THE EAGLES ARE READY FOR TRAINING CAMP
Doug Pederson didn’t try to re-invent the game of football. All he intended to do was conduct a Training Camp the way he’s always known it, the way the old-school game was played. Still, it was almost shocking to observers when, early in Pederson’s first training camp practice as the Eagles’ head coach in the summer of 2016, a defensive player tackling a ball-carrying offensive player to the ground.
Understand the shocked reaction from those watching at the NovaCare Complex. For the three previous summers, Chip Kelly did try to re-invent the game of NFL football with his fast-paced brand of “training,” not “practice,” mind you. Kelly never, not once, in his three seasons running the show with the Eagles held a practice where the action was “live” and a player was tackled to the ground.
“It was a different way of doing things, that’s all,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We got our reps live in the preseason games. I’m not sure it made us, as a defense, better or worse or no different at all. It was just Chip’s way.”
Chip’s way devolved after a slam-bang first season when the Eagles won the 2013 NFC East title with a 10-6 record. The Eagles then raced out to a 9-3 opening three quarters of the 2014 campaign before it all came crashing down on Kelly and the football team.
Kelly is gone now, off to the ESPN studio where he will spend his fall as a college football analyst, and Pederson is in his second season as the Eagles’ head coach. Pederson’s Eagles went 7-9 last season, by the end of which the optics just seemed more positive than the way it ended for Kelly, who was relieved of his duties with one game remaining in the 2015 regular season.
The Eagles now have a true franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, who is surrounded by an offense that seems, on paper, vastly improved from the 2016 version that struggled so much to gain big-chunk plays and that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in touchdown percentage inside opponents’ 20-yard lines.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are an attacking, aggressive group led by a super-charged front four that, after getting a taste of what was to come in a physical training camp last summer, became one of the strengths of the team and then got better with the additions of tackle Tim Jernigan and ends Chris Long and No. 1 draft pick Derek Barnett.
But as camp revs up for the Eagles, who invite the Miami Dolphins in for three days of joint practices at the NovaCare Complex before the teams play in their August 24 preseason game, let’s wind back to a question that may or may not have an answer: Which way of conducting training camp is more effective – Kelly’s or Pederson’s?
“I’m not sure there is one way that’s right and one way that’s wrong,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “It’s just that Chip had a different way of doing things. I’ve said this before that there were times that I felt we needed to slow it down and go through some things and have some teaching moments.
“I personally like a more physical camp. I think it prepares you for the season. It helps you develop a mindset. The injuries are always a concern, but a guy can get hurt in non-contact drills, too.”
The Eagles know all about that. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was lost for the entire 2013 season when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a training camp practice running a pass route in a non-contact drill. It happens. Injuries are part of the game.
Pederson, who learned his camp script from former Eagles head coach and current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, has three days of practice during which he will conduct live tackling periods. Then he will back off as the preseason schedule nears to keep the players fresh and allow them to show off the best of their skills in the games.
Even without the tackling, the Pederson camp is a physical one, as far as NFL camps go these days. Of course, it doesn’t come close to the camps Dick Vermeil used to run in the 1970s or the grinds overseen by Buddy Ryan a decade later. Those camps were pure nasty, camps of attrition.
Here, the Eagles have 90 men on the roster vying for 53 spots. It doesn’t make sense to beat them up.
“You want it to be fast paced, you want it to be physical, but you have to know when to back off,” Pederson said. “It’s a very fun line. We have to find out about our players and which guys are going to make this football team, so every chance you have to simulate game tempo and the physical nature of the game, you want to do it.
“We’re all looking forward to this training camp. I think we’ve got a lot of competition across the board. It’s exciting. It’s a new year, a new team and so I’m looking forward to seeing what we’ve got here.”