For each change made in this most transforming of off-seasons, the Eagles had an answer.

It could be argued - and, indeed, it has been - that the answers won't prove to be the correct ones. But, by and large, when the Eagles dumped a player during a frenzied month of cuts and trades, they did so with a reasonable replacement in mind.

But there was one move and the lack of a counter-move that remains a head-scratcher for many.

When the Eagles open training camp in Bethlehem on Monday with the reporting of rookies and selected veterans, there will be new faces at positions that had been synonymous with their previous occupants.

For the first time in years, Donovan McNabb will not be the Eagles' starting quarterback, and Brian Westbrook will not be the starting running back. But it's not as if their replacements were picked up off the waiver wire. Kevin Kolb and LeSean McCoy are high draft picks that have been groomed to take over someday.

The same can't be said at right cornerback, where Sheldon Brown started for more than six seasons.

However, when the 31-year-old Brown was dealt to Cleveland in early April, the Eagles said they already had his substitute in the system: Ellis Hobbs.

Hobbs, who couldn't beat out Brown for the job last training camp and who was coming off season-ending neck surgery? That Hobbs? Surely, it was believed, the Eagles would expend one of their many draft picks in a trade, or, at the very least, use a high pick on a ready-to-start cornerback.

But the draft came and went, and the most the Eagles did to address the need was select Trevard Lindley, a prospect who was injured during parts of his senior season, in the fourth round.

"We had Hobbs coming back, and we had gotten a decent report from his doctor on his recovery," Eagles coach Andy Reid said last month. "And then we drafted Lindley, and we felt like he has a chance to be a pretty good player. We knew that Macho [Harris] could do both [safety and cornerback]. We felt we could be OK there."

Despite hardly practicing during spring workouts, Hobbs remains the starter heading into camp. Reid told reporters at the end of June's voluntary practices that Hobbs would return during camp, but he never said when.

In May, Hobbs likened his surgery - anterior cervical decompression and fusion for a herniated disk - and the risk of reinjury to a game of Jenga. (Pull one piece out and the whole thing falls apart.) Other than that, he said, "I'm at no more risk than anybody out on that field."

Even if Hobbs is healthy, he has to beat out a handful of competitors. The Eagles traded for the former Patriot last April in the hope that he would push Brown. He did not. Hobbs gave Brown or his counterpart, Asante Samuel, a spell or two. But it's not as if they were world-beaters.

Brown and Samuel tallied an impressive 14 interceptions, but they were part of a defense that allowed 27 passing touchdowns, was ranked 17th in pass defense, and was undressed by the Cowboys in the last two games of the season.

Hobbs, meanwhile, mostly returned kickoffs until he injured his neck in Game 8.

"Ellis Hobbs played how many games last year?" Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "So he's still learning the intricacies of the defense. But he's not able to take part right now. So at training camp we're going to try and get him out there as early as we can and get him as many [repetitions] as we can."

If Hobbs misses the early portion of camp, Harris and Joselio Hanson are expected to get most of the reps with the first team, much as they did during the spring. Harris was an all-American corner at Virginia Tech but was moved to safety as a rookie last year. He eventually won the starting job at free safety but is at least temporarily back to his natural position.

"Macho's physical," Reid said. "He's probably not as fast as Hobbs, but he's smart, has good football instincts, and understands the defense."

Hanson has been the Eagles' nickel for the last several seasons, but he sees the lack of a significant off-season addition as his chance to finally start.

"That was a surprise," Hanson said. "They've always added somebody, like when we got rid of Lito [Sheppard]. Every year it seems like they've added somebody else. I guess this year they wanted to give some guys some shots."

Hanson enters this camp without the burden of a suspension hanging over him. Last year, he appealed a four-game suspension for using a performance enhancer, but eventually he had to serve the time. His play suffered upon his return.

Hanson, generously listed at 5-foot-9, is also smaller than Harris (6-0) and Hobbs (closer to 5-9 than Hanson is). Lindley, at 6-0, is an interesting prospect, because he has such long arms.

Ultimately, Hobbs appears to be the front-runner despite his deficiencies. He did start every game for New England in the two seasons prior to his trade, including 2008, when he and Samuel were the starting corners on the team that opened 18-0 only to lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

He wants to start again - not that he ever thought he wasn't a starter.

"In my mind the whole time, I'm starting every game," Hobbs said. "If you were to open me up you would think I was crazy inside because that's how it was. But that's how you get through the day. That's how you get through certain situations."

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Jeff_McLane.