The Cornerback Situation
After months of speculation and trade rumors, Sheppard reported to camp and, although he declined to talk to the media during the proceedings, there were no signs that the two-time Pro Bowler was so unhappy about his contract that he would not play for the team.
With new comer Asante Samuel taking over at left corner, there was speculation before last weekend that Sheppard or Sheldon Brown would have to accept a reduced role on defense to accommodate him, something neither player would be happy about. But Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson explained that this would not be the case and that all three corners could be key contributors.
"There are going to be times when all three of them are on the field," Johnson said. "There is no question about that. It might be 60 percent of the time, it might be 70 percent of the time. We are going to get out best football players on the field. It might not be just against three wideouts, you never know."
During the three days of practices, Johnson rotated Samuel, Sheppard, and Brown in different combinations with the first-team defense without incident. After the mandatory camp concluded, Sheppard avoided making any controversial comments and responded to the idea having three starting-caliber corners on the roster in a professional manner.
"That's not for me to worry about, man, I just play football," Sheppard said. "You're all out there for a common goal. You just want to work on one accord, get better, and make each other better."
He even managed to find some positives from Samuel taking over his spot from time-to-time.
"Whenever you get a chance to watch another good player at your position, you can learn somethings," Sheppard said. "I'm all about improving. With us watching each other, hey, you can only get better from that."
Kolb Ready to Move Up?
By selecting Kolb with the 36th overall pick two drafts ago, the Eagle's obviously had some big expectations for the former Houston standout. Determining whether he is the future of the franchise is still a ways off, but Kolb might be ready to take a first step by earning a role as the team's no.2 signal caller this off-season.
After spending his rookie year as the Eagle's third quarterback behind A.J. Feeley on the depth chart,Kolb was under center with the second-team offense during the mini-camp, and even ran with the first-team a few times.
"He's working hard, both mentally and physically," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said about Kolb. "He's continuing to impress and he's continued to get better in every phase and I would expect him to play well through these camps and into the preseason."
Even though he is pleased with the second-year quarterback's progress, Mornhinweg was not ready to name Donovan McNabb's back-up quite yet. During Sunday's practice where he was with the first-team offense, Kolb struggled a bit and threw two interceptions in 11-on-11 action. When asked if Kolb was going to move up the depth chart, Mornhinweg could not discredit Feeley, who filled in for McNabb a few times last season.
"We'll see," Morningweg said of the quarterback situation. "A.J.'s a veteran thats won games in this league and has done a nice job in many situations for us. So there's a pretty good competition going on there."
Competition on the Line
Outside of the cornerback position, look to the Eagle's offensive line to provide the most interesting competition for a starting role, specifically at the guard spot. While Shawn Andrews obviously has his spot on the right side locked down, Todd Herremans, who started at left guard the last two seasons, will have to prove he is the team's best option going into the 2008 season. Herremans is coming off of an inconsistent year where his play regressed, and reserve Max Jean-Gilles, a former 2006 fourth-round draft pick, caught the coaches attention with a few solid outings last year. Although head coach Andy Reid made it known that Herremans needed to improve, it didn't help that he had arthroscopic knee surgery mid-way through the year and still played every game.
"There isn't really any excuse for it, but after the bye week (when he had the surgery)I didn't feel like I did before," Herremans said about the drop off in his performance. "Who knows if it was a mental thing. It was my choice to come back, so I'm not going to say that was the reason, or anything, but I wasn't playing how I wanted to play, how I felt I should have been playing."
The 6-foot-3, 358-pound Jean-Gilles saw extensive action against Dallas and New Orleans late last season in place of Andrews, who injured his MCL, and he provided a great push in the running game while showing his lower-body strength and overall power.
"Max is a good player. I'm sure that's going to make me practice even harder," Herremans said when asked about the competition at guard. "It's anybody's game right now. I'm just out there working hard as I can every day, just to keep my job."
New Pieces Fitting Well
Two of the newest additions to the team are already looking like they could be regular contributors in the Eagle's offense.
Rookie DeSean Jackson and Lorenzo Booker, who was acquired from the Dolphins in a draft day trade, were both used in various ways throughout the mini-camp, and both players should add a great speed to the lineup.
Jackson handled punt return duties throughout camp and looks like he could be the answer at that position for the Eagles. He also saw some time at receiver and made some nice plays, especially on a deep throw from Feeley during Sunday's practice that went for a touchdown.
When asked what kind of role he sees himself this season, the former Cal star sounded like he was just itching to get on the field in anyway.
"I'm very comfortable and confident that I can produce and do great things for this team," Jackson said. "I want to do anything and everything possible to help this team. Anyway I can fit in, that's what I want to do."
While Booker's arrival in Philadelphia was a little more unexpected, it looks like he could also find ways to get on the field and produce. One way the coaching staff seemed to like using the former Florida State standout was coming out of the back field in motion before the snap and running routes more like a receiver. The basic idea seems to be that having Booker and Brian Westbrook on the field at the same time could create some serious mismatches for the defense, because both backs are very adept at catching the ball. Booker recorded 28 receptions last season in only seven games played, while Westbrook led the Eagles with 90 catches last year.
"Catching passes is definitely a strength of mine," Booker said at his first press conference after joining the team. "I love catching the ball as much as I love running with it. Again, I got a chance to play a lot towards the end of the year, particularly catching the ball at first and that was one of the things I excelled in. I wanted to line up a bit more in the slot to show I could do that. So, hopefully that is something I can get a chance to do in Philly."
Besides catching passes, Booker might also fit the bill as the Eagle's kick returner.
Andrew Pluta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org