NFL Preseason Preview - New England (0-0) at Philadelphia (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are probably champing at the bit to actually play some football.
Each team has had to deal with significant scandals in recent months. The Pats, of course, are reeling from the murders charges leveled at former tight end Aaron Hernandez, and the Eagles have been struggling to deal with how to proceed after video surfaced of receiver Riley Cooper uttering an offensive racial slur directed at an African-American security guard during a Kenny Chesney concert in June.
Interestingly both of those players were teammates in college at the University of Florida. Cooper returned to Eagles camp earlier this week, just three days after being excused in order to undergo "sensitivity training."
"I said that when he left it was an excused absence," Eagles rookie head coach Chip Kelly said when asked why Copper was back so quickly. "So it wasn't letting him come back or not come back, because he wasn't suspended. We gave him time to seek outside assistance, and when he had the opportunity to go get that done, and he called and was coming back this morning, and I met with him and he came back."
Cooper is expected to start at wide receiver Friday and really stood out in the final team period of a joint practice with New England on Tuesday. He caught three touchdown passes overall and went high over Alfonzo Dennard for one which excited the fans in attendance. Teammate Jason Avant celebrated with Cooper after the play.
"It felt great," Cooper told reporters. "I love being out there on the field playing football. That's what I do and that's what I love."
Cooper still realizes he has a long way to go before he can put this episode behind him but seem buoyed by the encouragement he received from Avant and some of his teammates like rookie receiver Russell Shepard and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
"I went in and talked to everyone and everyone seemed to support me," Cooper continued. "We just talked about the situation and how big that is. I realize how many people I've hurt, how many families I've hurt, how many young kids I've hurt. I take full responsibility for it."
His presence is certainly needed because Philadelphia has already lost two receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn, to ACL injuries in training camp.
Overall the regime change in South Philly has people excited to catch a glimpse of Kelly in hopes of seeing what college football's mad scientist is going to unleash on the NFL.
To those attending the scaled-down offseason practices or training camp sessions, about the only thing known about Kelly thus far is that he has an eclectic playlist on his iPod and likes things up-tempo at all times.
Kelly would obviously like to have Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick piloting his offense. Or perhaps Cam Newton or Russell Wilson, but none of those tailor-made fits is an option for Philadelphia.
Chip's current choices are Michael Vick, the 33-year-old turnover machine who still has the athleticism to whet Kelly's appetite but not the decision-making skills, along with two pure pocket passers, second-year man Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley, a pair of players who could develop into sharp decision makers who get rid of the football with alacrity but offer no threat in the read-option Kelly is enamored with.
For now, Vick remains the slight favorite to enter the season as the team's starter and will get the nod against New England but Foles will start in Week 2 of the preseason and could still wrest away Vick's tenuous hold on the job.
For New England, the engine of the high-powered Patriots offense -- the magnificent tight end combination of Rob Gronkowski, who remains sidelined after multiple surgeries on his forearm and back, and Hernandez -- is no more while veteran slot receiver Wes Welker is gone.
In fact New England's top five receivers from a year ago likely won't be in Buffalo for the regular season opener. That's 338 of New England's 402 total receptions from a year ago that won't be in western New York next month but does anyone really want to bet against Tom Brady?
The plan this time around is for Gronk to be back at some point but even if the University of Arizona product stops chasing Mark Schlereth's Barry Bonds- like surgery record and returns to his productive self, he will need some help.
"Everybody's working at it," Brady said after practice Tuesday. "I would say we have a long way to go and we're doing some good things and we're doing some things that we need to eliminate."
This might be sacrilegious to the fans in Foxboro but at this stage of the game Danny Amendola could actually be an upgrade over Welker in the slot. He's basically a Welker clone with the quick feet and unbelievable route-running ability, only younger and with better hands. In fact, Amendola is going to put up some monster numbers in this Patriots offense if he can stay healthy.
Of course, that's a big "if" because the former Texas Tech star hasn't exactly been able to stay on the field consistently over the years and you can't help the club in the tub.
"Danny's done a great job," Brady said when talking about his new slot threat. "He's fun to be out there with. He takes practice very seriously. He's an extremely hard worker, wants to do the right thing on every single play and has very high expectations for himself. It's been fun. We're in constant communication. He loves football, so it's a great teammate to have."
Replacing Hernandez on the field is unlikely because the options on hand just don't offer the same kind of athleticism or movement skills but matching Lloyd's production outside the numbers is more than plausible, especially with Brady on hand to help the development of the young receivers.
Like most great signal callers Brady makes just about everyone around him better so don't be surprised if long, athletic rookies Aaron Dobson or Kenbrell Thompkins start showing up on some fantasy football sleeper lists.
"I'm probably a pain in their butt at this point," Brady said when asked about his young Padawans. "I'm always harping on them about something. I don't let off very often."
The Eagles and Patriots have met 15 times during the preseason, with New England leading the all-time series, 9-6, including a 2-0 mark at Lincoln Financial Field.
08/08 13:03:46 ET