Peters for draft choices in April, calling him the best left tackle in football. I think the reason he did it is simple: Now that Peters finally has the contract he wants, and now that he's finally on a good line playing big games every week, there's no excuses for him to NOT be one of the best tackles in football. And if he isn't -- if he lets Justin Tuck or DeMarcus Ware turnstile him early in the season -- the fans in Philadelphia will eat him for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Early, it seems to be working. Peters usually spends most of his offseason at his home in Houston. This year, he was in the Eagles' offseason program in Philadelphia.
2. Joe Mays? Who on God's green earth is Joe Mays, and why is he starting for a legit Super Bowl contender? Mays was the Eagles' sixth-round pick last year, from North Dakota State, and he played a grand total of three plays. He's a fireplug of a guy, around 5-11 and 245 pounds. And he's taken over the MLB job for the time being. Unless he is a Xerox copy of Zach Thomas, this team is in trouble without Stewart Bradley in the middle on defense. When Bradley, the Eagles' prize 25-year-old middle 'backer, went down with a torn ACL in practice last Sunday, the signal-caller for a rookie defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott, went down too. A couple of weeks ago, I asked McDermott about the leaders on the defense with Brian Dawkins gone, and he mentioned Bradley and safety Quentin Mikell. Now one of them's gone.
3. Donovan McNabb sure is happy for someone who has question marks all over his offense. He comes out of the locker room laughing, he smiles 10 times per practice, and he grins like a kid on Christmas when he's stretching afterward. Maybe it's just him, or maybe it's just the money the Eagles gave him to make his contract competitive with the other quarterbacks in the league. In the morning practice I saw, he rolled right on one play and, while running, fired a perfect strike to DeSean Jackson 25 yards downfield. It's not about what McNabb does in the summer, though, and he knows that. He's going to have to do it with an incredibly young bunch of skill players, with wideout Jeremy Maclin, backup back LeSean McCoy and tight end Cornelius Ingram rookies, Jackson a second-year man and Brent Celek in his third year.
Offensive lineman Stacy Andrews. Signed in free-agency from Cincinnati, Stacy takes his place alongside brother Shawn on the starting line. But we're all confused about the move. Stacy was a 15-game starter at tackle for the Bengals last year. He is moving to guard. Shawn, for the first five years of his career, has been a guard for the Eagles. He is moving to tackle. The Eagles say it's because Shawn could be a dominant tackle, and wants to make the move. I say: Why fix something that isn't broken?
Running back LeSean McCoy (second round), Pitt. This is a gem, folks. A prize. McCoy has dazzled early picking up pass-rushers and catching the ball out of the backfield, and he's been everything Philadelphia thought he could be in the running game. I remember talking to Reid before the draft, and when we talked about the top backs on everyone's board -- Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown, Beanie Wells -- Reid made sure to tell me not to forget McCoy. And now, with the two surgeries Brian Westbrook had in the offseason (I saw him run about three-quarter speed in camp and tell trainer Rick Burkholder to have me join in the running -- the only possible reason for that being that he knew he could beat me), McCoy becomes a very important cog in the offense. And he just turned 21. "People had a lot of knocks on me before the draft," he told me. "I can't block. I can't run between the tackles. But I think I can do all that and more." The Eagles have loved his pass-catching ability and ability to pick up blitzers. If that continues, then the loss of Westbrook, if it happens during the season, will be easier to take.
Coaches wearing long sleeves and floppy hats, for maximum sun protection. After the death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson due to melanoma, a few of the coaches have taken the sun a lot more seriously. McDermott, very fair-skinned, already was wearing a weird hat and long white sleeves. It's eerie to not see Johnson in camp, obviously; the team hasn't had any time to grieve. But if his death means coaches and players around the league will Bullfrog-up, something good will come from a tragedy.
The Eagles don't allow media to eat at their training table. A trip to Eagle camp is not a trip to Eagle camp without lunch at Deja' Brew in downtown Bethlehem. Jeff, the owner, is partial to me (and to all writers, it seems, because they all frequent his place just down the hill from Eagle dorms and offices). Today I had the Triple Threat, a vast and delicious sandwich that no one but Michael Phelps could possibly finish. Thinly sliced mountains of ham, turkey and roast beef with a choice of cheese (I chose American), tomato and ranch dressing, on a French-break long roll. Water. I got three bites into the second half and cried uncle. Happily.
Last but never, ever least: three small peanut-butter balls, with peanut butter and chocolate and crushed peanuts all rolled into a delightful two-bite concoction.
It's never been better, Jeff.
1. The Eagles don't play a division game until week seven (Oct. 26), and I don't think I like that. And Philly doesn't have a game against its two big division nemeses, the Giants and Cowboys, until Nov. 1. This could go both ways, obviously, but if the Eagles get a spate of injuries early -- say, on the offensive line -- and have to face the powerful rushes of the Giants and Cowboys a couple of men down up front, that's a major disadvantage.
2.Cornelius Ingram with the 153rd pick in the draft is going to make Tom Heckert and his staff, not to mention Eagle fans, very happy. Ingram didn't play last season at Florida because of a knee injury, and so his draft stock plummeted. At 6-4 and a very athletic 245 pounds, Ingram is tearing up camp with precocious route-running and quickness you rarely see from a tight end. Ingram looks like he'll be able to get open better than L.J. Smith ever could.
3. Philly could rotate three corners as starters -- Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Ellis Hobbs. Hobbs is playing with the first unit, and when the season dawns, he may get nearly the same snaps as one of the starters. I said "may."
4. By the end of this year, safety Quentin Mikell will be considered on the plane just below Ed Reed/Troy Polamalu with the very good safeties in football. I already think he's there, with Ryan Clark, LaRon Landry and Adrian Wilson, and others. Mikell is rangy, spirited, a brutal hitter and one of the rising-star cogs of this team. "I credit Jim Johnson with believing me," he says of the late defensive boss. "Without him, I'm not here right now." Mikell was a free-agent from Boise State who kept hitting people on special teams until he finally got his chance to play last year.
5. This is a terrific team, on paper. That and $3.45 will get you a grande latte. What will put this team over the top is four elements: A defense that responds to McDermott and gets over the loss of their mentor and defensive guru, an offensive line that comes together and stays relatively healthy, a quarterback who finally plays great when the money's on the line, and a bunch of young skill players who play older than they are. That's a lot to ask, which is why I like the Giants a little more entering the season.