BETHLEHEM - Asante Samuel was in fine voice yesterday morning. Hardly a play passed without comment from the Eagles' Pro Bowl cornerback, volume thoughtfully adjusted to give offensive and defensive teammates, plus fans, the full benefit of his wisdom.
"I'm thinking you guys think I can't run or something," Samuel said during a one-on-one coverage drill. "Every ball's a deep ball. Andy, is that what it is?"
Eagles coach Andy Reid did not respond. Samuel's targets seldom do, but that doesn't discourage him.
Later in the same drill, Samuel announced: "I'm waiting on 14, coach. I think [rookie Riley] Cooper's the best over there. That's why I want Cooper. You hear me, Jason [Avant]? I want Cooper."
Again, Samuel's request - perhaps a sly dig at Cooper's status as camp phenom - was ignored. He covered Jeremy Maclin and knocked away the pass.
Still later, during 11-on-11 work, after a goal-line screen, Samuel scolded the playcalling, citing grounds many Eagles fans have raised during the Reid era.
"You can't live on trick plays," he admonished. "You've just got to line up and beat a man sometimes."
Samuel seemed to like the sound of that last line, so he repeated it several times, until a fan hollered out: "Shut up and tackle!"
Most days are like this with Samuel, the game-changing playmaker whose shortcomings as a tackler became a major topic with the fans last season.
There are times when you think all this yapping must get on teammates' nerves, especially from a guy who acknowledges he's lighter than his listed 185 pounds, and who doesn't play a physical game.
If it does grate, nobody was willing to say as much yesterday. In fact, the consensus was at times like these - the final days of Lehigh drudgery, with today the last two-a-day before camp breaks tomorrow, resuming at NovaCare Thursday for a walkthrough - Samuel's soundtrack seems to help keep players focused.
"I absolutely love it. I think it brings great energy," Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "Football is a game of emotion, and this is not a library out here, so I love the noise."
"It's fun," strong safety Quintin Mikell said. "We're out here for a long time. It's hot, everybody's sweaty. Just having his mouth up here, just gives us energy."
Mikell is quiet and serious, not given to boasting. But he said he doesn't mind playing alongside a very different personality.
"I like Asante. I'm glad he's here," Mikell said. "He makes everybody better, everybody around him. He has a great swagger to him."
Avant said the offense knows better than to be baited into a verbal battle with Samuel.
"We don't really say too much to him - he's usually just yelling outrageous comments to get somebody to respond to him. You get used to it . . . if you don't pay attention, you'll be fine," Avant said.
"People try to hit him every now and again, shut him up, but he doesn't shut up. You can catch a [touchdown] ball on him, you can knock him down, he's going to get up talking."
Left guard Todd Herremans said Samuel's taunting "brings a good element to practice."
"Everybody gets a little hyped. Max [Jean-Gilles] starts jawing back at him. It just raises the level of practice a little bit," he said.
Samuel said yesterday he doesn't force the chatter, it just comes naturally.
"It's a Florida thing. People talk a lot of [bleep] in Florida. That's the word on the street about us Florida boys," he said. "It helps get through the day. Helps everybody stay motivated, you know?"
Samuel said he thinks he does irritate the offensive guys sometimes, but in a way that inspires competition.
"What can you do besides come out and try to beat us the next play?" he said.
Samuel is defensive about the poor tackling business. He opined after last season that the Eagles "knew what they were getting" when they signed him as a free agent from New England in 2008. They did indeed bring him here to create turnovers, and he does indeed do that - tying for the NFL high with nine picks last season.
But by the end of last season, teams seemed to understand that Samuel was going to play off the ball, waiting to swoop in for interceptions. They started throwing underneath him, exploiting his tackling troubles, made more exploitable by poor linebacker play in the absence of injured bulwark Stewart Bradley.
Samuel hasn't wanted to acknowledge he had to do anything in the offseason to adjust. But yesterday, McDermott acknowledged it for him.
"Asante is a pro and he's driven, in my mind, by being the best [in the league] and the best that he can be. I think he realized that he needed to get in the weight room, which he has, and add muscle to his body, which he has," McDermott said. "To me, he looks like he's added 5 to 6 pounds of muscle. I can't confirm that right now . . . When he came back in the spring, when I saw him for the first time since February or January there, [I knew] that he had been working hard. That's to his credit."
Asked about that, Samuel acknowledged he'd tried to add muscle. He also indicated he was well below 185 last season, and doesn't even weigh quite that much today.
"I just wanted to gain a little weight, get back to 185," he said. "I'm not quite there." *
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