Training Camp Report: Thursday 7/31

Finally the Eagles began live hitting in full pads, and the 2003 season got underway. The hitting intensified as the practice went along, and this was time for the team's veterans to take center stage. Many eyes were still on the rookies and newly signed free agents who got their first taste of what Eagles football is really about and many of them looked sharp. However, the major story of the day had absolutely nothing to do with football.

Everyone in attendance was watching the action on the field, but many of those people caught a glimpse of Joe Banner on his cell phone many times throughout the day. Could a deal be close with Jerome McDougle? Only time will tell. But what is known is that Banner would play an even larger role in the day's events later in the morning, regardless of the side stories, the focus was on football during this cool summer day.

The workout began with punters Dirk Johnson and Kyle Richardson each trying to outdo the other. It appears that Johnson has really turned the corner since his shaky spring minicamps, and just may wrestle the starting job away from the newly signed Richardson. Brian Westbrook looked solid returning punts, but it will take some time getting used to not seeing number 30 out there in return position. Westbrook can speed along that process by delivering many happy returns this year, and with his size and speed he may do just that, many times over.

Westbrook didn't just show his prowess on special teams, but he really excelled on the offensive side of the ball as well. Immediately following the special teams drills, the offense commenced it's portion of exercises. During these skeleton drills Westbrook showed great burst through the line of scrimmage and proved to be elusive down field too. Not to be outdone, the current number one back on the depth chart; Correll Buckhalter looked healthy. Both backs split time with the number one unit, and Correll seems to have added size without losing the speed that made him the runner he was during his rookie campaign. If and when Duce Staley joins the team, this group could be the most versatile set of running backs in the NFL.

Keeping with his streak of successful training camps, wide receiver Sean Morey continues to impress the coaches with his good hands and ability to make grabs along the sideline. It seems that he is getting the most reps among reserve receivers and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the opening day roster this year. Judging by his performances thus far in camp, Billy McMullen still has a lot to prove. Sure he has done a great job of getting open, but he has just dropped too many passes. That has to be something irritating Andy Reid about his performance. Freddy Mitchell seems to have the upper hand in this battle for the slot position, but that could change anytime, with the receivers going back and forth as camp goes along. As a whole, the receivers were overshadowed by one member of the secondary who really had a standout day.

Lito Sheppard opened eyes all morning long, with great coverage, above average speed and an uncanny job of reading the offense. Sheppard made two acrobatic interceptions this morning. He also had decent returns off both picks. As great as this is for Sheppard, it is nearly as ominous for Donovan McNabb.

McNabb had a good practice. He showed some good scrambling moves and his ankle seems to be back to 100%, which will be scary for opposing defenders. However, McNabb's accuracy is still a nagging problem with his mechanics, as displayed by Sheppard's two interceptions and McNabb's inefficiency when passing to running backs out of the backfield. The first of Sheppard's interceptions was eerily similar to the pick that ended the Eagles season last year by Rhonde Barber. McNabb needs to improve on this aspect of his game if the team looks to take the next step.

LJ Smith looks very imposing going over the middle of the field. His combination of size and strength will be a definite advantage for the Eagles, especially when playing NFC East competition. His size also poses unfavorable matchups for opposing linebackers. Smith made several great catches and even showed the ability to distract defenders on the many misdirection plays run by the offense. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress seems to have even designed a play for Smith that the team ran several times during today's workout. The Eagles definitely have found a diamond in the rough in LJ Smith.

Letters from Camp: Highlights from today's practice.

*· Rookie Free-agent halfback Reno Mahe continues to impress. Yes he is a long shot to make this team, but since the first practice he has showed some great elusiveness as well as some decent speed. If he continues to play up to this level he could be the team's fourth halfback.

* * Mark Simoneau is fitting in very well with Jim Johnson's system. Simoneau is taking all of the reps with the number one unit, as expected, and has been the focal point of Johnson's teachings to the team this morning. Mark has shown great speed and will be an improvement over last year's group of middle linebackers.

*Hollis Thomas looks healthy, in shape and is playing well with the reserve defense. Those who don't look so healthy are defensive end Brandon Whiting and backup center Scott Peters who both missed today's workouts.

* Wide receiver Sean Scott has no business even being on this team. He made several drops during drills and with the play of Sean Morey, Scott is almost certainly going to be cut following training camp.

*· The most pertinent issue this morning was when team president Joe Banner revealed a modified policy regarding food at Lincoln Financial Field. All food items will now be allowed to be brought into the stadium, at specific gates. The food must be wrapped in clear plastic.

* The play of the day came when Todd Pinkston went streaking down the sidelines and was held the whole way by Sheldon Brown, he made a fingertip reception and made his way into the end zone for an exciting touchdown

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