Commentary

Injuries, tragedy haven't slowed Eagles

Originally Published: August 11, 2009
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles haven't played a game yet and already the Super Bowl optimism at the outset of training camp has been substituted with a gloom-and-doom forecast from various outlets.

The grim news just hasn't reached Reid yet.

"Injuries happen, but that's why you build an organization and build a roster," Reid said. "But there's nothing that has happened that has really discouraged me, even though you hate to have season-ending injuries. I feel pretty good about our team."

That doesn't mean Reid is insensitive to the tragic loss of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, whose initials were painted boldly in black and white on a small hill at the edge of the practice field at Lehigh University.

"Jim's gone, but he isn't gone," said Reid. "He really touched everybody in the organization. It was an amazing deal. I mean, [a defensive coordinator] touched everything in this organization, from marketing to accounting. From a coaching standpoint, I think we all strive to be like Jim Johnson because he was a great coach on the field and handled things so well off the field, from a being a father, a husband and as a friend."

Reid added, "I never met a person who didn't like Jim Johnson. Now he was tough on players and you could find players who didn't necessarily like Jim Johnson. But they respected him and that's what counts with players." For all the injury talk in the Eagles' camp, the biggest question is whether 35-year-old Sean McDermott can fill the large shoes of Johnson, especially when it's game day and McDermott has just 20 to 30 seconds to make a critical defensive call.

"You're right, you don't know until you through it, but I anticipate [McDermott] being top notch. He's coached a couple of different positions, secondary and linebackers," Reid said. "He's been here for 10 years under Jim Johnson. He's a sharp, sharp kid -- a William & Mary grad -- and he's [an] intense, intense competitor.

"And McDermott's got red hair, so know he's got something else going for him."

Reid, who is known as "Big Red" around the Eagles' organization, refuses to apologize for maintaining his rigid, physical camp approach, regardless of season-ending injuries to linebacker Stewart Bradley and rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram.

"I believe blocking and tackling is still involved in this game and until they change it, you gotta practice a certain way [in training camp]," said Reid. "We practice blocking and tackling, so we have live [hitting] team periods and if you do it the right way, don't take cheap shots on each other, it works. We've had injuries this year, but the crazy part about it is, they weren't in live periods. You get some bumps and bruises but normally they don't get hurt because they're going after it pretty good."

Here's what else I learned at Eagles camp, the 11th stop on my training camp bus tour:

  • On the free agency loss of safety Brian Dawkins, Reid said: "Do you measure leadership? Dawk [is] one of my all-time favorite players, and I'll always see Dawk as an Eagle even when we play the Broncos later this year. He'll do a heck of a job in Denver, but the other guys [Quintin Mikell and Quintin Demps] are going to step up here and that's how it works in this league. You see some personality in them you may not have seen with Dawk here. The other guys will step up to the plate and let their personalities show now."

  • Reid said RB Brian Westbrook is champing at the bit to get back out on the field after two offseason surgeries. "He's been working like crazy, but the next step is the doctor has to clear him to get on the field," the coach said. "Then it's important to ease him into the football part, but you can't just throw him out there."

  • Most improved player in camp? It's wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who had a pretty good rookie season in 2008.

    "It's night and day for me," said Jackson.

    Explained Reid: "He's ready to take the next big step. Last year, he could run routes versus air and make some plays on raw ability, but there are adjustments you make in this offense. Until you've seen all the things these crazy defensive coordinators throw at you, there's a big transition. So he's seeing what it's all about now and he's ready."

  • On the flip side, rookie wideout Jeremy Maclin signed late and has "hit a wall," said Reid, but Donovan McNabb found him running wide open down a seam for a 40-plus-yard touchdown pass during Tuesday's practice.

  • Reid is relishing the team's first preseason game against the Patriots on Thursday night.

    "We have played them every preseason since I've been here," he said. "Bill Belichick and I are good friends and we like to get after each other, even in preseason, whether it's ones vs. ones, twos vs. twos or threes vs. threes. I think I'm one up on Bill in the preseason series. Unfortunately, he's got three [Super Bowl] trophies on me."

  • As for the Eagles' expecting to be the first team Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has seen since his knee injury in Week 1 last season, Reid said: "It will be good to see Tom Brady out there. He means a lot to that team and to the league. He's good for the game."
  • Reid always has believed the key to his team are the offensive and defensive lines. The O-line has gotten younger with the addition of Jason Peters at left tackle. The team does expect the talented Shawn Andrews to return after some disappointing back pain sidelined him at the start of camp.

    "Nothing works well if both lines aren't working well," Reid said.

  • Do not expect right tackle Jon Runyan to make it back to the Eagles, as has been speculated in some circles. Reid believes the light has come on for Winston Justice: "He's taken his game to another level. Now I'm excited to see what he can do when he plays another team like the Patriots on Thursday."

    Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.