Contenders in Philly
McNabb, Eagles will be among NFC's elite
This is the 11th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King
will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Saturday, Aug. 3
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
In Bethlehem, Pa., at Lehigh University. Great setting for a camp -- classic old campusy feel -- but the one drawback is that you have to drive everywhere. Drive to eat, drive to meetings, drive (two miles)
to the practice fields. But Eagles fans have a great view of practices here, and they come in droves.
1. I think this was not Donovan McNabbís best day. He threw incomplete on
three of his first four throws in 7-on-7, including a wobbler way over Todd Pinkstonís head. "BOOOOOO!!!" said the crowd. But I will say this: No one
in Philly will be booing this man in December, when, in his fourth NFL
season, he will lead the Eagles to the brink of home-field advantage through
the NFC playoffs.
2. I think Freddy Mitchell does not impress me. Remember the famous
Freddie Milons, who was a big hero three years ago at Alabama? Heís having a
better camp. Mitchell ran the wrong route on the first play in a 7-on-7 this
3. I think this is my fun fact about Sean Landeta, who, at 40, is entering
his 18th season and kicking like heís 25: He has now played with three
Hasselbecks -- father Don, with the Giants in 1985, son Matt with Green Bay in
1998, and now son Tim, trying to make the Eagles. Tim, of course, is better
known as Mr. Elisabeth Filarsky of "Survivor" fame two seasons ago. Kicker
David Akers thinks Landeta might punt until heís 50.
4. I think Akers is the next great kicker in this league. Heís been an 85-percent kicker in his last two seasons, and, kicking in Philadelphia, that
equates to about a 90-percent rate in temperate climes. Against a 5-mph
breeze on a live play with a rush, Akers lined a 58-yarder up on the left hash and kicked
it through with 4 yards to spare.
5. I think defensive tackle Hollis Thomas willl miss the season with a
broken foot. Crushing blow to this team. Thomas is a space-eater who
lets Corey Simon be great because Thomas is such a tough guy to block
inside. The Eagles are being conservative about the injury, not saying how
long heíll miss, but this is the second time this foot has been broken,
leading them to think it wasnít completely healed from the first break. The
beneficiary of Thomasí injury might be an undrafted rookie from Nebraska,
relentless 285-pound Jeremy Slechta. Some reporter mangled his name after
practice to coach Andy Reid. It came out like "Schlichter." To which
Reid said: "Schlichterís in jail." Which, of course, Art is.
Rookie safety Michael Lewis, a second-rounder from Colorado. My ace
correspondent here, Reuben Frank, tells me, "What a hitter. I think he hits
people in meetings at night." Reid et al are so impressed with him that
they know they have to find a spot for him somewhere on defense, not just on
special teams. He might be a good torpedo in the dime.
In big-play capability on offense. The two leading wideouts last year,
James Thrash and Todd Pinkston, caught a combined 105 balls at 13.5 yards per. Marvin Harrison caught 109 at an average of 14.0 yards.
More production from the wides is a must.
Not saying the interest in his program is waning or anything, but
broadcaster Merrill Reese will do his Eaglesí radio show from the food court
at the Oxford Valley Mall this year.
Watching practice is fun, and funny.
This morning, Donovan McNabb threw about a 25-yard rainbow intended for
receiver Sean Morey, a free-agent vet from Brown by way of the Patriots, and
cornerback Al Harris leaped high to knock it away. He deflected it, all right, but Morey leaped even higher and made a beautiful fingertip catch. As I noted the play in my notebook, the
50-something fan behind me looked down his roster, found Moreyís name, and
exclaimed: "Wow! What a catch by SEEN Morey!"
A must-stop on my camp trip, particularly when the playersí training
table is closed to the media, is Deja Brew, just down the hill from campus in
Bethlehem. I met the owners, Jeff and Georgeann Vaclavik, and Jason Pribila, who were behind the counter in the relaxed 11-table place there for the lunch
crowd this afternoon. They did not disapppoint me.|
Appetizer: Italian pasta soup. Far too hot, but when it cooled, what a
gem it turned out to be. Served in a tomato broth, with ziti,
zucchini and red beans. This would be an A-plus on a windy, snowy day in
eastern Pennsylvania, searlingly hot and all. A-minus.
Sandwich: The Bednarik. Named after Chuck, who is a local. Roast
beef, peppered turkey, American cheese, sliced onion and spicy brown mustard
(which I subbed for the horseradish, because Iím not a horseradish guy) on
French bread. A truly great American sandwich. Great onion, terrific roast
beef. I would endure a blindside hit from Chuck for one more bite of a
Side dish: Hot-air onion rings. Sounds strange, but not oil-fried. Tasty,
and not bad for you. B.
Dessert: Peanut butter balls and peanut butter fudge. One of each. Wow.
One of the best little desserts of all time, and home-made by the in-laws. A
bit too soft because of the intense heat, but extremely tasty. B-plus.
Overall grade: I would drive a long way to eat here. A.
He said "SEEN."
Now, how do you get to be 52 years old, or whatever he is, and not know
how to pronounce "Sean"?
( Seen Morey Factoid: Seen has played in more NFL playoff games (3) than
regular-season games (2).)
( Son on Seen Morey Factoid: Seenís girlfriend is a professional hockey
player in a Canadian womenís league.)
The Eagles are basically a stand-pat group from last season. They lost
Jeremiah Trotter, of course, and that could be huge if Barry Gardner or the
weighty Levon Kirkland canít fill in adequately in the middle. But the loss
of Trotter might be counterbalanced by getting better in the secondary with
the three high picks, led by Lito "Shuffle" Sheppard. On offense, Duce
Staley and Dorsey Levens -- who looks very good here, as opposed to his final
fruitless months in Green Bay -- will handle the bulk of the running, with
rookie Brian Westbook adding the Warrick Dunn element Reid wanted and didnít
get when the Eagles failed to sign Dunn in free-agency.
Looks like a 12-win division champ to me.
Off the camp trail until next week. Look for a new Ďcard, from
New England, Aug. 13 or 14.
Check back soon for more of Peter King's Postcards from Camp. Or visit the archive to catch up.