A trio of Eagles stars leaves camp quietly, for a change

Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson showed increasing maturity and focused leadership at training camp. Quarterback Michael Vick praised Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy.
Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson showed increasing maturity and focused leadership at training camp. Quarterback Michael Vick praised Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 16, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - There was plenty of drama at Eagles training camp, but it didn't come from the team's trio of young offensive stars.

In previous years, it seemed DeSean Jackson was the leading man in the soap, "As the World Turns Around DeSean."

Last year, through no fault of his own, Jeremy Maclin missed all of camp with a mysterious illness that was at one point thought to be lymphoma.

And while LeSean McCoy has always been drama-free, there was the potential heading into this camp that he would either hold out or arrive at Lehigh University unhappy with his contract situation.

But the "Young Guns" drifted under the radar the last three weeks - as much as three of the most popular Eagles could. And that was a positive considering the unrest that was taking place elsewhere.

A combination of foresight by the Eagles, the increasing maturity of a certain diva receiver and some luck helped keep Jackson, Maclin and McCoy out of the headlines.

"I'm extremely proud of DeSean for stepping up as a leader, LeSean as well, and also Jeremy," Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said Tuesday on the last day of camp. "I think it's part of their growing process, and is very important for those guys at this point in their career."

All three should still be arching upward. Jackson is the eldest at 25. Last season he took a step back because he let his contract situation distract him. But now that Jackson has his long-term deal there is no reason he can't reach an even higher plane as he enters his fifth season.

"He's more focused," McCoy said.

For many top receivers in the NFL, the third season is their breakout one. Maclin, 24, was building toward that kind of year, but his scare with cancer and the virus that sapped him of weight and energy made it very difficult to have the season many believed he was poised to have.

This could be his bellwether year.

"It's going to be a complete 180," Maclin said.

McCoy hit superstar status after last season's Pro Bowl production. But the 24-year-old running back, as he entered his fourth season, was not being paid as such. The Eagles, though, avoided a potential training camp headache - one they endured when Jackson skipped the first 11 days of camp last summer. They extended McCoy in May, and after signing top draft pick Fletcher Cox in June, made sure they there would be no holdouts at Lehigh.

"That's the biggest thing - no drama, no contract issues," McCoy said. "They had everybody here playing."

There was great drama, of course, when Andy Reid's son, Garrett, was found dead in his dorm room on Aug. 5. This camp will always have a cloud over it because of his death.

On the field, there were issues, much less important in the bigger picture. But Demetress Bell's inability to hold down the starting left tackle spot, DeMeco Ryans' underwhelming play at middle linebacker and depth issues at safety remain concerns.

But every team in the NFL has similar, if not greater, problems. The Eagles still have their core, led by their talented skill players on offense who should spot the team the leads they need to succeed.

"I think it's going to start with the guys people see making plays - LeSean, DeSean, Mike, myself," Maclin said. "Once you got those guys doing it, I think it kind of lets everybody else know, 'Hey, we're for real.' "

Except for the hamstring strain that kept Maclin out of Thursday's preseason opener and one full practice, the Young Guns have been healthy. Other than the brief period he missed at the end of a practice two weeks ago when he tweaked his ankle, Jackson didn't miss a drill.

"I'm extremely proud of DeSean and LeSean," Vick said. "They got their contract situations settled. They both were dedicated in this camp. They both were committed, and they didn't miss a day. Even when there were times they were hurting and felt like they needed treatment, they got out there, grinded, and busted their butts to make sure they were accountable."

Three years ago, Jackson missed a number of practices with a hyperextended knee. Two years ago, it was a lower back strain that sidelined the receiver. Last year, there was the holdout.

Jackson had a few other mini-episodes at camp like two years ago when he decided he didn't want to talk to reporters without much of an explanation. But he's been accommodating this summer - for the most part.

Jackson declined to be interviewed on Tuesday, his lone diva moment of camp. But the Eagles were getting out of Dodge after a long three weeks and Jackson said he wanted to get home.

"Not right now, bro," he said.

Jackson then hopped in his light blue Mustang, burned some rubber out of the parking lot, and headed back to Philadelphia.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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