THE FIRST minicamp the Eagles hold, a few weeks after the draft, is chaotic and intimidating for many rookies. They're lining up for the first time in an offense or defense they haven't studied, alongside veterans they've only seen previously on TV. The idea is to introduce concepts to the new guys, and "introducing" usually is about the extent of it.
The second minicamp, though, is just for rookies and select veterans - generally second-year players who didn't get on the field much as rookies. That camp, which started last Thursday and continues through this week, with a few more veterans added to the mix starting today, is where a lot of the crucial systems teaching actually occurs.
"There's no substitute for it," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday. "Last week we installed a hefty portion of our base runs and passes. This week we're doing just a little bit more situational work. All the players get a little taste of what our rules are in 2-minute, what are rules are in short-yardage, in blitz - much of the game is situational."
Mornhinweg mentioned third-round rookie running back Tony Hunt, from Penn State, as someone who is showing the kind of progress the coaches want to see before the entire team reconvenes next week.
Hunt (6-1, 233) agreed that he was starting to grasp the offense, despite what he termed "the occasional series of brain [cramps] out there."
Hunt and seventh-round pick Nate Ilaoa (5-9, 245), from Hawaii, are the only rookie running backs in this camp. Hunt said that was benefical for learning.
"You can't slow down the tempo of practice to a rookie's pace when you have vets around who have been doing it a while," Hunt said. "The coaches get more of a chance for individual attention - they might stop the play, fix stuff up, things you can't do with the vets around. It's a good chance for us to get in and work out some of the kinks. Hopefully, when we jump in with the vets, I want to get in and be able to run the offense and not slow those guys up, because you can really tell that annoys 'em, especially the quarterbacks. You're in there, somebody's messing the play up - you don't want to be that guy that does that."
Like most newcomers to Andy Reid's West Coast offense, Hunt said the concepts weren't all that unfamiliar but the terminology was.
"It's crazy," Hunt said. "You're in an offense for 4 years [in college], you get used to it. A swing route here is different than a swing route where I was. We ran the same kind of inside zone plays, but our steps are different here. I was really wide on my inside zone steps in school. Now I have to be a lot tighter and a lot quicker. Everything happens a lot quicker."
Both Hunt and Ilaoa said they thought their aptitude for catching the ball was helpful.
"This offense has a lot of good routes for the backs, in motion, split wide," Hunt noted. "As a running back, you kind of like that, being matched up against a linebacker in space."
Ilaoa (pronounced Allow-ah) said he'd heard "there was a lot more passing here than with most NFL teams," which is fine with him because "that's what I'm used to out in Hawaii. You block first in Hawaii; you always have a gunslinger sitting back there [at quarterback]. Coach [June] Jones wants you to protect 'the golden arm.' Everything happens from there. Here, you're not just blocking, you can go out there and get the ball."
He said he was "bug-eyed" in the first minicamp, but "this [camp] kind of takes a step back . . . everybody's on the same page, you can just kind of sit back and get through this thing together."
Ilaoa said in this minicamp, the coaches take over the roles veterans played in the first get-together.
"When the vets were here for the first camp, me and Tony were tapping into their information system the whole time," Ilaoa said. "The coaches weren't really coaching us, they were just kind of like, 'Let's go, this is the tempo.' With the vets here, that's how they run things."
Second-round rookie defensive end Victor Abiamiri said defensive-line coach Pete Jenkins "has been pretty patient with us."
"A lot of us are on the same knowledge level, going through things for the first time," Abiamiri said. "Obviously, you wouldn't expect every single thing to go smoothly; there are going to be some mistakes here and there. There's a little more tolerance level here than when the veterans are here . . . This will allow me to play faster, instead of thinking about things too much."