It’s been a head-spinning few days since football returned, even before the first hitting of training camp. So here’s a mix of our reports and observations, abbreviated in one place. Think of it as an “Eagles Digest” – at least until we can find time to think of a better name.
-- Strike one: The Eagles first big move was the deal to bring in Jason Babin. There are obvious positives: his 12.5 sacks last year and familiarity with Jim Washburn in a shortened offseason. On Twitter, at least, the reaction from fans has been very positive. The Eagles clearly needed to upgrade their pass rush, Babin’s one of the best sack-men on the market and will cost much less than Ray Edwards.
Here’s the concern: before 2010 he had 17.5 sacks in six seasons. Edwards had 16.5 sacks the past two years and he’s only 26. Edwards was probably helped by playing with other defensive line stars (as many have pointed out). But he should still be rising, and if he’s for real, he could be a force now and for years to come. The Babin move makes a lot of sense. We’ll see if it was the best one.
-- DeSean drama: The Eagles most dynamic wide receiver wasn’t at camp today. It’s true that the Eagles have been hamstrung by cap rules in 2010 and the lockout in 2011 when it comes to giving DeSean Jackson a new deal that matches his value. But if you’re Jackson, this is the one time to make your point that he expects his contract to be taken seriously. Once he reports to camp, he has little leverage to force the Eagles hand.
Still, I wouldn’t worry just yet. For one thing, under the new CBA Jackson faces a $30,000 fine for every day he misses, as we reported last night. That’s a serious penalty for a guy making around $560,000 in base salary this season. Even more importantly, Jackson has to be in camp eventually to earn a year’s credit toward free agency. (In the NFL's original timeline, it was Aug. 9; ProFootballTalk reported that it was pushed back to Aug. 23 because of the delay in finalizing the new CBA; we're checking). The date is huge: this is Jackson’s fourth season and he needs all four years of credit to be unrestricted at the end of the year (or threaten to be unrestricted, thus making the Eagles pay market value).
Long term, this does have the potential to get ugly. With Santonio Holmes getting big money, the Eagles will have to decide how much they want to pay a player who is extraordinary at the most important thing in football – scoring touchdowns – but can be inconsistent and temperamental.
-- Are we there yet?: The Kolb for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie deal that seemed to be a lock still isn’t done. Expect it to happen soon. The Cardinals HAVE to find a quarterback. The Eagles HAVE to find a cornerback. The deal makes too much sense for both sides for it to fall apart.
-- Protecting Vick: Sounds like we may have a competition at right tackle. Andy Reid was non-committal Wednesday when asked about the position protecting Michael Vick’s blind side. He mentioned both Winston Justice and King Dunlap (Austin Howard still has improvement to make). Justice, when last we saw him, was being benched against the Packers. Dunlap made strides when he played last year. Could be interesting – I still wonder if the Eagles could look to the free agent market here. They haven’t said so, but they do love to surprise.
-- Center of attention: Jamaal Jackson will start at center, a move that you have to figure will help the offensive line. His experience and leadership in the middle of the line shouldn’t be underestimated. When we asked Reid about areas Michael Vick needs to improve, it was telling that while he mentioned blitz recognition (as expected), he also brought up center play.
“The obvious one is what we talked about, just making sure he and the center are on the same page with the blitz. It’s equal opportunity for both of them,” Reid said. “Making sure that they have communication there and that’s not Michael, that’s two guys working together and knowing each other. So that’ll probably be the number one thing.”
-- Subtle changes on D: Despite bringing in a new defensive coordinator, don’t expect a drastically different defensive scheme. Reid said Juan Castillo will make “subtle” changes, but that much of the defense will be familiar to Eagles veterans. That matches what Castillo has long said, but it didn’t stop speculation about a more drastic switch.
-- Safety First: Nate Allen says he’s 90 to 95 percent, which is important. He’s only started 13 games, but that’s more starts as an Eagle than any other safety on the roster. As he told us in the June, he’s expecting to have to be a leader, whenever he’s back on the field. (Sounds like it should be soon, even if it’s not right at the start of camp).
Marlin Jackson is the often forgotten veteran – especially since he has yet to play a game for the Eagles – but he said he feels great and is healed. We’ll see. If he can give the Eagles anything, it could be a pleasant surprise.
-- Haynesworth to the Patriots, Bush to the Dolphins. Big names linked to the Eagles never appeared to get close to Philly. I don’t think the Eagles will regret missing out on either.
OK, this was a lot longer than I expected. Still, you’ll be happy to know that your Inquirer reporters are already in mid-season form. Look in the background of this photo, and you’ll see an action shot of Jeff McLane. That’s training camp hustle.