BETHLEHEM --- It was a different sort of ending to a different sort of camp, the Eagles squishing through ankle-deep mud and slapping hands with a hardy contingent of fans who sat through a driving rain to watch the final practice of 2011 at Lehigh today.
The Birds arrived two days after the 136-day NFL lockout ended. They signed free agents during camp, installed systems that normally would have been installed in the spring, and adjusted to new postloockout rules limiting contact.
"A lot easier. Now that it's over, I can say that," wideout Riley Cooper said, when asked how this compared to his rookie training camp of 2010. Cooper was hoisting a case of purple Gatorade on his shoulder. Favorite flavor? Hoarding in the event of a shortage?
"They're free," he explained. "I got about three more in my truck."
The last week or so here was not Gatorade-intensive. Lots of days off, lots of mild temperatures and rain.
"It was definitely different, from the free agents not being able to practice (until Aug. 5), sitting out here and watching practice, the whole lockout-CBA thing ... I just concentrated on myself and what I needed to do," said Cooper, who got lots of first-team reps. Jeremy Maclin still hasn't practiced because of an illness, and DeSean Jackson held out until last week.
"It was unique, but it was demanding," said Eagles coach Andy Reid, who announced today that he intends to play his starters the entire first half in Thursday's preseason game at Pittsburgh. (Of course, last week Reid said the starters would play the first quarter against Baltimore. That ended up being one series for the offense, two for the defense.)
"When we were able to get the free agents out to practice, their work level was superior. I just thought the guys, they came out and they busted their tail. From a coach's standpoint, that's about all you can ask for. They busted their tail also in the classroom."
Reid said the day-early end to the Lehigh portion of camp was "a reward for the effort they put in."
"It wasn't an easy thing," Reid said. "They pushed themselves through it (tough practices Monday) when their minds and bodies were tired. And that's important. We have a lot of new faces here; good, hard, aggressive work has a tendency to bring people together. I think it checks all egos at the door and allows you to jell as a team. I thought this group did that."
Reid said that with Ryan Harris still sidelined by back spasms, and Winston Justice still rehabbing after knee surgery, King Dunlap will start at right tackle. When Harris arrived and looked smooth, Dunlap's days here seemed numbered, but this is a big opportunity against a tough defensive front.
Also not playing will be the other guys who haven't been practicing the last few days, which include defensive tackle Antonio Dixon (back spasms). Jamaal jackson will start at center, Reid said. He said he had no update on Maclin, though Maclin's family was supposed to update his condition todaw, with what Maclin's brother said would be good news.
Questioned further on why he couldn't say anything yet, Reid replied that the day wasn't over -- in other words, Reid just didn't want to talk about it during the news conference.