Every year you cross your fingers going into training camp, hoping against hope that the team emerges intact. Yesterday, that dream was crushed for the Eagles when L.J. Smith went down and had to be helped off the field. The tight end tweaked the sports hernia he'd been recovering from. The extent of the injury is not known.
The birds are actually pretty thin at the tight end position, the backup is listed as Matt Schobel, but rookie Brent Celek has opened some eyes in camp. My brother hates Celek because his Cincinnati Bearcats ruined Rutgers' chance at a BCS game last year, I'm willing to forgive and forget.
A healthy L.J. Smith opens up a ton of options for the offense. On most plays, he's a safety valve, lurking 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, as a check-down for McNabb. He has good hands and explosive moves after the catch. His presence as an outlet for McNabb can be replaced. It's the other part of his game, the "You don't have a linebacker OR a safety who can stick with him," part is going to be sorely missed. Smith runs the seam as well as any TE in the league. His exceptional speed for the position pulls double-teams off the outside guys. I don't know if anyone else on the depth chart can do the same. Schobel definitely can't.
There's one more thing I'd like to point out about Smith. For some reason, there seems to be a karmic cloud over this franchise. Almost without fail, if you try to hold the Eagles up for more money, something bad is going to happen to you. Look at the list: Trotter (walked for more money, almost ended his career), Corey Simon (wouldn't sign as a franchise DT, walked, out for the year with a mysterious injury), Terrell Owens (demanded more money, now forced to play in Dallas with a crappy QB). The list goes on. Smith's displeasure with the lack of an extension on his deal has been displayed, publicly, at every opportunity this Summer, now this.
I don't know about you, but if I'm an Eagle, I just sign on the dotted line and play ball. Too much bad juju going on for me.