A Cram Course In Gridiron

pick Danny Watkins is expected to start at guard.DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
pick Danny Watkins is expected to start at guard.DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER (First-round)
Posted: July 28, 2011

BETHLEHEM - Football isn't rocket science, but it isn't tic-tac-toe, either.

It isn't baseball, where you can get called up from Triple A in the afternoon and be in the starting lineup for the big club that night.

Football requires preparation and learning and repetition, lots of repetition. It requires knowing forward and backward the contents of a playbook that is the size of the Gutenberg Bible.

When the Eagles take to the field this morning at Lehigh for their first training-camp practice, though, nearly a quarter of the players out there aren't going to have the foggiest idea what they're doing. That group would be the Eagles' 11 draft picks (assuming first-round pick Danny Watkins and seventh-rounder Greg Lloyd are signed) and 10 undrafted free agents.

Ordinarily, rookies are handed a playbook right after the draft in late April, then have the benefit of a minicamp and a rookie camp and a bunch of OTAs to learn what's in that playbook before they get to training camp. But as you may have heard, there was a 136-day lockout this year that wiped out all the minicamps and rookie camps and OTAs.

Watkins was the only rookie who even managed to get a playbook after the draft, thanks to an ever-so-brief lifting of the lockout by a federal judge the day before the draft. An appellate court quickly restored the lockout 2 days later before the second round was completed.

The Eagles' other 20 rookies didn't get their first look at their playbook until either Tuesday, when they were finally able to report to the NovaCare Complex, or yesterday, when they got to Lehigh.

"It's going to be a catch-up game for them," coach Andy Reid said yesterday at his camp-opening news conference. "That's where the OTAs come in handy. But it's equal opportunity all through the league. Everybody's dealing with the same thing, so I'm not going to dwell on it.

"The veterans are going to be a step ahead. At the same time, we'll see with the rookies. It'll be like an Evelyn Wood speed-reading class. We'll find out who can move their finger the fastest. We'll find that out here."

Despite the unusual circumstances, Reid insisted that he has the same high expectations for this rookie class that he would've had if there hadn't been a lockout. He already has penciled in Watkins as the starting right guard heading into camp, and he said he expected several other rookies to make significant first-year impacts.

"I haven't [lowered my expectations]," he said. "We have a lot of young guys on this team anyway, but I expect [the rookies] to come in and play and learn. You just have to focus in a little more aggressively. And when you're tired, you've got to make sure you put the toothpicks in the eyes and make sure those eyelids don't collapse on you, and stay awake, and then review.

"Any opportunity you're given to go back over what you've been given, go back over and do it again. Ask the veteran players. Utilize every minute of time you have."

Aside from Watkins, fourth-round kicker Alex Henery and possibly undrafted free-agent punter Chas Henry, the only rookie who appears to have any chance of starting this season is second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett, who will battle Kurt Coleman and Marlin Jackson for the starting strong safety job previously occupied by departed Quintin Mikell.

But others, including third-round cornerback Curtis Marsh, fourth-round linebacker Casey Matthews and fifth-round running back Dion Lewis, could battle for playing time if they can manage to make up for lost time in the next few weeks.

"I think it's going to be tough for them,'' said running back LeSean McCoy, "I think back to my rookie year. I went to all the camps and OTAs and still struggled.

"It's going to be important for the older players at their position to help them out. It makes it easier when the guys at your position are helpful and are good teammates. Brian [Westbrook] was that way to me, so it's only right that I do the same for the young guys like Dion and [undrafted free agent] Noel [Devine]."

Coleman has some idea what the rookies are going through. Because his school - Ohio State - is on a quarter system and didn't finish classes until mid-June, Coleman, a seventh-round pick in the 2010 draft, missed all of the Eagles' spring camps and OTAs with the exception of the postdraft minicamp.

But Coleman was able to talk often with the Eagles' coaches, who sent him DVDs of the practices, which is something the coaches couldn't do during the lockout. They also worked with him individually for several days after Ohio State finished classes and he flew to Philadelphia.

The Eagles also had a 3-day rookie camp at the beginning of 2010 training camp before the veterans arrived. This year, because of the lockout, there isn't a separate rookie portion of camp.

"I wasn't too stressed last year," said Coleman, who ended up starting three games, including the Eagles' playoff loss to Green Bay, and played pretty well.

"The rookies came in 2, 3 days before the vets came in and had a chance to go through things, which helped a lot," he said. "Then everything got fast-forwarded."

Reid and his coaches are going to take things slowly in the first few days of training camp, not just for the rookies, but also for any veteran free agents who may be arriving shortly, as well as the defensive players who have a new boss - Juan Castillo - and a simplified, but semi-new defensive system to learn.

"It's going to be tough for [the rookies], no doubt about it," Coleman said. "It's going to be my job and the job of the other guys that have been here to help them and give them a leg up and show them what to do so they can get acclimated a little easier. But it's not going to be easy for them."

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