Philadelphia Eagles' fans are well-known for their high level of football intellgence.
Bird fanatic Mike Lederer is no exception.
Lederer is an Eagles fan who has attended nearly every training camp practice to date. You can find all of his daily reviews on the official Philadelphia Eagles messageboard under the name "Sixerboy3". There, he offers fantastic and detailed insight on the highlights, lowlights, and player performances of the daily practices. It seems nothing gets by this guy. In fact, if you ask him nicely, he may even be able to tell you what Andy Reid had for lunch each and every camp day. ESPN's John Clayton couldn't even do that.
Alright, enough hyping up the man.
Because I loved his insights so much, I requested that he answer some questions of mine, that I feel most fans would like to know.
Question 1: Overall, what is the level of intensity at Eagles Training Camp? Has the losses of Jim Johnson, Stewart Bradley, and Juqua Parker made a difference in the excitement as of recently?
Mike: I feel that the level of intensity at training camp has been high this year. Andy Reid runs a very tight camp and it is amazing to see the difference in the details with Reid at the helm compared to coaches around the league. You don’t see the ball on the ground constantly and players having to redo mistakes.
I think there has been a lot of adversity with this camp. The tragic loss of Jim Johnson started camp off on a very low note. Sean McDermott has the difficult task of taking over for Johnson and I feel that he has done a good job instructing the players and keeping that aggressive attitude that Philly fans have gotten used to seeing over the past decade. Of course, the big test for McDermott will be when he actually has to call the plays in a real game.
The loss of Stewart Bradley leaves a major void on the defensive side of the football. Joe Mays and Omar Gaither will be counted on to step into the middle and not just perform, but excel. Mays is a hard-hitting LB who will remind a lot of fans of a smaller Jeremiah Trotter. He has an uphill battle ahead of him but Mays can certainly lay the wood. From what I have seen over the past few days, Mays is very good in run defense and bringing pressure up the middle. However, he struggles running sideline to sideline and could be vunerable in pass coverage. Most Eagles fans know what Omar Gaither can do at MLB after watching him play there for the 2007 season. Gaither has been playing alongside Akeem Jordan at LB with the 1st team in their nickel package. I believe the coaches will take a long look at Joe Mays during the preseason and they will give the 2nd year LB out of North Dakota State every opportunity to win the MLB. There is no doubt however that the loss of a 3 down LB in Stewart Bradley is a big blow to the Eagles defense for the 2009 season.
The Juqua Parker incident will be an interesting storyline to follow throughout the rest of training camp. I will say that Tuesday afternoons practice (10-10-10) was the worst practice I have seen at Lehigh this year. With the injury to Victor Abiamiri and Chris Clemens being a pure pash rusher, I don’t feel Parker’s job is in jeopardy. But his arrest has definitely created another negative storyline at Lehigh.
Question 2: Name three players who have been "lights out" during training camp thus far.
Mike: Eagles fans will be happy to hear this. Desean Jackson has been the best player on the field at training camp. He is just blowing by defenders on the field and catching everything thrown in his direction. Desean has been matched up 1 on 1 throughout camp with Asante Samuel. It is great to watch two elite players go back and forth and push each other to improve. Some worry about a sophomore slump for the 2nd year player out of Cal, but from his performance at Lehigh, it looks like Jackson is poised to break out in a big way in 2009.
Rookie RB Lesean McCoy has not only been the best rookie on the field (no disrespect to Cornelius Ingram fans), but McCoy has been one of the best players on the field. Period. Often knocked for his blocking ability coming out of Pittsburgh, McCoy has shown that he is a more than adequate blocker. In one on one drills against LBs and DBs during the August 5th practice, McCoy had no problems at all picking up the blitz and taking hard blocks to the likes of Quintin Demps and Joe Mays. His running has also been outstanding. McCoy has shown a strong grasp of the offense and runs hard, fast, crisp routes. He also has only dropped one pass out of the backfield through the week that I have been here. Lesean is running exclusively with the 1st team offense and seems to be putting himself in a position to make a major impact in his rookie campaign.
Donovan McNabb has to be my 3rd choice for a player who is playing lights out during training camp. Everybody knows the story with McNabb and the fact that the Eagles have a two year window to win the Super Bowl. While McNabb isn’t talking a lot, he is certainly letting his play do the talking. He still has the occasional throw in the dirt or bad read, but I have been very impressed with his accuracy during training camp. I also have to commend him for being in great shape. Donovan looks like he slimmed down in the offseason and looks to be in outstanding physical condition. Donovan also seems very relaxed during practice and looks like he is ready for another deep run.
Question 3: Name three players who have not been performing well during training camp thus far.
Mike: Speaking of QBs, Kevin Kolb has been incredibly disappointing during training camp. And this is coming from a Kevin Kolb believer. Kolb throws a great practice ball. When it is 1 on 1 drills, he hits receivers right on the money. However, once practice goes live, Kolb continues to struggle. He holds the ball way too long and many of his passes are underthrown. He also seems incredibly tentative to throw the ball down field. When he has taken chances, he has thrown a lot of interceptions. I will give Kolb the benefit of the doubt to an extent. It’s tough being the QB for the 2nd team going up against the 1st team defense. There is constant pressure in the backfield.
The offensive line. While it’s not a single player, the play of the offensive line has been very poor this camp. While Jason Peters, Shawn Andrews, and Stacey Andrews have missed almost all of camp due to injury, the rest of the offensive line has not stepped up. With preseason just a week away, it is a major concern of mine moving forward. I do not have faith in guys like Winston Justice and Max Jean Gilles to be starting offensive lineman on a Super Bowl contending team. It is imperative for the offensive line to get healthy and get used to working together or the team is going to struggle in the early portion of the season.
Rookie TE Eugene Bright has not been impressive during camp. It might seem like a minor position (3rd TE), but there was a good amount of talk about Bright having a chance to make the roster. He has dropped a lot of passes and his blocking seems subpar. For all of you Matt Schobel fans, it looks like his job is safe at this point.
Question 4: Provide a brief insight at the following players and their training camp performances:
Sean Jones is a ball hawk. I have seen him intercept 3-4 passes over the past few days. Jones has been lining up as the 2nd team SS with Rashad Baker playing FS. He has done an adequate job covering TEs over the middle. It will be interesting to see how Jones progresses through the preseason.
While the Eagles media department is saying that Justice has taken big strides in his development, I do not see it. I still see a lot of pressure coming off the right side when he is with the first unit. I could still be clouded by his performance against the Giants from 2007, but I would be very surprised to see Justice on the field for the Eagles in 2009.
Mays is one of the key players to watch in training camp due to the season ending injury to Stewart Bradley. He is going to get every opportunity to win the starting MLB job. As I touched on earlier, Mays is a hard hitting LB that plays very well against the run. Over the past couple of days, you can see Mays gaining confidence playing with the first team. He still struggles a bit in pass coverage but has time to improve before the season starts. One thing I really like about Mays is that he is really decisive. When he commits to a gap, he goes all out trying to blow up the spot. Mays might not always succeed but he’s going to give you his best. He will remind many fans of an undersized Jeremiah Trotter in the way he tries to blow up blockers.
The 3rd round pick from 2008 has had a quiet training camp. He has made plays throughout practice but doesn’t stand out as much as I want him too. Smith looks like he has bulked up a bit from his rookie campaign. He is incredibly fast off the edge and was promoted to 2nd team LDE on Tuesday. His play in preseason will tell a lot about how Smith can contribute in 2009.
The mystery man. There has been a ton of hype around Ikegwuonu since he was drafted in the 4th round last year. Jack looks very fluid out on the field. He is not wearing a brace on his surgically repaired knee. He is smooth out of his cuts and plays physical at the line. However, I have seen Ikegwuonu beat way too many times this camp. It seems Desean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, and recently Jeremy Maclin have beaten him deep on multiple occasions. I see him as nothing more than a #5 corner this season.
The rookie FB out of Weber State hasn’t impressed much at training camp. Leonard Weaver has the starting FB spot wrapped up but Mailei has not much to keep his name is the discussion for a roster spot. He has struggled blocking bigger blitzing LBs and DL that get through the hole. Maybe a practice squad player but nothing more.
Question 5: Name a rookie who has impressed you the most so far. (EXCLUDING: Maclin, McCoy, Ingram)
Mike: (You’re making me exclude the 3 best!) I would have to say that LB Moise Fokou has had a very good camp at the LB position. Fokou had a great practice on Thursday morning and was consistently in the backfield making plays. He also is very strong sideline to sideline. I think Fokou can be an impact player on special teams in his rookie season. Plus, the people in Philadelphia will love his name!
Question 6: Based on this year's training camp, give us a wacky prediction of anything or anyone in regards to the regular season.
Mike: I am normally pretty conservative in my predictions, but I will say that Desean Jackson is named to his first pro bowl in 2009. The kid just looks like he is ready to take that next step and be mentioned alongside other great #1 WRs in the NFL.
Question 7. Open forum: Say anything you would like to the Eagle faithful, in regards to this year's training camp.
Mike: While there have been several brightspots at camp, it is important to have realistic expectations for this team. There are still several question marks on the offensive line and the loss of Stewart Bradley is a big blow to the defense. If the team is able to get healthy and stay healthy, I see them being right in the mix to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The season is just a month away. Get ready for a very exciting 2009 season!
There ya go, men.
I will try again to contact Mike sometime in the near future, to get an update on future training camp reports.