Birds Down from the Mountains; Samuel Starts

Lito Sheppard will be relegated to nickel back status for tomorrow's preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field. (David Maialetti / Daily News)

  The Eagles packed their SUVs and headed home    As the last few pieces of equipment were loaded into trucks Wednesday, Eagles coach Andy Reid told reporters he expects to play his starters the entire first half Thursday night, when the Birds face the Carolina Panthers in a preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field.

       Reid said corner Asante Samuel, who returned to workouts on Sunday from a hamstring injury, will start and will play the first half, if he experiences no further problems, with Sheldon Brown on the right side and Lito Sheppard playing nickel.

     The Eagles will be missing defensive end Chris Clemons (calf strain), defensive tackle Montae Reagor (knee), defensive end Victor Abiamiri (wrist), and left offensive tackle Tra Thomas (back spasms). Wideout Jamaal Jones is doubtful with a rib problem, and wideout Jason Avant is questionable with a hamstring spasmn, Reid said.

     Reid said left guard Todd Herremans will move into Thomas's left tackle spot for the Carolina game, with reserve guard Scott Young starting for Herremans. Max Jean-Gilles will continue to start for right guard Shawn Andrews, who reported to camp on Sunday after battling depression.

    "He looks like he's in good shape," Reid said of Andrews. "We put him through some things here, the last couple of days, and it looks like he's in pretty good shape ... I think he's handled the last few days very well."

   Reid said the team wants to set up a support system for Andrews in Philadelphia.

       Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, whose townhome at the Reserve at Packer Estates in South Philadelphia was burglarized while he was at camp, strode past reporters without comment. Bunkley was locked in conversation with his Reserve neighbor, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg..

      "He's fine," Reid said of Bunkley. "It shook him up a little bit, obviously. He's doing OK."

      Rookies reported to Lehigh July 21, veterans July 24. Training camp resumes, minus the public, on Saturday at the NovaCare complex.

   Reid said the reaction of the crowds at Lehigh "tells you how important this thing is to the people of Philadelphia."

   The Eagles will hold camp at Lehigh again next year, a team spokesman said, as they have since 1996.