CARLSBAD, Calif. - With the NFL about to go into hibernation for the next few weeks, a lot of opinions have been offered up on a lot of subjects.
To not bore you with the mundane, one matter has been consistently trumpeted over the past few weeks by a lot of NFL folks -- mainly players and former players or coaches: The Philadelphia Eagles could surprise a lot of people.
Most people feel the Eagles will be good depending on new full-time starting quarterback Kevin Kolb. If he struggles under the pressure of stepping in for longtime fixture Donovan McNabb, then things could fall apart. The majority of opinions I've heard are that coach Andy Reid and president Joe Banner wouldn't have traded McNabb to Washington if they didn't think Kolb could handle things -- and handle them well.
The move is being compared to Aaron Rodgers taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay, but a lot of the folks that I spoke with think the Eagles will be much more serious playoff contenders than the 6-10 Packers were in Rodgers' first season as starter.
Kolb has been afforded a receiving corps McNabb rarely had: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Jason Avant, and if he can overcome a knee injury, second-year tight end Cornelius Ingram. Physical running backs LeSean 'Shady' McCoy and Mike Bell also send the message that the Eagles plan to protect Kolb by running the ball a tad more (that's not hard) than they did with Brian Westbrook.
There is a feeling that Kolb will actually run the Eagles' version of the West Coast offense more to Reid's liking than McNabb did the past few years.
From my conversations, it's not as much the offense being cited as the reason why the Eagles could be better than a lot of people think. Philadelphia has quietly stacked its defense with physical, tenacious pass rushers to give highly underrated defensive end Trent Cole more help.
Philadelphia traded for outside linebacker Ernie Sims and defensive end Darryl Tapp and drafted a potential monster, defensive end Brandon Graham, to really allow defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to be creative and more aggressive in passing situations.
"It's going to be a fight," Graham said during the NFL Rookie Symposium. "It's going to be fun because all of us have the same passion to get to the quarterback and make plays."
A side note on Graham (6-foot-2, 268 pounds): When I met him at the symposium, he physically jumps out because he is wide and built like a wall. He's also one of the more engaging rookies I've met. He seems to understand what he's in for and has been wise enough to reach out to Reid for advice anytime he needs to.
To that point, Graham shed a little insight on Reid, telling me that he is incredibly accessible and is willing to discuss anything that has been on Graham's mind. Mind you, Reid just drafted Graham in the first round and wants to make him feel good, but a lot of coaches don't welcome conversation with players unless it's on the coach's terms.
A little foreshadowing?
Chargers Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson has emerged as a possible trade target of the Washington Redskins. There's another link to that scenario that may or may not have anything to do with anything, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Jackson has been training and catching passes from McNabb, the Redskins' quarterback who trains at the same Phoenix facility Jackson does, according to a source close to Jackson. Those two are among a stable of NFL players -- including Jets CB Darrelle Revis -- who work out at the Fischer Sports facility and they've developed a fairly solid rapport, the source said.
It might not mean anything because the Chargers might not trade Jackson, who is in a contentious standoff with team management. Jackson wants a long-term contract, but he is a restricted free agent to whom the Chargers don't want to give a Brandon Marshall-like extension (four years, $47.5 million), which is what Jackson is seeking.
San Diego actually reduced his restricted free agent tender from more than $3 million to $583,000. Jackson is adamant that he will hold out until the 10th game of the regular season, then return (he would gain an accrued NFL season and move closer to unrestricted free agency) unless a long-term deal is reached. Chargers GM A.J. Smith, not known to yield, seems poised for the staredown.
If Smith gets an appealing trade offer (which could be hampered by his recent three-game suspension), San Diego could move Jackson, but that would greatly weaken the receiving group. To note, it's not known if any teams that have supposedly shown interest -- Washington, Denver, Seattle -- have made an actual trade offer. The Seahawks were rebuffed when they called to ask if Jackson was available. That was a few weeks ago and things could have changed.
This clearly could be a business vs. football decision.
Should the Redskins somehow broker a deal (it will have to be at least one high pick, if not more, or would involve a third team and Albert Haynesworth), this recreational pitch and catch with McNabb and Jackson could shake things up in the NFC East.
The Mountainous Fridge
I had a casual conversation with Terrence "Mount" Cody, the massive rookie defensive tackle from Alabama while at the symposium, and asked him if the Ravens were going to use him exclusively at nose tackle. He said that's where he was situated the majority of the time during minicamps and organized team activities, but they did move him around some in passing situations.
Then he told me that he actually could see some time on the offensive side of the ball, a la William "Refrigerator" Perry of the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. I'm not going to fully divulge what he told me about how he could be used in that regard, but I think it would be a great experiment. Cody is incredibly agile for someone his size, and putting another huge body on the field to help gain a first down or touchdown makes all the sense in the world to me.
Denver's other first-rounder
Lost in the Tim Tebow hysteria in Denver is wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who was selected 22nd overall -- three spots ahead of Tebow. His anonymity thus far -- he is a big, tall target built just like Marshall, who was traded to Miami -- has been due to his inability to get on the field because of a broken foot he sustained while prepping for the combine.
Thomas told me that he's running full speed now, but still isn't able to run the full route tree. He plans to be guarded with his rehabilitation leading up to training camp so he doesn't suffer any setbacks. He showed no concern about being physically ready to go once training camp begins.
Thomas is a big-time talent, who gives Denver a receiver that can gain yards after the catch and go deep. If he is impeded by that foot injury, though, it could significantly hamper a passing game in need of playmakers in the worst way.