Eagles Notebook: Eagles' Casey using early practices to get out kinks

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles' James Casey (center) and Lane Johnson (left) tangle with Matt Tobin during training-camp practice.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles' James Casey (center) and Lane Johnson (left) tangle with Matt Tobin during training-camp practice.
Posted: July 26, 2013

THE QUARTERBACKS were the highest-profile attendees of these 2 days of rookie and select vet practice at NovaCare. First-round rookie Lane Johnson, an offensive tackle, also was much in demand with reporters, Johnson being the highest-drafted Eagle since Donovan McNabb in 1999.

After that? James Casey.

Casey and his former Texans teammate, linebacker Connor Barwin, were the Eagles' highest-profile free-agent signings. Nobody better embodies the shift from Andy Reid's West Coast offense to Kelly's faster-paced style than Casey, a halfback/tight end known for his athleticism and his savvy.

Kelly was asked this week how important Casey is to what he wants to do.

"Very important," he said. "We pride ourselves on versatility and being able to put different personnel packages on the field at the same time. You know, having a guy that can play multiple positions makes a lot of difficult decisions for the defense in terms of how you're going to defend them. So, [we're] trying to utilize that in James. The more times we get a practice opportunity with him, the more times we get a chance to see what he does best and play to his strengths."

"It was a great opportunity for me to come out here these last few days with the rookies," Casey said. He had the option of coming in early since he missed some spring work because of a minor knee clean-out. "There were only a couple of veterans here, myself and [center Jason] Kelce and a couple quarterbacks. It felt good. I got to work a little bit of those kinks out . . . I felt really good today. That first day was like any first day, a little sluggish, you're kind of getting back into things, but my legs felt really good today.

"I definitely wanted to be here. I play football for a living; if I get a chance to get out here and practice - plus, I feel bad because I missed some of the OTAs. It's the worst for an athlete, when you see your teammates out there working, and you're riding a bicycle . . . I kind of paid my dues back, these last couple of days."

Casey, who played minor league baseball in the White Sox organization for three seasons, was a Pro Bowl alternate last season with Houston before hitting free agency, though the Texans still used him more as a blocker than a pass catcher (34 receptions for 330 yards, three TDs). He signed for 3 years and $12 million with the Eagles because he was interested in Kelly's approach, he said.

"I feel like I really do have a good opportunity here," Casey said. "In Houston, I felt like I did a really good job . . . I did a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff . . . I try to pride myself on being a really good blocker, even though I didn't get much credit for it around the league. I pride myself on playing really good special teams, which nobody really cares about, until something bad happens, or something really good happens.

"I felt like this was just a great fit for me, with coach Kelly coming here . . . [but] you never just come in and say, 'Oh, I'm going to get opportunities.' You gotta work for 'em. My mindset's always, I gotta go out on the practice field, I gotta show coach Kelly and the offensive coaches they can trust me and I deserve opportunities."

Kelce's advice center

Jason Kelce, the only veteran offensive lineman on hand, because he's coming off a knee reconstruction, was asked what advice he has given first-round tackle Lane Johnson.

"Don't be afraid to make the mistakes," Kelce said. "They drafted you here because you're a big, strong, fast guy. Don't ever hold back. That's the biggest thing you see with rookies; I did it myself, every rookie does it. You're so new and you don't know things very well . . . You do too much thinking. In reality, you should just go out and play. At this point, a guy like Lane, as a rookie, we'd rather him go all-out and blow somebody up. If he got the wrong guy, we can correct that."

Meeting of the mindset

On the video message boards at NovaCare, one of the schedule notes yesterday was a "high performance mindset" meeting.

Turned out, Chip Kelly had a former Navy SEAL named Coleman Ruiz give a talk.

"He talks about his mindset, how he trains, and it really resonates with us," James Casey said. "You rise to the level of your training, was one thing that really stuck with me. You don't just go out there on game day and perform better than you ever did in practice. You practice at a certain level, and you expect yourself to practice higher than anyone else in the league is going to practice, so when it comes game day, we can wear people down when it comes to the fourth quarter."

DN Members Only : Marcus Hayes writes about how Philadelphia sports has changed since Jason Kelce got to town.

Click here for complete coverage of Eagles training camp.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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