Practice still goes on without Staley

SportsFootballPhiladelphia EaglesEducationLehigh UniversityColleges and UniversitiesBrandon Whiting

The opening was there. All Correll Buckhalter had to do was keep going and he was home free.

Buckhalter made the mistake of acknowledging his pursuers, however, and suddenly he was stopped.

Fret not, Philadelphia Eagles fans.

Not yet, anyway.

This incident did not happen on the practice field at Lehigh University, or in any of the contact drills that do not begin until today.

It happened in the parking lot, and it was the media that caught your current feature back.

''I think we have the best group of running backs in the NFL with Brian and me and Duce ,'' Buckhalter said. ''But I don't know what Duce is doing, so I really can't comment on it.''

Wideout Todd Pinkston shrugged, too. ''It'll work out,'' Pinkston said. ''Duce will be around soon, hopefully. It's not a distraction. Everybody just focuses on what they have to do.''

And that was how it went Tuesday in Eagles' training camp at Lehigh University, where the Eagles are shrugging and trying to move on without Staley. The six-year veteran is due to make $2.2 million for the final year of his contract, but is absent in an attempt to force the Eagles into contract extension talks. In an odd twist to the situation, Staley would be in the second-to-last year of that contract, but a performance incentive kicked in and voided 2004 from the deal.

''The other issue that won't be an issue is Duce Staley,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said.

''I'll say the same thing about Duce's situation that I say about any football player,'' Reid said. ''When you miss camp as a player, it's not a good thing. Players need to . They need to get their timing. That's certainly true for training camp, no matter how long they've been at it.''

Then Reid tired to play it a little tougher: ''When you miss, you give other players an opportunity. And we have other talented players on this football team.''

Reid could have pointed to the 2000 season, when Staley fractured his foot in the fifth week of the season and the Eagles still went 11-5 and made the playoffs with a feature back-by-committee offense.

But this isn't 2000.

The stakes are higher now, however — or at least they will be in a month.

In Buckhalter and second-year all-purpose back Brian Westbrook the Eagles have more raw talent and potential available to fill in for Staley.

But until today, the player next in line behind Staley won't begin to confirm if he is all the way back from a knee injury.

''I'll know after contact how my knee feels,'' said Buckhalter, who missed all of last season after tearing up his knee in the first minicamp workout in April, 2002.

A lot of people will be watching Staley today: Reid. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress. The rest of the Eagles.

Undoubtedly Staley, too, even if he does so via snippets of highlights or some Internet live shots.

Injuries: Rookie fourth-round draft pick Jamaal Green, the ''other'' defensive end the Eagles selected out of Miami of Florida, has a sore patella tendon as the result of a bout with dehydration during Monday's two-a-day workouts. … Defensive end Brandon Whiting has a sore hamstring that Reid said is the result of his offseason workouts. Reid indicated it was a minor problem.

Today in camp: The Eagles begin two-a-day workouts at 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. The workouts are open to the public, with the defensive backs due in the autograph tent following the morning practice. Fans are encouraged to call the Eagles' information line (610-758-6868) daily to confirm workout times and accessibility.

orourke@mcall.com

610-820-6779

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