THEY ARRIVE ALL spit-shined and polished, wrapped up in their festive attire, a brand-spanking-new toy to be played with.
For a few days they capture our attention, what with all the promise of excitement they hold. But eventually they fall somewhere into the depths of the toy box, stuck behind the more familiar, more reliable trinkets of old, left to hope and wish that someday Andy Reid will choose to play with them.
Fourteen games into a 16-game season, Kevin Kolb, Brent Celek, Victor Abiamiri and Tony Hunt are more or less still waiting. Like a toy soldier's lineup of draft picks before them, the class of 2007 remains an unproven commodity, a quartet of guys whose value is undetermined because they simply can't get on the field.
Maybe that will change this week now that the playoffs are officially off the to-do list but how much can be determined in two meaningless games?
The fact that the Eagles have gone yet another draft without significant impact from their rookies is, depending on your view, a pat on the back to the players they have or a knock on the players they pick. The Eagles, naturally, prefer the former. Reid said depth has kept these guys off the field, not inability.
"These guys are going to play," Reid said. "I'm not worried about it. They're good players. They're going to have an opportunity here."
General manager Tom Heckert declined comment and the players to a man said they were more than OK with biding their time.
"The way I look at it, it all will make me a better football player in the future," Abiamiri said. "I'm trying to do what I can now to be successful in the future."
The foreseeable future of the quarterback was determined on Sunday when Donovan McNabb took more hits than a tackling dummy yet delivered an improbable victory. Whether Pam Oliver turns into Nostradamus or Kirk Herbstreit regarding her assertion that McNabb won't be back next year remains to be seen, but No. 5 is certainly the quarterback for the final two games of the regular season.
No one understands that more than the quarterback of the future. While everyone else spent the previous weeks calling for Kolb, the rookie understood his time wasn't now.
"When I first came here I had in the back of my mind that it could be at least 2 years before I played," Kolb said. "Just because the season hasn't gone the way we'd like it to doesn't mean that changes."
Insisting again and again that he trusts Reid's decisions, Kolb admitted that he counts himself among the people who'd like to know what he can do. Technically behind A.J. Feeley as well as McNabb, he still practices with the second team and so he has no idea what he can do with the players he'll eventually call his battery mates.
"I'd rather be able to prepare with the guys you know you're going to be playing with for a long time, but that's not the way it works," he said. "You want to go out there and prove that you're ready for this league, but again, I trust the big man."
It's hard, too, to find fault with Reid regarding Abiamiri's status. Even with Jevon Kearse relegated to multimillion-dollar cheerleader, the Notre Dame man is fighting behind a defensive line that is both solid and healthy for the first time in recent memory.
Finally dressing for games as he's jumped ahead of Kearse, Abiamiri still is looking to make a significant impact outside of special teams. But like Kolb, Abiamiri is an understanding, not disgruntled, rookie.
"I wouldn't say I'm frustrated," Abiamiri said. "As an athlete, you want to compete but you also understand that you are a rookie behind really great veterans. I've been through this before. My freshman year of high school, freshman year of college and I guess now what you'd call my freshman year in the NFL. I was never a guy who played right away. I earned it as I went along."
The curious ones are Celek and Hunt. A training-camp star who got the rare individual shoutout from Reid, Celek figured to get more opportunities than anyone, what with the litany of injuries to starter L.J. Smith. He has played more than his rookie counterparts, but mostly he has logged time on special teams and in blocking situations, hauling in eight catches for 75 yards before the Dallas game.
But after Matt Schobel was knocked out by a questionable hit on Sunday, Celek stepped in. He responded with three catches for 50 yards, including a critical 29-yard grab on third down that pressed the Cowboys to call their final timeout.
"Whatever they gave me, whatever role they gave me, I was willing to play it," Celek said. "Special teams, a little bit of offense, I just did what they told me. I think I've had more than ample opportunities."
Hunt can't say the same. He was supposed to be the Eagles' short-yardage guy but the Eagles are more likely to throw on third-and-short than give Hunt the ball. Last week the former Penn State running back figured he'd see the most playing time of the season, what with Correll Buckhalter out with a concussion.
Despite Reid's pregame vow that "he'll step in and do a good job if Buck can't be in there," Hunt played all of one snap. That he missed a blitz and left McNabb for a blindsided sack didn't help his cause for more work.
So for now the Eagles' latest presents sit, batteries inserted and ready to go, waiting for their chance to play. *