Duce is wild, again
This is the 15th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his NFL training camp tour.
Wednesday, Aug. 15
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Site: Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., one of the nicest and most inviting campuses at which any NFL team trains. The campus itself is insanely hilly, but the old stone buildings and homey dormitories make it a must-stop for all you juniors looking into the East Coast/Mid-Atlantic 1200-and-higher-on-your-SATs schools with a wide array of majors. Trust me. I've been there. Recently. And it's just 87 miles from the Lincoln Tunnel.
Five observations from practice that you just can't get anywhere else:
1. Phil Simms stopped by practice the other day, moles tell me, and he was raving about the patterns runs by second-year wide receiver Todd Pinkston from Southern Miss. Simms is right. Pinkston, slated to start and play a huge role in taking the Eagles away from being a one-man (Donovan McNabb) team, is fluid and graceful, very fast, and at 6-foot-2, a good target for his needy quarterback. But as I said to Sports Illustrated correspondent and beat man extraordinaire Reuben Frank, "Have you ever seen skinnier legs?" Said Frank: "Maybe on Kate Moss." I mean, they look like a young colt's. Can he last 16 games?
2. Chic team. Sexy pick. Everyone loves the Eagles. A peek at the sidelines this morning shows SI (in the form of me), ESPN, the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, (Newark) Star Ledger, NFL Films and every local camera crew and beat guy.
3. In honor of Elias Sports Bureau's Alex Stern [see Saints postcard] here's a guy who the coaches love, but whom we haven't heard much about: Defensive end N.D. Kalu. You might know him from his nickel pass-rush days with the Redskins. Wednesday morning, in a full-contact drill, he knifed through the line from his DE slot and buried Duce Staley for a four-yard loss. Instinctive, physical (he's put on some weight) and very self-assured, Kalu should be a double-digit sacker for this team and make the Eagles forget Mike Mamula.
4. Weak depth at corner, tackle, running back and quarterback. And they won't beat the Giants unless Pinkston, James Thrash and Freddie Mitchell get off the jam at the line of scrimmage better than Charles Johnson and Torrance Small did against New York in three losses last year. That's why Andy Reid cut those guys.
5. One of the best plays on my camp tour: A diving interception by Steelers castoff Carlos Emmons, a 6-5, 250-pound linebacker, on a deflected pass. This Eagles defense is going to beat up on a lot of people, and to see such an athletic play by a guy who's not supposed to be athletic ... I mean, that's an impressive front seven.
Opinion/Factoid that might be interesting only to me: By noon Wednesday, Reid had already spent one hour and 45 minutes with the media or fans at camp.
The food: Best training-camp decision, by far, was listening to Frank and p.r. man Derek Boyko and tagging along for lunch at Déjà Brew Coffehouse and Deli at the corner of 4th and Vine in Bethlehem. It's an eclectic 11-table joint run by a Penn State-aholic with the best sandwiches on God's green earth. My menu:
Can't beat this meal, folks. And I topped it with a latte to go. Nice and heavily espressoed.
Dear NFL Junkie ...
All eyes, and quite a few helmets, were on Duce Staley this morning as the full-contact scrimmage began on the Lehigh University practice fields. Staley had a bizarre injury last year called the Lis-Franc sprain of the left foot. This injury is common with horsemen, when a rider gets thrown from a horse, catches a foot in a stirrup, and gets the foot yanked out of alignment. Never before has an NFL player come back from this injury. "Watch him today," Reid told me early this morning in his dormitory suite. "I am not holding him back in any way, not restricting him from any drill or any contact. I've been amazed how he's come back as strong as he has."
And so, on four of the first plays from scrimmage, McNabb either handed it to Staley (twice) or threw it to him (twice). Staley banged into big bodies and got right up. He made a great spin move in the open field ("DUCE! DUCE! DUCE!" the fans chanted) and faked a corner onto his back. And when he jogged back to the huddle after every play, there was no sign of him favoring anything.
After the practice, Staley and I sat on a low, wooden fence rail. He beamed. Absolutely beamed.
"I'm so grateful to have football back, especially after people told me I might never play again," he said. "But I'm going to be back strong."
"What hurts right now?" I asked. "Anything in your foot?"
He shook his head emphatically. "Nothing. Nothing at all. It's the greatest feeling in the world, being able to go out and play football like I did before the injury."
The foot, by the way, was not cut. From what I saw, the guy did one heck of a job. Now we'll see if Staley can be the missing link to the NFC's real up-and-coming team.
Next up: New York Jets