On the hilly (no, mountainous) campus of Lehigh University, an hour north of Philly in Bethlehem, Pa., for Eagles camp. It's a broiler here, 90 degrees with what feels like 95 percent humidity for the afternoon practice of a two-a-day deal. It was so oppressive Tuesday morning, though slightly cooler, that disoriented defensive end Chris Clemons was whisked off in an ambulance after the workout with what appeared to be dehydration. (He returned to camp Tuesday night, fine.)
This is always a good spot to gauge fan reaction in what's always an enthusiastic, bleachers-filled environment. "Love you Brian!'' one fan yelled to Brian Westbrook this morning after he caught a long ball from Donovan McNabb. Followed by "Can I have your autograph?!''
1. Donovan McNabb is throwing the ball well and looks like he's not remotely ready to cede his spot to Kevin Kolb. Kolb, the second-round quarterback pick from Houston last year, worked with the second group this morning, as he has been doing; Andy Reid isn't handing him the starting job, but because he knows A.J. Feeley is a competent backup, he wants to give Kolb the bulk of the work with the twos.
McNabb is entrenched as the starter here and will not be challenged for the starting job unless he gets hurt again, which, of course, is always possible. This is his 10th season. He turns 32 this year. He has missed two, six, seven, one, zero, and six games due to injury in the past six seasons, so it's no lock he'll make it through 16 games.
2. Shawn Andrews is AWOL. Andrews, one of the best guards in football, is at home in Little Rock, Ark., and his absence is worrying the Eagles, who are fining him $15,000 a day. This is not a contract holdout, I've been assured. It has to do with personal problems and Andrews' mental state, I'm told.
In his absence, backup Max Jean-Gilles is getting all the work with the first team offensive line. The Eagles don't seem concerned about Andrews playing the season, but when he'll be back has cast a small pall over camp every day. "Shawn will be back,'' McNabb said today. "We've been playing phone tag, missing each other, but [he left me a message and] assured me things will be fine and he'll be back.''
3. The Eagles are still in search of a defensive end to be a force opposite Trent Cole. Bad day for that today. Bright young prospect Victor Abiamiri, the second-year end from Notre Dame, had wrist surgery and the team said he likely would be out four months. Sounds like an IR case to me. And with Clemons getting carted off, who knows if he'll be set back. Clemons was a situational rusher in Oakland mostly, and Philly needs him to step up to more of a regular presence.
Running back Lorenzo Booker. What's not to like about Booker, acquired from Miami in the offseason? He just turned 24. He averaged 4.5 yards per rush, and caught 28 balls in only seven games of part-time play in Miami last year. He has looked strong and decisive in his cuts here. The Eagles just might have caught the kind of Ryan Grant lightning-in-a-bottle with Booker. Look for him to beat out Correll Buckhalter for the backup running back job and become the kind of trusted change-of-pace back that could give Westbrook a blow for a series or two a game.
The Eagles have three back-to-back road tilts in 2009, along with bookend away games to start and finish the season (at Carolina, at Dallas). They also have a rugged intra-divisional three-pack against Washington, the New York Giants and Dallas beginning in Week 7. On a positive note, Philadelphia opens the season with four non-divisional games, including three straight winnable home dates with New Orleans, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, starting in Week 2.
Jason Avant and Hank Baskett, 6-foot and 6-4 respectively, have had most of their glory in training camp with the Eagles. With 68 combined catches in four collective seasons, they're young receivers who always seem to be on the edge of the roster, always the guys the Eagles are looking to replace and upgrade, the kind of players I thought of in the offseason when McNabb said, "We need more weapons.'' (And he didn't get any, by the way, after the Eagles failed to pry Randy Moss from the Patriots in free-agency.)
This is the kind of day both receivers need to have to show Reid and McNabb they can be trusted in the third quarter at Dallas. Avant made a great one-handed catch on a nine-route, causing the crowd to oooooooh. He generally caught everything in sight.
Working against Sheldon Brown on a route near the near sideline, Baskett went up for a jump ball and outfought Brown, tumbling to the ground hard and hanging on. A terrific catch . And camp aide Harold Carmichael, the former star Eagle wideout standing nearby, got in Baskett's ear. "Great job!'' he said. "Way to play above the rim, big fella!'' Remember Carmichael, one of the original really big receivers? That's the league the Eagles need Baskett to play in.
Ate lunch at the usual sandwich place in town, Deja Brew, and had an interesting experience. The owner, Jeff, told me they'd make me a sandwich, and what did I like? Turkey, tomato, lettuce, oil and vinegar ... something like that. So here came the turkey sandwich, on Russian Rye, with an inventive grape-tomato and romaine salad on the side.
Perfect for me, because I don't exactly get a lot of roughage on the ol' training-camp trip. The topper, of course, was the peanut-butter ball for dessert. Jeff's mom makes these classic balls with a hint of chocolate, things that look like big marbles but are the perfect smallish cap to a great lunch.
I noticed that as a tribute to Eagles play-by-play man Merrill Reese, Jeff has invented a coffee concoction for the broiling days here -- a iced latte with coffee ice cubes, peanut butter and chocolate syrup and coffee. Unusual, but I polished it off in about three minutes.
"We had the Dalai Lama here on campus this year,'' Jeff told me, "and so we made a Dalai Latte in tribute to him. It was a chai drink. People loved it. And one day, we had some monks come in here to eat. They were big eaters. Imagine this -- one day the monks, and the next day Chuck Bednarik came in.''
• The Eagle hope rookie Trevor Laws, who looks a little smallish for the NFC East wars, can be the third DT in a rotation with Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson.
•Darren Howard is in the best shape of his life. He could be the missing defensive end Jim Johnson thought the Eagles bought from New Orleans two years ago. He's given them only six sacks in two years, so that's why they went out and got Clemons.
•DeSean Jackson, counted on to be a returner and deep-threat, third-down receiver, isn't doing himself any favors by staying out of practice. Reid said he needs to be practicing. But Jackson injured a hamstring at a June mini-camp in Philadelphia and re-tweaked it Sunday.
•Asante Samuel also has a hamstring strain. No one's very worried, but he walked off the practice field Tuesday morning with a slight limp.
• McNabb is happy. Seems carefree and his usual cutup self.