Training Camp Countdown: Five to watch

The long awaited beginning of 2003, following the Eagles defeat at home in the NFC championship is upon us. Training camp begins tonight with player meetings and two practice sessions on Saturday. With Training camp beginning, here at EaglesInsider, we'll show you five players to keep an eye on this pre-season. These players may not be very well known as of today, but could just possess a roster spot when all is said and done. One of these players is poised to prove himself in 2003.

Every year in NFL training camps across the country, there are certain players who seek to prove that they belong in the league, during these six weeks of torture. Ranging from scraggly old veterans to fresh young, rookies and rookie free agents, these players are everywhere. The Eagles are no exception, and buried beneath the plethora of talent on this team, there are guys just looking to take a shot in the dark at making the roster. Here are five players who we feel are most worthy of repetitions during workouts at Lehigh.

With the Eagles fairly unsettled at the defensive tackle spot, they have brought in some talented young players looking to add depth at the position. One guy who I feel could make the team is rookie free agent Sam Rayburn from Tulsa. In his college career he set a school record with 39.5 tackles for loss in 40 games, and he only started 28. He has some speed for being 6-3 303, and would fit very well on special teams, or deep in the tackle rotation. The only thing between Rayburn and a roster spot is the number of DT's already being carried by the team. With Corey Simon and Darwin Walker holding down starting roles and Hollis Thomas, Jeremy Slechta and Paul Grasmanis behind them, it is unlikely that the Eagles will carry six defensive tackles on the active roster. But if Thomas once again stuffers a freak injury, and Rayburn performs well, he could end up on the team. Worst case, I see this guy making the practice squad

Not only is the defensive tackle spot paper thin, but the Eagles only have two fullbacks on the roster going to camp. Everyone knows that Jon Ritchie is the starter here and will be an upgrade over Cecil Martin, but there is not much behind him. The Eagles did sign Kevin Clemens to a three-year contract this off-season and that is intriguing in it's own right. During the pre-season it will be interesting to see how Clemens is used, will he simply be a special teams specialist, or will he actually get some reps with the first team in practice. His only professional experience is in the Arena League and he was a defensive lineman in college. Whatever the case, look for Clemens to make the roster in some capacity in 2003.

Jamaal Green is the third player who we feel deserves some serious reps in practice. Drafted out of the University of Miami, he was teammates with Eagles first rounder Jerome McDougle. These two will become a formidable defensive end unit for years to come. If McDougle does indeed start the season, Green's chance to join him in the starting lineup may be a year or two away. But needless to say, Green is worth keeping an eye on this pre-season.

Last season's first round pick Lito Sheppard could barely get on the field because of numerous injuries and this year may be his chance to shine. His 18 interceptions combined in his junior and senior seasons show that Sheppard can play. With the uncertain outlook of Bobby Taylor's career as an Eagle, Sheppard is the perfect replacement for him. Taylor was thrown into the fire his rookie year, covering the likes of Michael Irvin and other standout receivers, and there's no reason to doubt that Sheppard could do the same. Look for him to get plenty of reps with the first team, and to be the Eagles starting nickel corner this season. Sheldon Brown will continue to develop with special teams, and a secondary of Brian Dawkins, Michael Lewis, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard may not be too far away.

The final player we feel will have an outstanding camp is quarterback Donovan McNabb. Before suffering a fractured fibula last season, McNabb was an MVP candidate, and will return to that form in 2003. With Billy McMullen signed and in camp on time, this will give these two a chance to gel. Todd Pinkston's continued development, along with Jon Ritchie being added will give McNabb some added weapons this year. Look for McNabb to be even harder to bring down this season, as he has added weight along with muscle to ensure a stellar 2003 campaign.

Well Eagles fans, it's here. Training camp has begun and September 8th is right around the corner. Along with the crop of veterans the Eagles have assembled this season, these little known players along with McNabb are all looking for one thing: A Super Bowl championship.


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