Friday, September 7, 2012

Baptism of Youth by Fire for Eagles in Cleveland...

The Cowboys rolled over the Giants 24-17 to open the Church of Football on Wednesday night...

But we still have a baptism scheduled for Sunday...

That would be the baptism by fire of all the young dudes on the Eagles' active roster...

1st round draft pick Fletcher Cox will be activated at DT for his first-ever regular season NFL game against Cleveland this coming Sunday... and he admits he's got some butterflies in his stomach over the challenge...which is probably a good thing.

Somebody in show biz (Moe Howard?) once said "If ya ain't nervous before the show, then ya ain't gonna be around long"...

Well, there's plenty of very young Eagles who are about to put that premise to the test.

The Eagles enter Sunday’s regular-season opener at Cleveland with the NFL’s second-youngest team with an average age of 25.55, just behind St. Louis (25.32) and just ahead of the Browns (25.62).

Thirty of the Eagles are 25 years or younger. They were all in high school when the Eagles made their last Super Bowl appearance in the 2004 season. Only defensive end Jason Babin (32), long snapper Jon Dorenbos (32) and quarterback Michael Vick (32) were alive when the team played in its first Super Bowl in 1980.

Four players — rookie running back Bryce Brown, rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks and second-year running back Dion Lewis — are 21. Yet they are expected to contend for the NFC East title and make a run at the conference championship.

“I know at one point, we were the youngest (team in the league),” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “That’s OK. We’ve got a good blend of veteran players with some young guys and we’ll just see. We’ll see how it all works out. Somebody’s got to be the older (team), someone’s got to be the younger and we’re the younger. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out and win football games. That’s not what that means.”
In the Eagles’ case, youth doesn’t always equate to inexperience. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (25) is entering his fifth NFL season. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (24) and running back LeSean McCoy (24) are both going into their fourth seasons. Of those 30 players aged 25 or younger, only 10 are rookies.
A few rookies and first-year players are expected to play key roles for the Eagles, however. Kendricks will be the starting strongside linebacker against the Browns. Stanley Havili (24), who spent last season on the practice squad, is the starting fullback. Rookie Brandon Boykin (22) will be the No. 3 cornerback and primary kickoff returner. Cox and rookie defensive end Vinny Curry (24) will get a lot of playing time on defense.

“I tell you, the rookies built confidence and trust in us over the last bit that they’ve been here or we wouldn’t have kept them on the football team,” Reid said. “We would have gone a different direction. I think that speaks as loud as you can speak about them being here."

“Is there going to be a mistake here and there? They’re young guys, so--- yes. But they’re going to go a hundred miles an hour doing it and the majority of the time, they’re going to do the right thing and do it well and then they’ll continue to get better with time as the season goes on.”

Cox, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick, will garner the most early attention. The Eagles traded up to take the 6-foot-4, 298-pounder with the 12th overall selection. Depending on what lineup defensive coordinator Juan Castillo uses, he may be in the starting lineup against the Browns. Regardless, he is sure of getting a lot of playing time.

“The hardest part for me has been adjusting to how fast everything is, even in practice,” Cox said. “But I feel like I’m ready to go out and compete against Cleveland. The key for me is that I don’t want to go out there and try to be somebody I’m not. I don’t want to go out there and be scared to mess up, scared to make a mistake. I’ve talked to the coaches and older players about it and they’ve all told me that I should just focus on trying to grow and progress every day. There’s no pressure on me and that helps.”

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins was among the veterans Cox sought out for advice about dealing with opening-day jitters. Jenkins made his NFL debut with Green Bay in 2004. He wasn’t expected to play much, but a series of injuries on the Packers’ defensive line thrust him into the rotation. They were facing the New York Jets on “Monday Night Football” and the Jets’ lineup included Jenkins’ older brother Kris, who was also a defensive tackle.

“I tried to ask my brother for advice, but he wouldn’t tell me too much because we were playing against them,” Cullen Jenkins said with a laugh. “I’ve told the young guys here to just relax and play. Try to keep the same attitude you had in college because that’s what got you this far.”

Cox and the other rookies are already more advanced entering their first season than last year’s crop. Because of the NFL lockout last year, all of the league’s players were denied access to their team’s facilities and also missed out on all offseason minicamps. The rookies were hurt worst of all. Guard Danny Watkins, the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2011, did not play in the first four regular-season games last season after struggling to pick up the Eagles’ blocking scheme. Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, the second-round pick, spent most of the year playing special teams.

“I’m excited for Fletcher and those guys this year because they already know what to expect,” Watkins said. “For me, I got to training camp without having any OTAs or anything. My desk (in his dorm room) reminded me of what the CEO of IBM’s desk must look like. Papers are just stacking up everywhere and that’s kind of what it felt like a little bit for me. (Eagles center) Jason (Kelce) and I both went through a kind of trial by fire.”

Speaking of rookies:

Trent Richardson has practiced with the Browns. All that's left is for him to play. Cleveland's rookie running back returned to practice Monday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery on Aug. 9, a strong sign he will play in Sunday's season opener at home against Philadelphia.

With his dreadlocks flowing out of his orange helmet, Richardson took some snaps with Cleveland's first-team offense during the portion of practice open to the media. He had a black rubber sleeve on his repaired left knee, which has been operated on twice since he helped Alabama win a national championship in January. After the workout on a warm, humid morning, Browns coach Pat Shurmur sounded optimistic about Richardson's chances of facing the Eagles.

"If he's ready to go, he will be our starter," Shurmur said. "Trent looked good. He was in team (drills). I knew he'd be out here and he did a good job. It was his first day back in practice, so we did what we could do. Trent looked healthy running around."

Shurmur wouldn't say when a decision will be made on Richardson making his pro debut. "Each person is different when they come back from injury," he said. "We'll see as we go. All along I've been hopeful that he'd be there.'

The Browns will have their only practice in full pads this week on Thursday, when they will work primarily on short-yardage situations. Richardson missed Cleveland's four exhibition games and it will be important for him to take some hits before getting on the field against Philadelphia. Richardson was not available for comment. A team spokesman said the 22-year-old likely will speak with reporters Wednesday. The No. 3 overall pick in April's draft, Richardson had been doing rehab, including some light contact work, behind the scenes since his operation.

After stretching with his teammates, Richardson was taking part in some passing drills when Shurmur pulled him close for a brief chat, perhaps reminding his young star not to overdo it. Moments later, running-backs coach Gary Brown called out a play and quizzed Richardson about his assignment.

"What's the key on the chip (block)," Brown asked before complimenting Richardson for answering correctly.

With low expectations for a team featuring 15 rookies and facing a brutal schedule, the Browns will need Richardson to take on a heavy workload this season. But because he missed so much time during the preseason, they will likely limit his carries in the first few weeks. However, once Richardson is rolling, Browns cornerback Joe Haden said there may be no slowing him down.

"He can be as good as he wants to be," Haden said. "He can definitely be an All-Pro. He has everything you need to be a good running back. He's big, he can catch, he can pass block and he's an every-down back."
Haden said trying to bring down Richardson in the open field can be scary. "Oh, man. I'm not a fan of trying to tackle him," Haden said. "I played against him with Florida and he gave me a stiff-arm one time and I was good after that."

Richardson had torn cartilage removed last month by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who also did the Feb. 3 procedure on the knee. Browns president Mike Holmgren said the team did not know Richardson would need a second operation when it drafted him.

"The first we knew about it was in camp," Holmgren said. "He's a hard-working guy. He started saying, 'It hurts. There's a little ache there.' It was swelling up a little bit. It's a good thing we caught it. It was obviously the right decision. Everything is on track. Holmgren said the Browns intend to ease Richardson back and will not overload him in the first few games.

"When I've been in this situation before with players, when it's close, and we're really kind of counting on him, if he hadn't had the surgery, he was going to touch the ball a lot," he said. "But now you have to be careful. The worst thing we could do is rush him before he's ready. "

Notes: Haden said he couldn't talk about his possible NFL suspension for reportedly failing a drug test. Haden said, "I honestly don't know" when asked if he'll play in the opener. It's possible Haden is keeping quiet because he's appealing the suspension. Haden said his teammates have been supportive. "Everyone's cool," he said. "You just keep going, keep playing, keep practicing. With my teammates, it's like nothing has been going on." ... Starting S Eric Hagg was sent home before practice with stomach flu. ... TE Benjamin Watson expects to play in the opener despite missing most of the preseason with a leg injury. ... TE Jordan Cameron missed practice with an undisclosed injury. He was one of six players on exercise bikes. ... The Browns released LB Solomon Elimimian from the practice squad and re-signed DL Brian Sanford.

Check out other great articles at Eagles Eye.
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