It did not escape Tony Hunt's notice, what Andy Reid said on draft day, when the Eagles traded for Dolphins running back Lorenzo Booker. But Hunt didn't find it all that telling.
Booker is "somebody we really liked in the draft last year, and we couldn't pull it off where we were able to get him," the Eagles' coach said, after sending a fourth-round pick to Miami for the former Florida State star, selected a year earlier by the Dolphins in the third round.
Miami nabbed Booker 71st overall in 2007, then went 1-15, leading to regime change, which made Booker expendable as a draft pick of the previous front office. In that '07 draft, the Eagles took Hunt, a Penn State running back, when their third-round chance arrived, 90th overall. Hunt barely got on the field as a rookie, carrying the ball 10 times for 16 yards.
It was hard not to conclude that the Eagles wanted Lorenzo Booker in the 2007 draft, thought they could get him in the third round. When that didn't work out, they settled for Tony Hunt. Now they have Booker, after all, which would seem to bode ill for Hunt.
"You don't really think about that," Hunt said yesterday, after he and Booker finished a workout at the minicamp for rookies and select (nonestablished) veterans that continues today. "You're going to get a back [to compete for your job]. If you don't get one this year, you'll get one next year. Backs are going to come and they're going to go. It's just like college. You're going to get freshmen in, recruits in. That's not really your focus. Your focus is to do what you're supposed to do, learn the playbook, and do what you need to do to get on the field."
General manager Tom Heckert disputed the notion that Hunt and Booker are competing for a roster spot.
"They're two different guys: Tony's the big 'pounder' guy [6-1, 227], Lorenzo's a different kind of guy [at 5-10, 191], we can spread him and stuff," Heckert said after yesterday's drills. "Really, they're not the same type of guy at all."
They certainly could both make the team, given that punt returner and running back Reno Mahe has not been re-signed. Correll Buckhalter's spot might not be totally secure, as much as everyone roots for Buck to squeeze more downs from his scarred knees.
Hunt and Booker probably are competing for touches, in an offense that spreads the ball. Brian Westbrook got a career-high 368 from scrimmage last season, 278 carries and 90 receptions. His 2,104 yards from scrimmage led the NFL. Buckhalter got 74: 62 carries and a dozen catches. Hunt got just the 10 carries, no pass receptions. Mahe had no carries, one catch.
The Eagles seem to see Booker as Westbrook's understudy, especially in the passing game. They have talked of playing Booker and Westbrook at the same time, one flanked wide, one in the backfield.
"That'd be a dream come true," Booker said yesterday. "Being able to learn from a guy like Brian and be on the field at the same time - if I do what I'm supposed to do, that's going to cause headaches for the defense. Nine times out of 10, they're going to double-cover him before they double-cover me. If one linebacker can guard me, then I don't need to be in the NFL. It's that simple."
Booker is that rarest of running backs, the guy who doesn't mind working extensively or even primarily as a receiver. Booker said a light went on for him in college, watching USC's Reggie Bush, now of the Saints.
"I never really focused on it until I saw the kind of things Reggie was able to do with it. Once I saw that, I really started going to my coaching staff at Florida State and asking to be used that way, and I took catching the ball more seriously," Booker said. "I just fell in love with it. It got to the point where I didn't care how I got the ball anymore . . . And I'll be honest with you, I think about jumping over DBs all the time. That's one of the things that I'm dying to do."
Booker knows the Birds' complex West Coast offense might be a tougher hurdle than a submarining safety, in terms of him getting on the field. That was why he stayed around NovaCare between the first minicamp, the weekend after the draft, and this one, talking to coaches and studying the playbook.
"I was telling my family, this is the most comfortable I've ever been, with any team I've joined for the first time - high school, college, whatever," Booker said. "I stayed specifically so that when we had another camp, I would be ready to go. You can't play if you're thinking, that's just the bottom line."
Hunt understands that. At least part of his problem last season was that Reid's offense is quite different from Joe Paterno's (who knew?). At least once, Hunt got on the field only to be yanked after missing a blitz pickup.
"It was a lot different from what I was used to," Hunt said. "It was one of those things, once you start getting it, you've just got it. You look back, like, 'It wasn't even that hard. What took so long?' "
Hunt's objective in this camp, he said, is to "show everybody you know what you're doing."
"It's almost like when you're just meeting somebody, getting to trust them," Hunt said. "It takes a little bit of time, and if they do anything small that makes you think, 'Oh, he might not . . . ' then you're not going to trust them with something that's really valuable and important to you." *