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There's more to watch at Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp than Kevin Kolb


Mark Eckel"ON THE MARK" with Mark Eckel

From the time the Philadelphia Eagles walk onto the practice fields at Lehigh University for the first workout of the summer, all eyes will be on Kevin Kolb.

And while a change in quarterback, especially one as drastic as sending a six-time Pro Bowl selection to a division rival, is about as dramatic as things get in the NFL, there are other areas that need to be watched closely as the Eagles prepare for Year One AD (after Donovan).

Here are some of them.

The Real McCoy

Donovan McNabb isn’t the only offensive star missing from this year’s roster. Brian Westbrook, one of the best running backs in team history, is also gone.

Knee and ankle surgeries combined with a pair of concussions left Westbrook a mess last season and the EaglesEagles quarterback Kevin Kolb. felt it was time to part ways with the as of this writing still unsigned running back.

Now it is up to second-year man and 2009 second-round pick LeSean McCoy to step up and be the running back the team needs to both balance the offense and take some undue pressure off Kolb this season.

The former Pitt star looked good early in the season. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the opener against Carolina. He rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown in a start in place of an injured Westbrook against Kansas City. He ran for a 66-yard touchdown against the Giants. And he had back-to-back games of 99 and 76 yards against Chicago and Washington respectively.

And that was it.

After gaining 528 yards on 123 carries, an average of 4.3 yards per carry through the first 11 games, McCoy finished the season with just 109 yards on 32 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per carry over the last five games.

In the playoff loss to Dallas, he was a non-factor with five carries for 24 yards.

The Eagles are going to need the early-season McCoy to reappear and it will start with how he does in camp.

Center of Attention: Jamaal Jackson, not that he was being confused with Jim Otto, will not start the season after tearing his ACL late last season. The Eagles failed to add a center either through the draft, or free agency, so the job falls on Nick Cole, who did OK at right guard, but not so OK in place of Jackson in the losses to Dallas at the end of last season.

Cole, at 6-0, 350, ranks as the shortest starting center in the league and is four inches, although 25 pounds heavier than Jackson.

Andy Reid says he’s fine with the undrafted Cole (an aside here, but the Eagles haven’t had a starting center they drafted since David Alexander, who was drafted by Buddy Ryan in 1987) starting in the middle of an offensive line that also has questions at right guard with the health and ability of Stacy Andrews and at left guard, depending on Todd Herremans’ bad foot.

Again, Kolb, as any quarterback, is going to need to be protected to succeed and the interior of the line did not play well last season.

And it does not appear to be any better heading into camp.Andy Reid begins his first training camp without Donovan McNabb.

Back in the Middle

When Stewart Bradley  went down in the preseason last summer with a torn ACL it started a terrible cycle at linebacker that saw the Eagles start a different combination almost every other week.

Eight different players got starts at the three linebacker position, and for the most part none of them gave the Pro Bowl voters any reason to even think to circle their names on their ballots.

The Eagles eight linebackers, in 16 games, combined for the following “big play’’ stats: 4 ½ sacks, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. That would have been a subpar season for Seth Joyner back in the day.

Bradley, who in his last 17 starts had a combined five “big plays’’ needs to be the difference maker for the trio.

If Bradley plays well and is active in the middle, it could create opportunities for newcomer Ernie Sims (one fumble recovery in 11 games for Detroit last year) on the weakside and second-year man Moise Fokou (no big plays last year in 16 games played) on the strongside.

Rookie Starters

Since 2000, Andy Reid has penciled in a rookie starter on defense just once – first-round pick Corey Simon in 2000. There hasn’t been another one since.

Until this year, when there could be two.

First-round pick Brandon Graham, out of Michigan, who the Eagles traded up in the draft to select, is expected to start at left defensive end opposite Pro Bowl right defensive end Trent Cole.

And second-round pick Nate Allen, the player selected with the pick the Eagles received from Washington in exchange for McNabb, is expected to start at free safety.

Graham, 6-2, 268, is considered by some undersized for the left end spot in a 4-3 defense. A lot of scouts felt he was actually a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, or if he went to a 4-3 team as a right end.

The Eagles, however, think a lot of Graham. Not only did they move up to get him, surrendering two third-round picks in the process, they also selected him ahead of Derrick Morgan, who went to Tennessee and Jason Pierre-Paul, who went to the Giants.

If Graham cannot beat out Juqua Parker, or recently-acquired Darryl Tapp, you have to wonder how wise it was to make that pick.

Allen, the early second-round pick, also has to start over the likes of Quintin Demps and Macho Harris, who has already been moved to cornerback. There may have been battle with Marlin Jackson. But in a shock, Jackson ruptured his Achilles, his third season-ending injury in three years.

April Reins: Eagles special teams last season, under Ted Daisher, were a mixed bag. In 10 key special team categories, they ranked in the top five in two and in the top 10 in four. They also ranked in the bottom five in three and in the bottom 10 in five.

After an on-field disagreement with Reid, Daisher was fired and replaced by long-time special teams guru Bobby April.

This is April’s sixth different team. He’s previously coached special teams for Buffalo, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and St. Louis. With the Bills, his unit ranked first in the league on three different occasions.

Reid and the Eagles can only hope this season will be the fourth time.

Contact Mark Eckel at meckel@njtimes.com

Kevin Kolb photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lehighvalleypa/3766761208/

Andy Reid photo: www.isprotacus.com