FIVE WEEKS of onfield work the Eagles didn't get last year concluded Thursday at NovaCare, with the kind of optimism that tends to abound in the springtime, when the reality of real games and tough opposition sits safely on the far horizon.

A big theme of this offseason has been how last year's disappointments grew out of having made huge changes, with no spring work possible to assimilate them because of the NFL lockout. This year, Eagles coach Andy Reid and his staff had a week with their rookies, then 3 weeks with just about everybody on hand for voluntary organized team activities, then 3 days of mandatory full-team minicamp this week.

"It's learning," Reid said Thursday, after dismissing the group until training camp convenes for rookies July 22 at Lehigh. Vets report July 25. "There's no contact, so when you come out here, it's the precision of your pass game, your coverages, and your combination coverages and making sure they understand?…?You get all of those questions answered, and again, depending on how you go about teaching it, and how you go about defining your football team, and how they attack that, that gives you the foundation to go win the Super Bowl. That's what that does. I appreciate the way our guys did this, and they came out and got after it."

Reid was asked about evaluating the defense in a no-pads, noncontact setting.

"The comment that I get from the players who hadn't had the chance to go through our minicamp, from the coaches who went through last year, where they didn't have the opportunity to install, you feel like you're so far ahead," Reid said. He added that since no other teams had offseason camps last year, "it's not an excuse for last year at all," but "It's nice to have it back. It's nice to have the opportunity to coach, that's what we do, and for the players to go out and execute."

The offseason's most prominent addition, middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, said he felt much more grounded and ready than if he been forced to head to Lehigh without ever having lined up in the defense.

"I've been working with [defensive coordinator Juan Castillo] for a while now, and I feel pretty good about where we're at and where we're going," Ryans said. "A tighter bond with the guys is one thing I've gained from it. Also a better understanding of our scheme and what we're trying to do defensively?…?[In these sessions, you] work on the fundamentals of football and just make sure everybody has terminology down, everyone is communicating well. We have a good foundation. It was well worth it, being out here working with the guys. Coming into training camp, we can hit the ground running."

Just about the only business of consequence that remains is the signing of first-round rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the Birds' only unsigned draftee. Cox said Thursday he was leaving the deal up to his agent, Todd France, but said he would be in the fold in time to report to Lehigh. "It won't be a problem," Cox said. Last year's new collective bargaining agreement with its rookie wage scale ought to make holdouts a thing of the past.

"I feel a whole lot more confidence" after working in the defense all spring, Cox said. "I think I stated a couple weeks ago, getting off the ball, I get off the ball a whole lot faster, just use my hands, learning how those [veterans] work, and letting them teach me."

The only rookie so far designated as a starter is strongside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, a second-round pick from Cal.

"He improved every day, and we threw a lot at him to give him a solid foundation to go into training camp with," Reid said, when asked about Kendricks. "If we needed to slow it down so he could get the combination coverages down, we did that with him. He is a gym rat, so he wants every bit of you as a coach, and Juan and [linebackers coach] Michael [Caldwell] spent a lot of time with him. I think he comes out of here with a great foundation that he can continue to build on."

For wideout DeSean Jackson, this is different from a year ago not only because he's been able to work in the offense, but because his long-running quest for a new contract was completed during the offseason.

"It's a good feeling to be able to come out here and just focus on football, and not have other issues on my shoulders," Jackson said. He said he is "at ease in my life."

"I just feel the atmosphere is different here [from a year ago]," Jackson said. "I'd say we had a good three phases of the offseason, and now it's time to kind of get off our feet a little bit and relax, [while staying in shape] to come back for training camp prepared. Coach Reid, we all know how important this year is for us, and he's going to be working our tails off in camp."

Reid is entering his 14th season, with 2012 and 2013 remaining on his contract. Jackson was asked if the coach seems any different.

"I just see his intensity up a little bit," Jackson said. "He's always been an intense coach, but there's an eager[ness] about him right now, and I don't think he's going to let anything stop that."


Andy Reid said there's a chance defensive tackle Mike Patterson will be ready for the start of training camp, after offseason surgery to untangle blood vessels in his brain, "but he has to continue to see his doctor and test it out and see how things go from here." … Reid said safety Colt Anderson, recovering from surgery on his left ACL, probably won't be ready when camp starts, but second-round rookie defensive end Vinny Curry (high ankle sprain) should be … The Eagles signed two of this week's tryouts, linebacker Ryan Rau and defensive end Frank Trotter, giving them 89 names on the 90-man roster … Single-game tickets will go on sale June 21 at 10 a.m.