BETHLEHEM - If you're a kid coming out of college right now, the job market is as barren as the Sahara. For an aspiring accountant, nurse, journalist, lawyer, graphic designer, sales rep or any one of a hundred other professions, sending out resumes has become as futile as mailing a Christmas list to Santa.
Ordinarily, the same can be said for NFL rookies trying to earn meaningful playing time on the Andy Reid-coached Eagles. But not this year. This year, the team's training camp at Lehigh University has become the land of opportunity for newbies.
Young is in and old is out. Goodbye, Donovan McNabb. Hello, Mike Kafka. Au revoir, Brian Westbrook. Bonjour, Charles Scott.
Arrivederci, Sheldon Brown. Buon giorno, Trevard Lindley. Auf Wiedersehen, Darren Howard. Guten tag, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Ricky Sapp.
The Eagles, who have qualified for the playoffs 8 of the last 10 years, who won 11 games a year ago, headed into two-a-days as one of the youngest teams in the league. They selected an NFL-high 13 picks in the April draft and have made it clear to them that if they can shine in these 3 weeks of camp and the four preseason games, there will be a place, perhaps a prominent place, for them on this baby-faced, but playoff-contending, football team.
"Coach said [Monday] that they're looking for some of the young players to step up," said Sapp, a fifth-round defensive end out of Clemson. "So, I'm just going to come out here every day and try to take somebody's job."
After watching his defense give up 27 touchdown passes last year and hold just two of their last 10 opponents under 20 points, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has told his rookies that there's plenty of work available on that side of the ball.
"I'm looking for the best 11,'' McDermott said. "I don't care young or old. I want the best 11. It doesn't matter what you make, doesn't matter how many years you've played. If you're here and you perform, you're going to play. Bottom line."
One rookie, second-rounder Nate Allen, already has risen to the top of the depth chart at free safety before even laying a single training-camp lick. Another, first-round pick Brandon Graham could wrest the starting left end job away from Juqua Parker if he gets his unsigned butt into camp reasonably soon.
Te'o-Nesheim and Sapp both will get hard summer looks from McDermott as potential nickel pass-rushing specialists. So will swift-but-light linebacker Keenan Clayton, who already is impressing the coaches in the 3-day rookie phase of camp with his coverage skills.
Another rookie who will be given an opportunity to impress this summer is Lindley, the fourth-round cornerback out of Kentucky.
Ellis Hobbs heads into training game as the man to beat for the starting right corner job that opened up in early April when Brown was shipped to the Cleveland Browns. But he's hardly a lock to win the job.
Hobbs, who was acquired by the Eagles in a draft day 2009 trade with the Patriots, was given an opportunity to unseat Brown last summer and never really challenged him. Then he suffered a career-threatening neck injury in November that required surgery.
Nickel corner Joselio Hanson is on record as saying he deserves a shot at the right corner job and hopes to prove it in camp. But while Hanson has developed into one of the league's better slot defenders, it remains to be seen whether he is fast enough at this point in his career to regularly play outside. Another thing that is working against both Hobbs and Hanson is their size. They're both only 5-9.
Which brings us to Lindley.
At 6-0 and 183 pounds, he's 3 inches taller than Hobbs and Hanson. But that height advantage won't matter much if he can't prove he can cover NFL receivers.
"I played in the SEC, which is one of the best conferences in the country," Lindley said. "It was good preparation for this level. When the veterans get here [today], I'll find out just how fast it is here.''
Two years ago, Lindley was considered one of the top college corners in the country. NFL scouts projected him as a second-rounder if he came out after his junior year. But against the advice of his mother, Lindley decided to stay in school.
That decision didn't work out so well for him. Hoping to improve his draft stock and play himself into the first round, he suffered a high ankle sprain four games into the season. He missed four games, then came back before the ankle was completely healed. His play suffered. So did his draft stock.
"I did all right, but there were some deep balls that I got beat on," Lindley said. "It was frustrating. But it was my senior season. I didn't want to be on the sidelines. I sucked it up and went out and played.
"I guess I should've listened to my mother [and left school early]."
Lindley's decision to stay in school cost him money. The fourth-round signing bonus he got from the Eagles wasn't anywhere close to what he would have received as a first- or second-rounder.
But now he's here, just hoping to make the best of his opportunity.
"I'm just going to come out here every day and work hard and try to either win a starting job or get in the nickel or dime rotation," Lindley said.
The Eagles felt they got a bargain in the fourth round with Lindley. Considering the problems with their pass defense last year and the trade of Brown, they took some heat for not taking a cornerback earlier. But they think they ended up with a first-round-quality cover man.
"The high ankle sprain kind of put a damper on his college season," Reid said. "It happened early and he never really got over that thing, but he didn't want to stop playing, which showed me something.
"He's a quiet guy with a tremendous desire to play the game. So he stayed out there and [played hurt]. I had a chance to talk to Rich Brooks, who was the head coach there, and Rich said that Trevard is, if not the best, one of the best corners he's ever coached, and the best one that he's ever coached at that school.
"We went off his junior year's film [when they evaluated him]. There were three big-time receivers [Florida's Percy Harvin, Alabama's Julio Jones and Georgia's A.J. Green] that he shut down and did a great job against, so he has a lot of potential. We'll see how he does, how he handles it here. But I think he's a very good football player."
Here, in the land of opportunity, that just might translate into a starting job in September.