If the Philadelphia Eagles had to move up that Sept. 8 opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and play it today, the heir to Hugh Douglas at right defensive end would not be rookie first-round pick Jerome McDougle.
The heir to Douglas also would not be rookie fourth-round pick Jamaal Green, veteran Brandon Whiting or 2001 third-round pick Derrick Burgess.
Try N.D. Kalu.
''Kalu is looking awful good, and I think we're going to keep McDougle at left end with Burgess as the swing guy,'' defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said.
So is Kalu the starter on the right side?
''Right now? Yeah,'' Johnson said.
With McDougle having signed and arrived at training camp on Friday and with little or no noise emanating from the Eagles or holdout Duce Staley's camp this qualifies as big news at the Birds' Lehigh University training camp.
But keep a few things in mind:
Whiting, a starter the last two years, is not practicing because of a hamstring strain left over from his offseason workouts. Burgess has a lot of potential, and a lot of fans on the Eagles' staff.
And it's early. Really early.
Nobody is more aware of this than Kalu, a veteran of six seasons who found himself surrounded by reporters minutes after Johnson's press briefing.
''He's got me penciled in, but I'm sure he has an eraser on the other end,'' Kalu said. ''I'm glad I've started off well, but I can't or I'll be watching from the bench.''
That Kalu figures prominently in the Eagles' plans is quite a departure from a year ago. At that time, he appeared to be in danger of losing his roster spot because he was struggling through an experiment to convert him into a full-time linebacker.
But Kalu switched back to defensive end late in training camp and Burgess suffered a season-ending injury a few plays into the season-opener at Tennessee.
Although he did not start any games, Kalu had a career-best year with eight sacks, 30 tackles (21 solo), 18 hurried passes and two forced fumbles. He produced those numbers while rotating in for Whiting at left defensive end and Douglas on the right side, and also while playing the ''Joker''/rush linebacker in obvious pass situations.
''Last year, I was trying to lose weight but now I'm trying to gain weight, and I'm trying to learn how to play the right side,'' Kalu said. ''My weight was down to 250 last year, and now I'm 271.''
Kalu has played in 80 regular-season and playoff games, but the last of his two career starts was in the meaningless 2001 regular-season finale at Tampa Bay. So even if Kalu is worried about Johnson using the eraser between now and Sept. 8, Johnson's words on Sunday represent significant progress.
''Coming out of college , everybody had me as a pass rusher, a situational player,'' Kalu said. ''But I've played defensive end my whole life.''
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