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Bird watching in Eagles camp

By Carlos "Big C" Holmes
Cox News Service

Things started out on a good note in Eagles camp.

Upon my arrival as I was checking into my hotel room at the Comfort Suites in Bethlehem, who walks in? None other than Philadelphia Eagles star QB Donovan McNabb. Donovan performs just as well off the field as he does on the field. Even with fans so demanding of his time asking for autographs as he was checking in, he remained poised and accessible, keeping the same charming, boyish smile on his face the whole time and turned no one away.

I had the privilege of chatting with him for a moment during this time and he was definitely warm and approachable. Two words can best describe this guy: Class act.

McNabb on the field

During passing drills, McNabb wasted no time showing why he is considered one of the top quarterbacks in the league. During 11-on-11 drills, McNabb hit the receivers in stride as they ran their routes.

On one play, he hooked up with rookie WR Hank Baskett for an AT&T long-distance connection. McNabb showed a little more pop in his throws, causing a few of his receivers to have some trouble hanging on to the ball.

McNabb showed off his passing skills when he threw a dart on a deep out pattern to WR Reggie Brown, who did a nice Bo Jangles tap dance along the sideline to stay in bounds. McNabb came right back with a graceful fade pass to Baskett to keep the chains moving.

McNabb had the offense clicking on all cylinders and had the defense all shook up like Elvis when he pulled a little trickeration on a flea flicker and hooked up with WR Greg Lewis who was streaking down the middle of the field for a long touchdown bomb.

His performance during my time in camp was nearly flawless. Simply put, McNabb was straight butta'.

Receivers talented

The Eagles receiving corps has been criticized by some as being just mere average receivers. I beg to differ.

Although none of their receivers really separated themselves from the bunch, there is no question that they do possess talent. As a unit they made a number of outstanding plays.

One of the young receivers that the team and McNabb are high on is Baskett.

"I just enjoy his work ethic," McNabb said. "And that's not to take anything away from the rest of the guys because everyone kind of has an idea of what Reggie can offer.

"Everyone knows what (WR) Greg (Lewis) can do, they're seeing what Jabar can do. The list goes on, (WR) Todd (Pinkston) and those guys. But, for a guy that wasn't drafted and was involved in a trade, you don't know much about him.

"I've seen the guy before the draft ever happened when we brought guys in to the facility. I got a chance to talk to him and then I haven't seen him until the trade happened. So, what he's showing right now is an aggressiveness to the ball, runs great routes and he's effective after the catch."

Brown bigger, quicker

However, the one guy that really caught my eye was second-year wide receiver Reggie Brown. Brown looked a little bigger and a little quicker than he did when I saw him last year in camp as a rookie.

He made a number of outstanding plays, including a nice diving catch in front of Eagles top CB Lito Shepard. He showed good route-running ability, hands and above-average speed. He reminds me of a more buff Chad Johnson.

With that said, for all you fantasy geeks out there, when you go looking for a wide receiver in the late rounds, if you see Brown still hanging around you may want to Mc-nab him.

Plenty of running

Even with all the changes on offense with T.O. off to Dallas and former offensive coordinator Brad Childress leaving for the head coaching position with the Minnesota Vikings, the Eagles philosophy on offense remains the same under new offensive coordinator Marty Morningwig.

This is still an Andy Reid West Coast offense, however, you may see some changes in the play calling because the Eagles' top priority on offense will be to "run, Forrest, run."

On to the defense...

Early predictions by the experts have the Eagles finishing last in their division behind the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants. And we haven't played one down of football, can you believe it?

Well, believe me when I tell you that the guys on the Eagles defense have definitely taken notice of these predictions and are chomping at the bit to prove these so-called experts wrong.

Folks, I'm here to tell you that these guys take their defense seriously. There was some ferocious hitting going on during my stay in camp.

I watched one play when RB Brian Westbrook caught a little swing pass out of the backfield only to be steamrolled by LB Mark Simoneau, who read the play and cleaned him up pretty good. On another play, I watched RB Bruce Perry break through the line, only to be knocked silly by Lito Shepard.

Bruce lay on the field for several minutes, starched.

Whole lot of hitting

There was no doubt there was a lot of hitting going on and veteran free safety Brian Dawkins agreed with teammate SS Michael Lewis on the subject. Dawkins said, "I've been here for a (while) now. Even under Andy Reid, and we've put it down as far as hitting goes. I think, in the last couple years because we've been going so deep into the playoffs he's kind of eased back on some of the contact because we've been going so deep. Last year we did not go at all to the playoffs so that's why we are back out here putting the hammer down."

Opponents beware! The Eagles are not going to roll over.

Strong pass rush

The Eagles now have a pair of outstanding bookend pass rushers in Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard, who came over from the New Orleans Saints. Both guys wreaked havoc during camp and will be looking to translate that type of play over to Sundays.

The Eagles have built some depth at the end position behind Kearse and Howard with DE Jerome McDougle returning and second-year LB/DE Trent Cole.

The organization believes that it has found a gem in Cole, who was dominating playing with the second unit. He's very disruptive and showed great sideline-to-sideline pursuit.

It's been said that although Cole was drafted in the fifth round, he's been playing like first-round talent.

Here's what Dawkins had to say about Cole's speed: "You saw that last year in him. He had to get in there and to play all the snaps he played, all those guys actually that had to come in and play all those snaps on dead legs.

"I can remember as a rookie starting halfway through the season it's like your stepping in mud. I'm pretty sure those guys felt that same way. And, on top of that, learning a defensive scheme as complicated as Jim's, it was tough.

"But, at the same time, you saw game in and game out he was making plays, being disruptive in the backfield (and) getting pressure on the quarterbacks.

"Another year under his belt, he picked up some weight, so he got stronger in that area. With that rotation, once again, you talk about that speed so he's not going to be asked to play all those reps so when he steps on that field those are fresh, fast legs to go against fatigued legs of a tackle because he's already going against (DE Darren) Howard or (DE Jevon) Kearse on the end. So, that's a wicked rotation."


While on my camping trips I often get e-mails from friends, family and fans (yes, I do have a few) asking about interesting things I may have seen while on my journey.

My first day on the road I received an e-mail from my friend, Melisa Weiss. Melisa wrote: "Hey Big C, hope you enjoy being around large, sweaty men all day."

No, Melisa, I can't say that I enjoy being around large, sweaty men, but I did see a 400-pound man in a thong in the sauna at the hotel where I was staying. The guy stood out like a bad perm. How does that grab you for large and sweaty, Mo-Lissa? Sorry, I didn't get you any pictures.

Check back for more of my training camp coverage as I fly off to Ravens camp.