Eagles call the right plays without Reid in the huddle

The Baltimore Sun

PHILADELPHIA -- It was like any other Thursday, in so many ways. The Philadelphia Eagles were on the practice field, doing whatever it is they do to get ready to play the Dallas Cowboys. It was a warm day, a little breezy, pleasant. Airplanes took off in the distance. A truck driver on Broad Street shouted some encouragement as he peered out of his elevated cab over the screen of arbor vitae. He blew his horn, once, twice, as he waited for the traffic light at Pattison Avenue.

Team owner Jeffrey Lurie and president Joe Banner watched much of practice, as they often do. The team worked in small groups and then in bigger groups. The kickers stayed for a while, then left for some practice at Lincoln Financial Field. The injured watched and kibitzed.

That is what coach Andy Reid missed - not nothing, but not much. Cornerback Lito Sheppard said: "Everybody did their job. We don't need Big Boss Man watching over us to do our job."

If Reid were suffering from the flu, it would have merited a paragraph. But it was not the flu. Reid was in a Montgomery County (Pa.) courtroom, watching with his wife, Tammy, as two of their sons were sentenced to jail terms for drug and other offenses.

One more time, a troubled family endured a public test. That we all have opinions on the matter is human nature. That none of us has all of the relevant facts is the simple truth. Mostly, we watch in wonder as Andy Reid continues to live a public life.

Thursday, for the first time in a while, his players talked about it.

Pointedly, in the case of Sheppard: "Even though they're his sons, they're grown up. He can't be holding himself responsible for ... their actions."

Poignantly, in the case of tight end L.J. Smith: "My mama used to tell me, 'You don't know love until you've had kids.'"

Expansively, quarterback Donovan McNabb's case: "It's a lot different when you look back and see the big guy with the faded black shorts, the shirt that you see every day, and the little gray shorts he has on underneath. But we know the situation, and we [team leaders] wanted to be sure everyone understood that being out at practice [without the coach] isn't an opportunity to just be kind of loose and fly around. We have a job to do, and [we need to] make sure we do it with excitement out there.

"We wanted it to be just like he was there. When he watches the film, [he'd see] less mistakes, he would feel confident that if he had to leave any other time for any other situation that we would be able to handle it like professionals, take care of our jobs and make sure we do it right."

There has been some idle talk that the Eagles are 3-4 because Reid cannot possibly give his full attention to the team under these circumstances. His players rejected that notion.

"I think sometimes people forget that we're all human," McNabb said. "When something involves your family, it's somewhat hard to concentrate.

"I think he's handled it great. We can't tell if it's bothering him or not when he's over here. We just try to take pressure off him, knowing what's going on, on the outside, but while we're in here, make sure everybody in here understands that we have a game to play this weekend and we have to fully concentrate on what's going on. Everything will take care of itself outside, but while we're here, we'll make sure we're doing our jobs."

There are no answers, of course. None of us knows whether the office and the football team have become a sanctuary for Reid, a respite, or an anvil. He has never shown much of a public personality, not through all of the good times, and has not wavered through this. He gained some weight, but he otherwise appears the same at his news conferences.

And, on the day he wasn't there, it really did not seem different. At morning meetings, when Reid wasn't there, Smith said, "Everybody was like, 'Where's Coach?' Then the word kind of spread."

But, as McNabb said, by the time afternoon practice began, the team's leadership group had filled whatever vacuum existed.

"We kept to business as usual," left tackle William Thomas said. "It wasn't hard to do. We've got a big game coming up, and I think everybody was focused in on what we have to do."

Normally, Reid is more observer than participant at practice, anyway. He can correct mistakes, but as often as not, he just watches, working his gum, perhaps clicking a ball point pen repeatedly.

The Eagles missed that, the man's large, brooding presence on the practice field. But this is a veteran team, and one day holds little meaning for them. As Reid and his family endure another public trial, you can be pretty sure his absence Thursday will mean nothing tonight. In his complicated life, that might be the only certainty.

Rich Hofmann writes for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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