IN HOCKEY, THEY say if you have two starting goalies, then you don't really have a starting goalie.
Translation: To win, you need a top-notch, dominant goaltender. If you have two guys who are about at the same level, then you probably don't have a top-notch, dominant goaltender.
What does this have to do with the Eagles minicamp that ended yesterday? Well, in his wrapup remarks to reporters, Andy Reid was touting all the great "competition" the team expects in training camp, particularly on defense. But Reid acknowledged that as diverting as "competition" can be, it is not an end unto itself.
Asked about whether "unanswered questions" were such a good thing, the Eagles' coach said: "I think as long as the unanswered questions - you have good answers for when it's all solved, then that's a good thing. I think we have good players in competition with one another. I guess time will tell on that, but I think it's important that the guy that comes out and wins that competition is a good football player."
Case in point: The Eagles have half a dozen defensive ends. They have big ones (second-round rookie Victor Abiamiri, 6-4, 267); skinny ones (Jevon Kearse, rehabbing from knee surgery, is down to 240 but swears he intends to gain 20 pounds by late July); overachieving ones (Juqua Thomas had 3.5 sacks and three hurries in the final three games, including the playoff loss to New Orleans); underachieving ones (Darren Howard, signed to a 6-year, $32 million deal as a free agent last year, managed one sack and one hurry in the final eight games, including the playoffs). They have a guy who was a great draft bargain (Trent Cole, with 13 sacks in two seasons since arriving as a fifth-rounder) and a guy who might go down as Reid's biggest-ever draft blunder (Jerome McDougle, with three sacks since the Birds traded up to draft him 15th overall in 2003).
But do they have at least two guys, one for each side, who can get consistent pass-rush pressure and do a decent job of setting the edge when the other team runs to their side?
That's a better question, and one that won't be answered at least until the preseason. Until then, well, as defensive coordinator Jim Johnson noted, in this minicamp he had Cole starting opposite Kearse in the morning sessions and Howard opposite Kearse in the afternoons. Everybody else kind of gets tossed around in the mix.
"Don't worry about the depth chart right now, because you're going to see guys moving up and down," Johnson said.
Kearse insists you shouldn't worry about him, even if he is looking like an elongated Brian Dawkins.
"I'm 100 percent mentally and about 90 to 95 percent physically," said Kearse, who had 3.5 sacks before going down in overtime of Game 2. Gaining back the weight "is not a problem."
Kearse said he's thin because, "I've been doing too much cardio . . . a lot of StairMaster, a lot of treadmill . . . I have 1 percent body fat right now."
Howard, meanwhile, seemed to suffer from Kearse's absence last season. As Reid noted, he got off to a decent start.
"I really thought [he was] playing at a Pro Bowl level early," Reid said. "Then he got hurt [a groin injury] and wasn't able to get back at that level. He came in this camp and did a nice job, but again, there's competition there. Trent Cole's a good player. As we know here, you can't have enough good ones on the defensive line, and they'll all get to play. You can't have too many there."
Howard said he isn't worried about how it all factors out.
"This team is different from a lot of teams - we rotate so much," he said. "With me playing on the inside [at tackle] also, I'm going to still see a majority of the reps. We're all looking to contribute . . . Competition's going to make us better."
Howard said the groin injury "lingered around for, like, 3 or 4 weeks. It was a toss-up as to whether to keep me out of a game or participate. A couple of those games, I was a little slow and not able to do a lot of things. But I really didn't want to miss any time, no matter how limited I was . . . we were already missing Jevon."
As Howard noted, given the complexity of Johnson's defense, it's hard to say how much Abiamiri can contribute this season.
"Some guys it takes a couple weeks to get into it, some guys it takes a couple years," Howard said. "He has all the tools - he's big, fast, he listens. It seems like he picks up a lot very easily."
Abiamiri said it was "kind of tough to get a grasp on everything" in the first minicamp, but he plans to give the playbook a lot of attention. Rookies convene for another camp on May 24.
"I asked a ton of questions this week - [the veterans] probably got annoyed at all the questions," Abiamiri said.
Cole noted that Abiamiri "is bigger than all of us."
Cole, whose eight sacks led the Eagles last season, said he understands about the rotation idea, but given his choice, "I'm a game-player, I'm not a guy who likes to come out."
Andy Reid said he thinks Donovan McNabb will be able to throw to new wide receiver Kevin Curtis before training camp, and he expects McNabb to be full go for camp, which starts July 27 . . . Reid said all the various injured Eagles ought to be able to participate when the next full-team minicamp convenes June 5 . . . Wide receiver Jason Avant had a good minicamp and could factor into the slot receiver situation, along with Hank Baskett . . . Delaware native, Eagles fan and Brewers outfielder Kevin Mench took advantage of Milwaukee being in town to take in yesterday's workout. *