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LFN's Eagles Training Camp Report

(Photo courtesy AP/Easton Express-Times)

My family and I went early to Eagles Training Camp at the Whitehead practice fields, along with what had to be 2,500 (at least) of our closest friends. As the afternoon wore on, it got very hot on the Mountain but it was plain to see why Eagles fans are looking forward to the NFL regular season already.

Even on a hot day these birds seemed like they had a spring in their steps. Routes were crisp as DeSean Jackson, Hank Baskett, Michael Avant and the other wideouts made a dazzling array of deep outs. This was a decided difference from last year, where the offensive mood was more workmanlike and many of the questions involved the receiving corps.

Last year, the Eagles seemed to have more questions than answers. This year - as long as RB Brian Westbrook does indeed come back from his surgery on time for the upcoming season - there seem to be more answers than questions. Last year, fans were wondering if it would be McNabb's last year; this year, McNabb showed more flashes that yes, he's the great quarterback with the evadability and the sweet touch passing. Last year, folks wondered if McNabb would have anybody decent to throw to; this year, it feels like there's an embarassment of riches at wideout.

In fact, this training camp was different since the fans seemed so damned happy. It's just not the same coming to an Eagles training camp and not hearing people share their pain about the foilbles of Izell Jenkins or how idiotic a first-round pick Mike Mamula was. You know its a good time to be an Eagles fan when Mike Mamula's name comes up in casual conversation less than three times.

Strangely, the optimism about a potential Super Bowl win might obscure some much larger questions that the Eagles have never had to deal with. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's death will undoubtedly cast a pall over this team over the early part of the season at a minimum, while Brian Dawkins' vacancy in the secondary was keenly seen by me, even in this short practice session. And the job of third-string RB Eldra Buckley aside (pictured, who made a nice run in practice today), running back is one Westbrook injury away from being a gaping hole in the Eagle offense. And that's assuming you think Kolb is ready to take over for McNabb on a moment's notice, too. This ain't the 1989 San Francisco 49ers: questions do exist.

But this day was a great one for me - not only because of the 85 degree weather on the mountain, not only because of K David Akers' booming FG kicks, not only because of the (against all odds) happy Eagles fans, and not only because my son absolutely loved the slides, passing drills and football obstacle course (he loved running over the offensive linemen - Ah! My son!). It was seeing my wife walking around all the football stuff smiling, buying stuff for me and my son. She's a true bleed-green Eagle fan, and it's hard to not be happy seeing her enjoy herself.

She always tells me how she enjoys seeing Eagles training camp every year - that she can see the players up close and make a connection to the team in a way that she would never have done otherwise. And I feel it, too. I didn't grow up an Eagles fan, and I wasn't one at Lehigh either as an undergrad. (I was a Saints fan - don't ask.) But when you live in the Philadelphia area, and you come see the Eagles train - at your alma mater, no less - it's hard not to let the Eagles creep in. For my wife, though, a Philly girl through and through - it's even more.

(The Express-Times' Nick Fierro also weighed in on training camp the same day I did: here's a link.)

*****

After training camp we went to the Goosey Gander and had a turkey Gander. It was as delicious as I remember it, though the rest of the block in no way resembles the block I used to walk to Goosey twenty years ago. While the Gander remains an institution, almost everything else has changed - much for the better, but some for the worse. Goosey remains the soul of Bethlehem, and it's heartwarming to be able to go there and still experience it.

(And, no, Goosey didn't pay me to say it either. Believe me, this isn't a shameless Hammertime/Pizza Hut plug situation.)

We then made our annual pilgrimage to Musikfest - catching Kinderplatz, listening to Polka, Island music, and lots of other things as well. It couldn't have been a better day to walk around Old Bethlehem and enjoy the Fest - perfect weather, a good crowd, and a lot of fun. Overall, it was a great day for all of us. (Even though we didn't stick around to see Chris Issak.)

With Musikfest, though, comes the sign that the real push to Lehigh's 2009 football season is upon us. Kickoff against Central Connecticut State is only a month away now. Eagles Training Camp and Musikfest - to me, anyway - is tha beginning to the most wonderful time of the year.

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