Nobody knows how much NFL play will suffer from a locked-out spring, but after running pass patterns for about an hour yesterday at a South Jersey high school with a dozen or so teammates, Jason Avant said he really needed the work.
"It's a very tough thing for my position," the Eagles' slot receiver said. "What you see on Sundays in October is [the result of] a lengthy rehearsal throughout the summer for the performances during the year. Getting timing down is the hardest thing. You need timing, with bodies."
Avant said workouts like the one Michael Vick organized yesterday in Burlington County help, but "you need to be able to have guys' hands in your face." The players have decided against anything resembling full-squad workouts right now because injuries suffered in this setting could void contracts, they said. But Avant said if the lockout continues, at some point such risks will be necessary.
"This is the offseason where you have to depend on guys' work ethic," Avant said. "Those teammates that don't work, this offseason will show that, more than any other year," absent the usual push from coaches at minicamps and OTAs.
"We've all called each other, tried to get more guys, but you can understand - if a guy says, 'I'm in California, and I've paid a trainer,' you can't get on a guy for something like that," Avant said. "We just have to go with the numbers that we have."
Those numbers were enhanced yesterday with the arrival of Sinorice Moss, the former Giants wideout the Eagles signed in January. Moss, a second-round Giants selection in 2006, reached an injury settlement with the Giants last season after suffering a sports hernia, his third major injury.
Moss said the lockout has made changing teams a bit tricky. He was meeting several of his new teammates for the first time yesterday, trying to pick up what he could about the Eagles' offense. Moss quickly attached himself to Avant, whom he knew from being in the same draft class.
"Just being out here with him, him telling me what I need to know as far as some of the routes and depths, some of the key things I need to know so that when we do get a chance to return, I can be on top of my game," Moss, 27, said when asked what he got from the session.
"I ran a couple routes, got back in the feel of being on the field, being around teammates, feeling that cameraderie, and just having fun," Moss said. "That's the one thing I've missed the most. I work out with a group of guys in [North Jersey] that are on different teams, and you have a cameraderie with those guys because you're friends, but having the same cameraderie with your teammates is totally different. Having an opportunity to come out here today and work out with these guys is definitely a pleasure."
The lockout hasn't been the toughest thing Avant has dealt with this offseason. On March 31, his father Jerry Avant, 51, was killed in a South Jersey auto accident.
"My dad had some hard times in his life, some troubles and some mistakes he'd made," said Avant, who nearly quit football in high school in Chicago but was encouraged to stick it out during a phone call from his father, then imprisoned. "He came here with me, then moved out on his own. At 51, it's a real, real hard situation. The thing that I love most is that he came here to give himself over to Jesus Christ, to become a better person. I was comforted somewhat by that.
"It's one of the hardest couple of months of my life, but I look at it as, God knows, he doesn't make mistakes, and it'll work out."
Other receivers present yesterday included Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Brent Celek. Vick and Mike Kafka did the passing.
"Just getting out here, cutting, running the routes we need to run during the season is good," Celek said. "The first time you get out here, you feel like a fish out of water."
Celek said "it's going to take some time" for newcomers such as Moss to really learn the offense.
"We can teach 'em the routes, but listening to the plays in the huddle is totally different."
Celek sees the main point of the players' sessions "just to keep Mike [Vick] in sync with us, get his arm going, so that when we come back, it's not like, 'Oh my gosh, these guys haven't been doing anything.' "
Kicker David Akers had planned to work out yesterday on the same field his teammates ended up using - he didn't know they were coming, but was glad to see them. Akers, 36, was transition-tagged before the lockout but did not accept the tag. The Birds drafted Alex Henery of Nebraska in the fourth round last month. The obvious inference is that Akers is done here, but no one has actually said that.
As tough as the offseason has been for Avant, it might have been worse for Akers, who missed two field goals in the 21-16 playoff loss to the Packers that ended the Eagles' season. This happened 2 days after Akers learned his 6-year-old daughter, Halley, had a rare form of ovarian cancer, which led to the removal of her left ovary, Akers said.
Add to that the fact that Akers lost most of his life's savings a few years ago in an investment scheme recommended by his former holder, Koy Detmer, a scam that ultimately led to SEC charges of defrauding investors against Triton Financial, of Austin, Texas. Akers needs a multiyear deal with a signing bonus to ensure his retirement, but the lockout has left all that up in the air.
"I can only take it day by day. I know that sounds cliche-ish, but that's just the reality of how we're supposed to really live life to begin with," Akers said.
Akers was able to work with long-snapper Jon Dorenbos yesterday, but not with holder/punter Sav Rocca. Rocca is home in Australia and couldn't come to South Jersey to work out even if he wanted to, Akers said.
"Sav actually can't even come back into the country right now - his work visa is up" and of course, with the players locked out, he can't get it renewed.
Akers agrees "it doesn't look like I'll be back," but he doesn't know for sure. The Eagles kept two kickers Akers' rookie year of 1999, with Akers handling the longer tries for Norm Johnson, "but that was a completely different situation," Akers said. "Norm was done as far as kicking off, basically . . . I still feel real strong. Heck, I was out here hitting [from] 60 today."
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