BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Andy Reid officially opened Eagles training camp late Wednesday afternoon with a state-of-the-nothing address during which he was eager to candidly discuss everything but free-agent signings, possible trades, and contract issues. Otherwise, it was Katy bar the door.
He revealed that he was "fired up and ready to get after it," although, with practice sessions set to begin Thursday and with the first exhibition game just two weeks away, it's hard to determine which players will be around to get after it with him.
So begins Reid's 13th year as head coach, a 2011 season that has endured a stuttering then sudden start, with all the rules of engagement jumbled and the comforting sameness of the training camp schedule thrown into hurried disarray.
In a truncated run-up to the regular season, without the carryover benefit of minicamps and OTAs, there will be fewer real practices, less time in pads, and more reward for the teams that choose the right players and coach them better. New rules concerning player safety - how often they can be worked and how hard - have made the coaching job tougher. Somewhere, Dick Vermeil weeps.
"Change is hard for everybody," Reid said. "But we've prepared for it, and it is what it is. I'm more progressive than that. This situation was given to me to solve, and I think we've got a pretty good plan."
If you want a good test of Reid's organizational abilities, this is going to be a case study in that. History tells us that he is a meticulous preparer. Where he has failed - if he has failed - is in those frantic 30 seconds between plays on Sunday. But if you want a three-ring binder full of plans, Reid is your man.
The problem right now is that there are so many moving parts that something is bound to get caught in the gears. It appears that quarterback Kevin Kolb will indeed be traded, probably by the close of business on Thursday. It appears that DeSean Jackson will indeed be a holdout from camp, but whether that is only a brief issue is unknown. It appears that the Eagles will not re-sign any of their free agents - including Stewart Bradley, Sav Rocca, and Dimitri Patterson - unless one or more of them is unwanted around the league and they can steal them back for a pittance. It appears certain that the Eagles will acquire a cornerback and defensive line help in the next few days, but who and how are both mysteries. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Arizona is a good guess at the cornerback spot, but it is still just a guess.
Meanwhile, while all that fat is slowly dripping into the fire, other teams are also out there scouring the free-agent market, making trades, and moving at warp speed toward the season. If the Eagles trade Kolb, what will their options be for finding a legitimate backup quarterback? Who will be left in a market that everyone says is getting very thin?
Combine that with a roster situation in which the team is still iffy on the offensive line, the defensive line, the linebackers, and the safeties - and will probably have a new kicker and a new punter - and, well, it's a lot to get done. Fortunately, Reid has had time to get the section dividers where they belong in the three-ring binder.
"When the gun fired, we were able to come out of the blocks, and fast, and do our communicating," Reid said. "We kind of knew the direction we wanted to do, and we'll just kind of see how things work out as it goes. We tried to think through all the scenarios, and we'll see how it all works out with time."
The first three days of camp will have a walk-through in the morning, then helmets but no pads in the afternoon. It won't be until Sunday that the first hit takes place, so it isn't as if the players who haven't arrived yet, haven't signed yet, haven't been traded for yet, will be missing that much real work. And it won't be until sometime during the weekend that the real nature of the roster begins to take shape.
Until then, there is only the sense that this is a training camp unlike any that has come before. No one knows how it will affect the preparation for the season, regardless of how well the restart was planned. Right now, there are 32 teams that think they have good plans.
"Listen, the rules are the rules. You'd like to have them all here today, but you've got to be a little flexible," Reid said. "I just want to get a feel for what's there, and then I'll take it from there. I know we've got good players."
He also knows that some of them won't be in camp Thursday and some of them will be in some other camp by Friday. He knows that some of them haven't signed with any team yet, let alone the Eagles.
What he knows most of all is that the regular season begins in St. Louis in about six weeks. By then, the plan better not just sound good.
Contact columnist Bob Ford