Fans may need a program to identify Eagles at training camp
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Donovan McNabb wears different colors. Brian Westbrook is job-hunting. Sheldon Brown and other veterans are gone, too.
These aren't the same Philadelphia Eagles who dominated the NFC East for much of the past decade.
A new era for the Eagles kicked off Friday when the whole team held its first practice at training camp. Fans who gather to watch the first practice in full pads on Saturday morning might need a program to figure out who is on the field.
For the first time since 1998, No. 5 isn't out there. McNabb, the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, was traded to Washington in April after 11 very successful seasons in Philadelphia.
That familiar No. 36 also is missing from camp. Westbrook, the former All-Pro running back, was released after several injuries slowed him the past two seasons. He remains unsigned.
No. 24 now belongs to Victor "Macho" Harris instead of Brown, the hard-hitting cornerback who never missed a game in eight seasons with the Eagles. Brown was dealt to Cleveland for draft picks.
Shawn Andrews, a two-time Pro Bowl guard, wide receivers Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, defensive end Darren Howard and linebackers Jeremiah Trotter, Will Witherspoon and Chris Gocong are no longer with the team, either.
Despite winning 11 games last season, the Eagles completely restructured their roster in the offseason. Trading McNabb was the biggest move, paving the way for fourth-year pro Kevin Kolb to take over.
During McNabb's tenure, the Eagles reached the playoffs eight times, won five NFC East titles, went to five conference championship games and one Super Bowl.
But they didn't win the big game. So the organization decided it was time to move on from McNabb.
Now it's Kolb's turn. He's ready for the challenge.
"I think everybody's excited, not only the players, but the fans and the coaches — everybody," Kolb said. "There is a sense of the unknown a little bit, so everybody's anxious to see what we got, including ourselves, so we'll keep working hard and hope that will be a positive thing."
Kolb has a talented supporting cast. He has one Pro Bowl wide receiver in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin — a first-round pick last year — has star potential. Tight end Brent Celek is coming off a breakout year, and there's depth behind him. The backfield includes promising second-year running back LeSean McCoy, backup Mike Bell, who earned a Super Bowl ring with New Orleans, and Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver.
McNabb didn't have this luxury when he became the full-time starter a few months into his rookie season in 1999. It wasn't until Terrell Owens joined the Eagles in 2004 that McNabb even had a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Still, he guided the Eagles to three NFC title games with pedestrian wideouts such as Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, James Thrash and Todd Pinkston.
So, the pressure's on Kolb. He doesn't feel it, though.
"I don't want to get caught up in what other guys are thinking and doing," he said. "As a player you've got to understand that you've got to do your job and the rest of it will come along. I think I proved myself a little bit last year and these guys saw what I had on game day, but we always can get better. We're always going to continue to get better and I want them to keep believing in me and knowing (if) there's two minutes left and we're down, that we're going to win the game."
Kolb has been groomed in this offense for three years. He filled in nicely as a starter when McNabb missed two games last season, and might even be more suited to run Philadelphia's version of the West Coast offense.
"The best qualities that Kevin has, there's many of them, but some of the better ones are his quick decision-making, and his accuracy, and his timing," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He also has a good amount of skill and ability and I think he has some guts. Some guts and some gut instincts as well."
Overall, the Eagles got much younger during the offseason — all their projected starters on offense and defense are under 30. But they don't consider themselves in a rebuilding mode.
"I don't look at it as rebuilding, I look at it as retooling," coach Andy Reid said. "Put guys in, and here we go."