THE MOST important practice day of any NFL team's week is Thursday. The game plan is installed the day before. The day after is a lighter workout, reflecting proximity to the game. Thursday is the big workday, particularly for players trying to get back into the flow after missing time with an injury.
Right tackle Shawn Andrews walked around the Nova-Care field for part of practice yesterday, wearing a jersey but no pads, watching his teammates drill. Then Andrews slowly walked inside.
This was a few hours after the Eagles acknowledged they had worked out the previous right tackle, free agent Jon Runyan, yesterday morning. Runyan's agent, Ben Dogra, said there have been no contract talks with the team. An Eagles statement, attributed to Andy
Reid, said "the team wanted to see where Jon was physically in his rehabilitation" from microfracture knee surgery.
In a text reply to the Daily News, Runyan said he didn't find out Andrews wasn't practicing until after the workout, which he said went "real well." Dogra said Runyan is scheduled to work out for the Bills today.
Afterward, the Eagles provided no information on Andrews' situation, other than the fact that he didn't practice, which was pretty clear already, and a parenthetical note that the problem was his back, which is what kept Andrews from playing in any preseason games, or at all since Game 2 last season.
Reid took the long route in from practice, going around the north end of the NovaCare Complex to an off-limits area, avoiding a group of reporters waiting to speak with him. An Eagles spokesman said Reid didn't know whether Andrews would be able to practice today and/or play Sunday, in the season opener at Carolina.
You would think, if this were a trivial problem, the team would want to make that clear, to quell panic. But nobody seemed real eager to say much of anything. Feel free to speculate that Reid is extremely exasperated with Andrews and his back; a visit last month to Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed surgery last year on Andrews, seemed to clear up whatever was bothering Andrews, but he and the team gave very different accounts of the seriousness of what Watkins did and found.
Winston Justice, who spent the afternoon back at the first-team right tackle spot where he spent the entire preseason, walked briskly toward the closed locker room as reporters tried to question him.
"Yeah, I'm ready," said Justice, whose only previous start was quite memorable, Sept. 30, 2007, the night of the dozen sacks vs. the Giants at the Meadowlands. Asked whether he thinks he's starting, Justice said, "I'm not sure."
Asked about Runyan, Justice said: "I don't know, man. I'm just a worker here."
Then the other linemen Justice had been drilling with after practice shoved through the gaggle of reporters, sweeping Justice toward the locker room with them and ending the interview.
"I'm not sure" also was the answer from right guard Stacy Andrews, when asked what was up with his brother. Rich Moran, agent for both Andrews brothers, did not respond to a request for comment. Ditto Shawn Andrews.
In yesterday's Daily News, you might have noticed the quotes from two anonymous scouts from other teams, whom Paul Domowitch got to analyze the Birds' roster. One scout said: "I'm not sure they can count on [Shawn] Andrews. That's going to be a week-to-week thing wondering what's going to happen next with him or if he's going to be in the mood to play."
The other scout said: "Depthwise, Justice and [King] Dunlap are inadequate on the outside. If either has to play, this could turn into a house of cards."
So, here we are. Raise your hand out there if you have any faith whatsoever that Shawn Andrews will start Sunday at Carolina. Let's see . . . Thanks for your support there, Mr. Phelps. Anyone else? How about somebody who thinks that the Big Kid not only starts Sunday, he also finishes? No?
This is a really big, really bad mess. The offensive line already was trying to integrate two newcomers, Stacy Andrews and Jason Peters, who played very little in the preseason. And it had Nick Cole starting in place of left guard Todd Herremans (foot), who is still pushing one of those little foot-scooter things around, and isn't playing anytime soon.
There are good reasons not to sign Runyan until Monday. As a vested veteran, his entire season's base salary would be guaranteed if he was on the roster for the first game. That's a big commitment to a tackle who turns 36 in November, coming off microfracture surgery. But right now, you have to think bringing Big Jon back to the locker room as soon as possible would restore a little stability, give a little normalcy to a team that has lurched from crisis to crisis since it reported to Lehigh.
Before the Andrews/Runyan developments became public yesterday, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was asked whether he'd ever gone into a season with so many untested parts.
"Probably not quite as many," Mornhinweg said. Then he added: "We've been through many, many injuries over the past several years. The fellows have done just an excellent job of the next man stepping up and playing at a high level."
So, for the opener, against Julius Peppers and the Panthers, it looks as if we'll either witness the redemption of Winston Justice, or we'll see exactly what happens when almost nothing a team draws up in an extensive offensive-line rebuilding plan works as it was supposed to work, the entire preseason and into the season.
What was that word Donovan McNabb kept using Wednesday? Oh, yeah. "Exciting." *
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.