Postcard from camp: Eagles
At Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., where the Eagles have spent their summer training sessions since 1996. I know the trend in the NFL has firmly swung toward teams staying home for camp, but I can't imagine the Eagles abandoning their annual trek to Lehigh any time soon. It's a really nice fit between the club and the school, and the Eagles do a great job of making it an attractive little day trip for their fans, who faithfully flock here for the chance to get up close and personal with Team Green. Having just moved to the western suburbs of Philly earlier this year, a little more than an hour south of here, I know Lehigh is now on my yearly camp itinerary. Even if I do always get lost at least once winding my way up the hilly campus roads to the practice fields.
"I feel like I know the commitment level and see with clarity what has to be done,'' Vick told me after the morning walkthrough practice. "I know what I need to do to make myself a better football player. That's why I'm so excited. When you're confident and believe in what you can do and those around you, it gives you that feeling. I wish I would have felt this way last year at this time, but it just wasn't to be. I don't want to leave no stones unturned. I want to be able to retire some day saying I did everything I could to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish.''
"There's no panic with him, even when there's motion or shifting on offense,'' Reid said. "He gets everyone lined up, and gets those young guys around him settled down and ready to go.''
Ryans is a smart, savvy veteran and a great fit in the middle of a 4-3, and if he's even close to the same player he was from 2006-10 in Houston, the Eagles' quest to find a playmaker to quarterback their defense will have finally ended.
As far as who will back up the talented LeSean McCoy at running back, rookie seventh-round pick Bryce Brown seems to be ahead of Dion Lewis and others early in camp. There's always a chance a veteran like Cedric Benson or Ryan Grant might make the Eagles' radar screen at some point, but for now it's Brown, an intriguing talent who took a very strange route to the NFL.
He spent time at Tennessee and Kansas State in college, but played in just 13 games overall, with all of four carries for 16 yards since transferring from Tennessee when Lane Kiffin made his hasty departure for USC after the 2009 season. Brown is a solid 6-foot-0, 223 pounds, and he catches the ball well, can block and is versatile enough to line up almost anywhere in Marty Mornhinweg's offense.
Bell is pretty athletic for a guy who goes 6-5, 311, and well-respected offensive line coach Howard Mudd has seemed happy enough with his work so far. If Bell struggles to handle the job, the Eagles likely would turn to fifth-year veteran King Dunlap, the 6-9, 330-pound behemoth who started in place of the injured Peters once in 2011, and has opened seven games at tackle in the past two seasons. In a talented offensive lineup that seems poised for a bounce-back year, the pressure is on Bell to help keep the wheels of the machine rolling.
Bowles is a commanding figure as a coach, with a direct, to-the-point manner of communicating and a good feel for and rapport with his players. I think he'll be a head coach again in this league at some point fairly soon. Reid eagerly extended him a job offer after Bowles -- a Temple University product and native of Elizabeth, N.J. -- was not retained by Miami's new staff. Bowles knows his stuff, and he'll make a first-year impact in Philadelphia.
The Eagles have a quirky opener at Cleveland, but only because they will have played the Browns 16 days earlier in the same stadium in the dress rehearsal Week 3 of the preseason. Both teams will be shadow boxing through that one, even more so than usual in the preseason. But Philly in Week 2 starts a pretty demanding stretch in which it plays six 2011 playoff teams over seven games. Only a Week 3 trip to Arizona breaks up that tough run, which includes the home opener against Baltimore in Week 2, as well as home games against the Giants, Lions and Falcons, with trips to Pittsburgh and New Orleans mixed in.
Philadelphia might have slumped to a so-so 8-8 last season, but the TV networks still love putting Vick and Co. center stage. The Eagles will have at least five primetime games, with a pair of Monday night affairs, two more on Sunday nights (division showdowns in Week 4 at home against the Giants, and Week 13 at Dallas), and a Week 15 Thursday-nighter against the visiting Bengals. And let's start looking forward to the potential of a winner-takes-the-NFC-East showdown at the Giants in Week 17. The Eagles wouldn't mind if it comes to that. They've beaten the Super Bowl champs in seven of their past eight tussles, and haven't lost on the road in New York/New Jersey since 2007.