When I last paid a visit to the NovaCare Facility in late June, the Birds were finishing up the 2019 off season with their final OTA practice of the Spring.
Watching a healthy Carson Wentz throwing to a healthy DeSean Jackson was something to witness. Watching Lane Johnson and Jason Peter man the edges was a sight any QB in the league would love to play behind.
Watching Zach Ertz go at it with Malcolm Jenkins was competitive. In a word I left that final OTA thinking and knowing that the Eagles have a stacked roster. As more than one personnel director in the NFL has echoed to me that the Birds look like a final-four team. Meaning they should reach the NFC Championship Game. I agree completely.
I can't find a weakness, nary a hole in the roster. Great, accomplished players start at most positions with depth behind most with valuable experience. When final cuts are due this Summer on August 31, the Birds will release some players that might find themselves starting the following weekend on one of 31 other teams.
This quick assessment of the Eagles is what has head coach Doug Pederson sweating at night a week before they report and its not from the summer heatwave which has landed.
My assessment is mild compared tom what many national as well as local forecasters are predicting.. Long gone are the days when Lane Johnson donned a "dog mask" loving the position of underdog on their way to Super Bowl 52 Champs.
Doug can't play that card with the incredible work put in this off season by GM Howie Roseman, jettisoned pro personnel director Joe Douglas, and newly appointed pro personnel director Andy Weidl.
I think Doug has multiple cards to play when the team assembles on July 24 at NovaCare.
I don't expect the "nice guy" head coach to be happy and smiling at all.
In fact I think we will all witness a short tempered no nonsense almost unfriendly Pederson this summer. And when the Ravens come to NovaCare for three days of practice prior to a preseason game, I expect the battle with John Harbaugh to be raging.
Doug must set the tone on day 1 that there is no place for complacency. It starts with his day to day demeanor. It will be very workmanlike and very focused.
My first message to the team is that WE are not the returning NFC EAST Champs.
That title belongs to the stinkin' Dallas Cowboys. Doug will reminding the team that the Cowboys earned that distinction by defeating the Birds twice last season, the second coming in December in OT that seemed to catapult the Cowboys to playing their best football in two years.
The NFC EAST goes through AT&T stadium in Arlington, TX. Everyday the Birds approach must be that they have to be better than the Cowboys.
The off season has been an open "arms race" between the Cowboys and Birds in free agency. Both teams made major splashes to upgrade their respective clubs. Robert Quinn, Randall Cobb, and George Iloka joined the NFC EAST Champs while the Birds added major speed with Jackson, LB Zach Brown, and RB Jordan Howard and size and depth with Malik Jackson.
Take down the Cowboys is the first thing Doug needs to pound into their brains.
Wentz was awarded one of the richest contracts ever handed to an NFL player this off season.
They didn't need to do it, but Howie thought that the price for a franchise QB was only going to escalate. Everyone knows the injury history to Carson. Last year at this time Doug and Carson were fielding questions everyday surrounding his ACL repair. It wore on both men until Carson finally was cleared to start vs. the Colts.
But as Carson sits in his seat on July 24th along with the other 89 teammates, he knows he will be judged almost solely on his post season performance. Carson has yet to suit up for a post season contest while rehabilitating injuries while his teammates rallied around Nick Foles.
No one is more motivated that Carson to come to work everyday trying to get better and improve on the smallest of details. His teammates have felt his pain and now its up to Carson to play an entire season, healthy, and lead them into meaningful games in January.
If players are too casual, not attentive enough, are flat at practice I expect Carson to bark...loudly.
Finally when Doug examined the schedule in May he had to have noticed that there are three rough stretches that can really challenge them.
When the Birds won SB52, Doug, Howie, and Jeffrey Lurie were adamant as to how important home field is during the playoffs.
The Birds didn't have that last year and perhaps that was the difference in winning or losing to the Saints in 'Nawlins. So when you look at the September schedule the Birds play their first four games vs. NFC opponents. Record vs the NFC is a big tie breaker and indicator of seeding when it comes to the playoffs.
In October they are challenged by three straight road contests that feature trips to Dallas, Minnesota and Buffalo. There is another stretch that includes games vs three straight playoff teams from a year ago that feature the Bears, SB53 Champs the Patriots and the well coached Seattle Seahawks.
They finish with three straight games vs the three NFC EAST opponents. Nothing is easy about this schedule.
This should keep Doug focused and up late at night trying to find a rhythm that can lead to a winning streak to gain the needed momentum and confidence necessary to make a charge in January.
I have all the confidence in the world in Doug and his competent staff to build this collection of 90 men into a serious playoff contender.
Even with a lot of articles, like this one, that is telling the Birds how good they are before that first team meeting on July 24. You know, Coach Doug P's biggest nightmare. *