IN YOUTH-OBSESSED Eagleland, it's never a good thing to be the oldest guy in the room, because it usually means you're going to be the next one out the door.
With the offseason exoduses of Donovan McNabb and Darren Howard, the bull's-eye now is on Juqua Parker's back. The defensive end turned 32 last month, which makes him the oldest non-kicker on the team's peach-fuzzed roster at the moment.
But Parker hardly is sitting around waiting for a pink slip.
"Ah, age ain't nothing but a number," he said yesterday after the Eagles finished a full-squad OTA under a broiling June sun. "I'm just trying to be a leader, man. Trying to show these young guys how to do it."
There are kids, kids everywhere at One NovaCare Way these days. While the Eagles insist they aren't rebuilding, there's no debating that they've gotten younger. A lot younger. Kindercare young. Peruse their current 86-man roster (they can only take 80 players to training camp next month) and you'll find just 23 non-kickers with more than 3 years of NFL experience.
Take Parker out of the equation and the average age of the other seven defensive ends on their roster is 24.1. Some of these guys were still sucking their thumbs when Parker broke into the league as an undrafted free agent back in 2001.
Parker is coming off his best NFL season. Starting 11 games at left end, he had a career-high eight sacks in '09. Only Trent Cole had more (12 1/2). He also had a career-high 21 hurries, just five fewer than Cole's 26.
"I try to enjoy every season," Parker said. "I try to make progress every year. Get better every year. Hopefully, I'll be even better this season and get even more than eight sacks."
A lot will depend on how much playing time he gets. At 6-2 and just 255 pounds, Parker really isn't suited to be an every-down end. Playing the run never has been his strong suit. But with Victor Abiamiri unable to stay healthy for longer than a couple of days at a time, that's pretty much been the role he's been forced to play the last 2 years.
With Abiamiri's status for this season up in the air after having microfracture knee surgery in February, the Eagles acquired Darryl Tapp from the Seattle Seahawks in mid-March for Chris Clemons and a fourth-round pick. Then, in April, they traded up in the first round of the draft and selected Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham.
While Parker still is listed as the starter at left end, the 25-year-old Tapp figures to wind up as the Eagles' first- and second-down left end this season since he is a better run defender than Parker.
That would leave Parker and Graham to be used in nickel situations. But if Graham turns out to be as good as the Eagles think/hope he is, that might not leave a lot of snaps for Parker.
"We got rid of some guys [Clemons and Howard] and Vic [Abiamiri] ended up getting hurt," Parker said. "So I knew somebody would be coming in. I knew we were going to be drafting somebody. It wasn't a surprise. I've had the good fortune to be on two teams where I was there for a while. Four [seasons] in Tennessee, six here. I'm enjoying it, man. I just take it a day at a time."
Parker has been remarkably durable for an undersized guy who has had to play as many snaps as he has had to play the last few years. He hasn't missed a game since the Eagles signed him in 2006.
"They know my passion for the game," he said. "They know when I'm out there, I'm going to try to make something happen, going to try to make some kind of play. They know.
"This team is the team that really gave me the chance to play ball and show what I could do."
Like his Pro Bowl compadre Cole on the right side, Parker has a nonstop motor. He finished strong last season, recording three sacks in the Eagles' last five games and five in the last nine. The Eagles had just 21 sacks in their last nine regular-season games, but Parker and Cole had 11 of them. Parker was the only player with sacks in both of the Eagles' regular-season losses to the Cowboys.
"It's a mind thing to me," Parker said. "If I just set my goals to what I want to do, I can do it. Toward the end of the season is when I stepped up.
"If I can bring it every play, that's what I'm going to try to do. If I can't, hey, then that means it's time to wrap it up."
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