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Veteran Birds battling clock

Matt McCoy, Ryan Moats and Jerome McDougle once appeared to have bright futures. Now, their rivals do.

The Eagles' healing Donovan McNabb looked on as rookie quarterback Kevin Kolb, the team's top draft pick, took a snap at the weekend minicamp.
The Eagles' healing Donovan McNabb looked on as rookie quarterback Kevin Kolb, the team's top draft pick, took a snap at the weekend minicamp.Read more

Time flies even when you're not always having fun.

Proof of that could be found on the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex during the Eagles' three-day, post-draft minicamp that came to a close yesterday.

Wasn't it just yesterday that Matt McCoy moved into the starting lineup at weakside linebacker?

Wasn't it just last week that Ryan Moats looked like the young running back who gave the Eagles an explosive outside threat?

Wasn't it just last month that Jerome McDougle showed up as the celebrated first-round draft pick who would replace Hugh Douglas at defensive end?

Now, as the Eagles get ready for the 2007 season, there's another cast of fresh faces blooming with potential.

Chris Gocong, not McCoy, is the second-year linebacker primed to move into the starting lineup.

Tony Hunt, not Moats, is the rookie running back who has captured everybody's attention.

Victor Abiamiri, not McDougle, is the defensive end from a storied college program who has a chance to make a huge impact as a rookie.

Time doesn't only fly; sometimes it expires.

We've already seen the Eagles cut ties with veterans Dhani Jones and Sam Rayburn in recent weeks, and it would be at least as shocking as the Eagles' using their top draft pick on a quarterback if McCoy, Moats and McDougle all extended their Philadelphia stories through the 2007 season.

"Every year, that's how it is in this league," McCoy said yesterday. "You've got to fight for your position whether you're starting or not. I always have a chip on my shoulder, and every year you have something to prove. I think that's just motivation for me. I'm just excited that I have another chance to show people what I can do."

That chance isn't as great as it was a year ago, when he showed up at the minicamp as the player to unseat as the starting weakside linebacker. McCoy, a second-round pick from San Diego State in 2005, kept the job and had some good games early in the season.

By December, however, he was worn down by a nagging shoulder injury and benched in favor of rookie Omar Gaither, who started the final five regular-season games and the two playoff games.

In the off-season, the Eagles traded for veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowler who is expected to handle the starting weakside job. The chip on McCoy's shoulder is bigger than ever as he tries to regain his starting job.

That is the case "just because everybody has put me down, saying I can't play and everything," McCoy said. "I just want to prove people wrong, and I've done that since I was young. I thought I had some solid games last year, but I got hurt and there's only so much you can do when you get hurt.

"I had nerve damage and I lost a lot of strength in my left shoulder. I could go out there and do things, but I wasn't myself. I kept having stingers and I couldn't lift weights anymore."

Injuries, of course, have been a constant hindrance for McDougle, whose three career sacks don't come close to matching the 31 games he has missed because of a laundry list of physical problems.

He missed the first eight games of his rookie season after injuring his leg in three places during a preseason game. A year later, he lost one game to an irregular heartbeat and four others to a sprained knee. The 2005 season was wiped out by a gunshot wound to the stomach when he became a carjacking victim in South Florida. Last year, he missed the first two games after breaking his ribs in training camp.

Now McDougle is buried on the depth chart at defensive end and has to be considered a long shot to make the team.

"I can only do what I can control," McDougle said. "I'll just go out there and practice hard and just try to get ready. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. You have to make the most of your opportunities in this league, especially when you have so many good players and up-and-coming players.

"The best thing you can do is try to stay healthy and just try to stay out there, because when you're out of sight, you're out of mind. My whole career has pretty much been dealing with injuries, but I'm in good shape and I'm healthy now."

Moats' story also involves injuries, but in a different way. As a rookie, he got to play because of the season-ending foot sprain of star running back Brian Westbrook, and seemed to make the most of his opportunity.

He had back-to-back big games against the New York Giants and St. Louis Rams, carrying a total of 23 times for 192 yards and three touchdowns. By the end of the season, however, he wasn't getting the ball as often as Bruce Perry.

With the exception of a game against Green Bay when Westbrook was sidelined by a sore knee and the meaningless season finale against Atlanta, Moats basically disappeared for most of his second NFL season.

Now, with Hunt and seventh-round draft choice Nate Ilaoa joining the Eagles, there's reason to wonder if Moats will make the team.

"That's just how it is," Moats said. "Ryan Moats will be ready to go and Ryan Moats will give it all he's got. I ain't afraid of competition. Tony Hunt hasn't proven anything, either. He's got to prove it, too. I do, too. This isn't make-or-break for me. If I don't play here, I'll play somewhere. That's just how you have to look at it, but I'm here to make this team and I'm pretty sure I will."

Wasn't it just yesterday that McCoy, McDougle and Moats all had this team made?