Matt Schobel, the 6-5, 255-pounder signed as a free agent, never caught more than 27 passes in four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. But the Eagles liked his pass-catching potential in
their version of the West Coast offense. They want to operate out of a lot of two-tight end sets this season with Schobel and starter L.J. Smith, who is fast enough to line up outside.
But Schobel's hands have been failing him early in camp. Quarterback Donovan McNabb throws a hard ball that has given many receivers who are unfamiliar with it problems early on. Whatever the reason, Schobel has been dropping too many
passes and the coaches aren't happy about it.
"He's doing an excellent job of separating (from the defender)," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "Certainly he needs to catch the ball on a (more) consistent basis. If you catch the football, it gives you a chance to
play for us. If you don't catch it, you're not playing. It's as simple as that."
Schobel's drops have been drawing boos from the crowd at camp, which probably has him pressing more. He's done a better job of hanging on to the ball the last few days than he did earlier in camp. So, maybe the worst is over for him.
"He's still learning and getting better each day," coach Andy Reid said. "He's catching the ball a little bit better the last couple of days. He's getting used to the practice speed and the number of reps and so on. He's improving."
"He's a really good route-runner. He was just struggling to catch the ball out there for a little bit. But he's starting to rebound."
If the Eagles don't have enough confidence in Schobel when the season starts, their other option is second-year player Andy Thorn, who has looked pretty good so far. Stephen Spach, who backed up Smith last year, has been moved to fullback. But his strength is blocking, which was why he was moved to the backfield.
CAMP CALENDAR: Eagles will train at Lehigh University through August 17 and then head back to their training facility in south Philly for the remainder of the preseason.
NOTES FROM THE NEST:With illness and injury leaving the Eagles a little short on bodies at the running back position, Andy Reid had fullback Thomas Tapeh take some snaps at RB. Tapeh, who missed all of last season with a dislocated hip and is battling Josh Parry for the starting fullback job, did very well, which could prompt Reid
to use him as an occasional short-yardage run option. "He looks good at the fullback spot and he looked pretty good carrying the football," Reid said.
The Eagles have four returning players that have been moved to new positions. Jason Short has been switched from linebacker to defensive end, Todd Herremans from offensive tackle to guard, Stephen Spach from tight end to fullback and Matt Ware from cornerback to safety. Also, rookie third-round pick Chris Gocong, a defensive end in college, has been converted to a strongside linebacker.
HE SAID WHAT? "Of all the rookies that we've had here over the last four or five years, he's picked things up, for a linebacker, as well as anybody. He really has. He's done a nice job." - Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson on rookie fifth-round linebacker Omar Gaither.