Rich Hofmann: Opening day of Eagles camp holds its usual promise

YONG KIM / Staff photographer
YONG KIM / Staff photographer
Posted: July 28, 2010

BETHLEHEM - It is just past 8 a.m.; another year, another training camp. A few Eagles support people are on the fields, making sure things are ready for the first practice. New starting quarterback Kevin Kolb is in civilian clothes, doing a live television interview. The bright sun has not yet evaporated the dew in the grass.

Stretching does not begin for about 15 minutes, practice not for another 45. One player is dressed and ready, kneeling on the goal line of the nearest field. Free-agent safety Ryan Hamilton, an undrafted rookie from Vanderbilt, seems just to be taking it all in, alone.

It can be a brutal business, this NFL thing. Hamilton, out of Council Rock North High School, already has been released this spring by the New Orleans Saints. Now he has hooked on with his hometown team, but without the pedigree or sponsorship that a draft choice receives. The length of the road is plain.

It is the first day, though, and the fields are pristine, and so are the dreams.

"When I came out there, I was just making sure I had my mind ready," Hamilton says. "I wanted to be focused. I wanted to get a good stretch in. I'd rather be out here than sit in the locker room.

"I don't sit in the coaches' meetings so I don't really know what my chances are. But it's in my control. I don't want to give them a choice.

"Being a local guy, I know I have a lot of people pulling for me already. But, you know, it is what it is. As an undrafted guy, sometimes you have to make more plays. That's just how it goes. You have to realize where you stand. You have to realize what it takes."

They begin to straggle out of the fieldhouse in twos and threes. A couple look determined. A couple of others jog out with goofy smiles on their faces.

Fifty or so fans are in the stands by now. When wide receiver Jordan Norwood emerges, a half-dozen guys bellow out, "We are . . . Penn State."

About 10 minutes later, when it is Michael Vick who is arriving at the fields, there is no reaction except for one man. He yells, "Hundred-million-dollar quarterback coming your way. Hundred-million-dollar quarterback. Oh, yeah." Vick just runs along for a few seconds with his head down, then half-turns and acknowledges the man from 70 yards away with a look and a raised, waved fist.

A couple of minutes earlier, Kolb and rookie Mike Kafka ran onto the field together.

"Welcome back to Lehigh, Kev," one man shouts, but that's it. Not much really needs to be said. Everybody knows whom everybody has come to watch.

"Since I was a kid, my dad always taught me, 'All eyes are on you, so just live every day like that. Do what you would do in front of everybody,' '' Kolb says, after a nice morning practice. "That's the way I've always lived. That's why it doesn't affect me."

Kolb endures the postpractice questioning without sitting behind a podium, as Donovan McNabb used to do. It is more informal, at least for now. He says that McNabb texted him a good-luck message to start camp, revealing a relationship that remains intact despite the circumstances.

"[Today] was a little bit different but not too much," Kolb says. "I just try to block out a lot of those things and just focus on the game, on practice, on one rep at a time. If I do that, I'll know everything . . .

"My first camp was more a sense of the unknown. I know where I'm going now. I know how everything happens. So now I can just focus in and build with the team and get that continuity and keep working."

He seems to mix easily with teammates and to understand his role - taking time, for instance, to seek out and congratulate rookie tight end Clay Harbor about something after a drill. It is a little thing, but you can see Harbor appreciates it.

"I feel comfortable," Kolb says. "I feel like I've been here for 10 years."

Inside the interview tent after practice, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is saying what coaches always say at this time of year - that he can only coach the players who are in camp, that people with contract problems (first-round defensive end Brandon Graham) are falling behind, that time waits for no one. Same as it ever was.

Outside the tent, seventh-round safety Kurt Coleman - who got extra reps because second-round safety Nate Allen didn't sign until last night, and who impressed - is saying, "Every time I get out there, I feel more and more comfortable . . . I felt pretty good."

The sun is hot at this point. Lunch and maybe a nap await, followed by another practice. The truths of summer will not be told for days yet, maybe weeks. Between now and then, for these Eagles players, there is the natural optimism that each of them brandishes like a shield against all doubts and all doubters.

As Coleman said, "I feel like I have as good a shot as anybody."

He was speaking for them all, on the first day.

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