IT'S STILL the first week of training camp, so it seems likely that Eagles' coaches will be happy if Sam Bradford just keeps getting out there every day, with no swelling or pain in his twice-repaired left knee.
But Bradford gave them a little more to be excited about yesterday, zipping passes into tight windows, lasering long bombs and really looking, for the first time since he arrived here, like a former No. 1 overall draft pick with "did you see that?!" star potential.
Yes, it was only a training-camp practice. But it was a training-camp practice that showed Bradford's talents are not buried under a deep, impenetrable layer of rust, even though he has spent much of the last two years rehabbing knee injuries instead of playing and practicing football.
"He was throwing it today," said tight end Trey Burton, who combined with Bradford for what might have been the play of the day - a laser strike back across the field to the far right edge of the end zone, where Burton was covered but caught the ball anyway for a hypothetical touchdown.
"The more everyone catches balls from him, you're running certain routes, he'll come to you and say, 'Hey, I've seen you do this, I'd rather you do that on this play,' " tight end Brent Celek said. "He's a leader."
Bradford was not available to reporters yesterday, but offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was, for the first time since camp opened. Shurmur was Bradford's offensive coordinator in St. Louis in 2010, before the injuries, when Bradford was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The implication has been that Shurmur had a lot to do with bringing Bradford here, though Eagles coach Chip Kelly said in June that he didn't remember how Bradford's name came up, and Shurmur yesterday played down his influence.
"Basically, I was able to just give some insight to what Sam was all about as a player, and then all the other stuff kind of happened down the hall from me," Shurmur said. "He's the same player. He's a guy that takes great pride in his work, whether it's calling the play and making sure the guys get lined up, to executing the cadence, to dropping back and throwing, his ballhandling, his decision making. So I saw the same player. Unfortunately, he just had some injuries. Some of those things you just can't control.
"I think, just in the time that we've been together here in Philadelphia, I think he's gotten his body and his knee right, and you can see he's executing out here at a high level."
Brandon Graham, finally a starter as he embarks upon his sixth year with the Eagles, was asked yesterday about his goal for sacks this season. At first, Graham didn't want to say, noting only that "We are going to have a lot of sacks." Then he said fans could expect double-digits, but he didn't want to specify. Eventually, under further prodding, he revealed his number.
"My goal is just two a game. That's it," Graham said. Given that there are 16 games, that would be 32 total, 9 1/2 sacks above the all-time NFL record, set by Michael Strahan. Informed of this, Graham stuck with his plan; he figures that if he's going to get 70 snaps a game now, he ought to be able to sack the QB on two of them.
Graham (6-2, 265), one of the few Eagles from Andy Reid's regime who doesn't really meet Kelly's size requirements but seems to be thriving here anyway, said another goal is to be the first player at NovaCare each morning. He has a better shot, now that renowned earlybird tight end James Casey is in Denver.
"People are starting wanting to beat me," said Graham, who signed a new four-year, $26 million contract in the offseason. "My whole thing, I wanted to beat James Casey last year, but I could never do it, because he'd come in here at 5 [a.m.]. I'm, like, 'I ain't getting up that early.' "
Graham said last season he arrived around 5 or 10 minutes after 6; this year, he usually arrives at 6. "I'm just trying to beat the rookies, because they're coming in trying to beat me. I gotta take it a step further."
The main rookie competition is first-round wideout Nelson Agholor, Graham said.
"Nelson might be rookie of the year. I'm really a Nelson fan, man; that's all I'm going to tell you. That boy comes to work every day. It's me up in here, JMatt [Jordan Matthews] and him. And then Tebow, obviously," Graham said.
"Tebow, man, he's up there, man," Graham said. "He's in here early. Sometimes he just pops up out of nowhere, he's, like, 'Man, I been here.' I'm like, 'Where you come from?' He's always in a meeting, looking at film, trying to get better.
"I'm not a GM or nothing, but I really think that's a guy that's going to put in the work, somebody that you can trust . . . He knows his role. Whatever the coach is going to say, he'll do it the best he can."
Encouraging day yesterday for nearly forgotten safety Earl Wolff, working back from microfracture knee surgery last November. "It's still getting used to everyday practicing," Wolff said. "It doesn't feel amazing, but it feels definitely better than it did last year. Honestly, every day, it feels like it's just getting better . . . I feel I can move faster and faster every day" . . . Running back DeMarco Murray (illness) returned to practice on a limited basis. Not so inside linebacker Kiko Alonso (concussion). Also sitting out were tight end Zach Ertz and ILB Mychal Kendricks; no explanation was offered. Ertz made several tough catches Thursday that required him to collide with defenders or hit the ground hard . . . Pat Shurmur on RB Ryan Mathews: "I had a little smile on my face when he came here. I remember when he came out of college, coming out of Fresno [State], I thought he was an outstanding running back, and we certainly weren't in a position to draft him [Shurmur was with the Rams, who took Sam Bradford first overall; Mathews went 12th, to the Chargers]. But I've always kind of appreciated what he is as a player. He's showing out there that he's a real, solid, sturdy guy. I wouldn't call him a downhill runner, but I think because he has really good vision and he catches the ball well and he does a good job in pass protection. So we're very fortunate to have him."