Truth on full display for Andy Reid and Eagles

Posted: September 22, 2011

Truth has always been as much a part of football as parasols and trapezes. As far as coaches and players are concerned, the rest of the world is on a need-to-know basis, the basis of which is: You don't need to know.

The truth has a funny way of revealing itself eventually, though. There were two pretty fascinating moments of truth at the NovaCare Complex Wednesday. One reflected rather well on coach Andy Reid. The other, not so much.

Reid brought head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder in to answer questions about quarterback Michael Vick's recovery from the concussion that knocked him out of Sunday night's game in Atlanta. Burkholder is an innately decent human being who is as good as anyone at the sometimes tricky business of getting men healthy enough to play a sport that is, by definition, hazardous to their health.

Athletic trainers serve three masters: the team, which wants players on the field; the players, who have to trust the medical staffers even though they know the team employs them; and their own professional integrity. Again, Burkholder has been with the Eagles for Reid's entire tenure because he handles all those considerations with professionalism and sensitivity.

So you take his word for it when Burkholder says he is not under pressure to clear Vick to play before strict adherence to the NFL's concussion protocol says he is clear.

The protocol, Burkholder said, is meant to make this judgment call "objective, so that makes it easier. I'm going to tell you right now, and [Reid] knows this, I'm not real worried about him playing right now. I'm worried about the process that he's going through, and as we go through each step I'll report to the people that need to know, and then we'll make a decision. So is there pressure on me? I don't think so. I don't think there's pressure on anybody. We go through a process, and that's the way it's always been here, is that you go through a process and once you answer all of that process, then the product will take care of itself."

Vick did not practice. He could still play against the Giants on Sunday, but you get the feeling that, if he does, then it will be the result of sound judgment. That feeling is a direct result of the open-book approach Reid and Burkholder are taking on this whole process. And that's important, because the biggest threat to the NFL's popularity isn't a lockout or the disappearance of defense. It is the danger that fans will no longer be able to enjoy this collision sport if the consequences are too public and too dire.

Put another way: Since Andre Waters, his brain damaged by multiple concussions, shot himself, my reaction to a big hit is no longer, "Oh, wow!" It has become "Oh no" - at least until the hitter and hittee are up and moving again.

The other big moment of truth was more typical of football and its culture. Asked if the same three linebackers would be practicing with the first team, Reid hesitated, parsed the question in his head and said, "Um . . . yeah." That's because the same three men are starting, but not in the same positions. So Reid was fine with bending the truth in this case, because, well, that's what football coaches do.

This change goes beyond the field, too, because it reflects poorly on the judgment of the coaches who will now assure us it's a good idea. It was always puzzling when Reid and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo decided to entrust the middle linebacker job to a rookie fourth-round draft pick. Even Casey Matthews seemed unsure of the whole idea. Common sense suggested the team would sign a veteran late in camp, someone who could hold the position down until Matthews was ready.

By moving Matthews outside and moving Jamar Chaney to the middle, the Eagles acknowledge three mistakes (which is why Reid evaded possible follow-up questions with his lawyerly answer). First, they decided Chaney's encouraging play as a rookie last year didn't warrant giving him a chance to start in the middle this year. Second, they didn't sign someone like Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch, who played behind defensive line coach Jim Washburn's "wide nines" scheme and was eminently available. Third, they engaged in the wishful thinking that Matthews would magically play like his brother, Clay, who wreaks havoc for the Green Bay Packers.

We've seen this wishful thinking before: Stacy Andrews? Macho Harris? Ernie Sims? Barry Gardner?

Point is, we heard that Matthews in the middle, with Chaney and Moise Fokou on the outside, were going to be just fine - until they weren't. There is no truth as unvarnished as the truth that emerges on the field.

Just ignore the parasols and trapezes, and there it is.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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