BETHLEHEM, Pa. I received a note the other day from an old NFL friend, a guy who has been around a long time and rarely gets excited. The message consisted of three words: The Eagleswow.
The feeling is out there in the media, around the league, around the water cooler, pretty much everywhere. The Eagles are the team everyone is talking about. They have rocked the entire league with a series of moves sure to make them a popular choice to win the NFC.
We heard club president Joe Banner and general manager Howie Roseman had an aggressive plan for acquiring players, but it is one thing to have a plan and another to work it as artfully as they did.
They traded Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and held out for a second-round draft pick, which the Cardinals finally agreed to include in the package. Arizona wanted to do the deal straight up player for player but the Eagles insisted on the draft pick. They kept squeezing the Cardinals until they got it.
Then one day after acquiring DRC, the Eagles stunned everyone by signing the big free-agent prize, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. This followed the signing of defensive end Jason Babin and preceded the signing of defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. In a matter of days, the Eagles dramatically changed the face of their defense.
On the other side of the ball, they signed Vince Young, who was the third overall pick in the draft not that long ago, as the backup to Michael Vick at quarterback. It was a wow kind of whirlwind that had expectations soaring and Banner actually cracking jokes with reporters at training camp.
Give the front office credit for a great week. Banner and Roseman werent just one step ahead of everyone else, they lapped the field. In terms of talent, the Eagles have jumped several rungs on the NFL ladder. But dont start making hotel reservations for the Super Bowl just yet.
I dont mean to get all Debbie Downer on you, but when I hear fans in the bleachers at training camp shouting, This is the year, I think it is time for everyone to take a deep breath.
On Monday, WIPs Angelo Cataldi asked if I would put the Eagles ahead of Green Bay or New England as Super Bowl contenders. I said no, which probably upset a lot of fans, but at the moment thats how I see it.
The Eagles, for all their new additions, still have some holes. Right tackle is a huge one with Winston Justice on the physically unable to perform list and King Dunlap now the starter entrusted with protecting Vicks blindside. Banner and Roseman have to slip into their Batman and Robin suits again and find a better tackle because a tag team of Justice and Dunlap wont cut it if this team is going to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl.
The Eagles also have major questions at linebacker and safety. Right now they are lining up with two seventh-round picks (Jamar Chaney and Moises Fokou) on the outside and a rookie (Casey Matthews) in the middle. They have three years of NFL experience among them. At safety, Nate Allen is still working his way back from an injury, Jaiquawn Jarrett is a rookie and Kurt Coleman is only in his second pro season.
First-round pick Danny Watkins is expected to start at guard, but he has lost valuable practice time and there is the uncertainty surrounding wide receivers DeSean Jackson (holdout) and Jeremy Maclin (illness). Some of this stuff will work itself out as these things typically do, but the regular season is just six weeks away and the clock is ticking.
That is the main reason I put the Packers and Patriots ahead of the Eagles. They are largely veteran teams stocked with players who know the system and know each other. They are better equipped to deal with this weird run-up to the season no OTAs, less time on the practice field at training camp than a team like the Eagles with so many new pieces to fit together.
The Eagles have brought in a lot of star power including new assistant coaches Jim Washburn and Howard Mudd as well as the player acquisitions but they have to put it all together in a hurry and thats not easy to do. I understand the buzz that surrounds the Eagles Young called it a Dream Team but they still have a lot of work to do.
Snapshots from Lehigh
Matthews was really impressive in Sundays morning practice. At the Scouting Combine, some personnel people questioned whether Matthews was big enough to play more than a special teams role in the NFL.
At Oregon, the 6-0 Matthews played around 230 pounds, which is small for an inside linebacker. But when he reported to Eagles camp, he was bigger by at least 10 pounds, maybe more. He was thicker through the arms and chest. He looked like a middle linebacker.
One thing no one ever questioned about Matthews was his football instinct and he has displayed that at Lehigh. He reads plays quickly and as a result takes great angles to the ball. He goes hard all the time, which was his trademark in college. There were times on Sunday when he was 30 yards downfield breaking up pass plays.
Im still not sure Matthews is ready to be a starting linebacker in the NFL, but it looks like he will fill that role eventually. This much is certain: Eagles fans will love him.
A sad note
Richard Harris, a defensive end with the Eagles from 1971 to 1973, died last week. He was assistant head coach and defensive line coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. The 63-year-old Harris collapsed and died in his office.
Harris was a first-round draft pick, fifth overall, after a stellar career at Grambling. Great things were expected of Harris, especially after he earned Most Valuable Player honors in the 1971 College All-Star Game. The 6-4, 270-pound Harris was outstanding in the game against the NFL Champion Baltimore Colts.
Ill never forget the day the Eagles drafted Harris. The scout who recommended him, a crusty old Southerner named Jess Thompson, told the Philadelphia media that Harris was agile, mobile and hostile. As it turned out, Harris was pretty agile for a big man, but he wasnt hostile at all.
In fact, that probably was Harris biggest weakness. He was a sweet-tempered guy who didnt have the temperament the pro coaches were looking for. I remember one Eagles coach saying, If only Harris had a mean streak, hed be an All-Pro. But he didnt.