Is a more physical training camp a blessing or curse for the Eagles Defense?

jim-schwartz
May 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz speaks with the media during OTS’s at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The winds of change are finally blowing in Philadelphia. Training camp is here along with a feeling of excitement around the city. Doug Pederson is set to stamp his authority on the team by promising a more physical Training camp and for the new Defense run by Jim Schwartz..that means tensions and competition levels are going to be higher than ever.

Pederson told the media that he plans to implement three-day stints of padded practices before a day without them for resting purposes. The practices we’re expecting to see are largely “thud” drills. These are designed so players can make the initiating contact but remain on their feet.

The intent behind these practices is simple as Doug Pederson stated on Monday.

“I want to see a fullback run downhill and hit a mike linebacker. Can he power through the block?” Pederson said. “I want to see if guards can pull or if linebackers can tackle. I want to see if receivers and DBs can test each other. The best evaluator in this game, I feel is in pads.”

The idea of hard hitting in practice has made a lot of people excited..from fans and writers to the players themselves, especially on the Defense. However, there are some reasons to be slightly concerned.

For one, Schwartz plays a very aggressive Defense. It’s a system that as he said in his presser today, is an attacking style of Defense. It starts at the top with the coaches coming down hard on the players to light the fire inside them..

..and culminates in a fiery playing style on the field. Why is this worrying? Well, let’s start with the facts. Jim Schwartz has always been plagued with injury issues throughout his coaching career and Training camp is no exception. It’s more than just a coincidence that year after year, Jim Schwartz found himself dealing with injury situations that started in Camp and carried deep into the regular season, often hindering his chances of success.

Here’s a rough guide to some of the players injured under Schwartz’s coaching during Training Camp. These injuries haven’t all been season-ending, but they have all had to miss practice and in certain situations games during the regular season from injuries that stemmed in Camp.

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Notice anything in particular?  The injuries trend towards the Secondary. When you take into account that the Eagles have eleven defensive backs on their roster, of which only four have played at least one full season in the NFL while others have had their share of injury woes..it raises a few doubts.

If one of the Eagles starting corners were to go down due to an injury sustained in Training camp, the Eagles could find themselves in trouble. Beyond the likes of McKelvin, Brooks, Carroll, Rowe and arguably Mills are a group of young players with little to no NFL experience..with the exception of one or two. As strong as McKelvin is under Schwartz and as much potential as Mills has, the Eagles could well be forced to rely on the likes of Denzel Rice, JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans if the injury bug follows Schwartz to Philadelphia. It’s a bug that can prove costly and one that shows its first symptoms in Training camp.

Then, there’s the how Schwartz responds to “Camp injuries”. The Eagles Defensive Coordinator told mlive.com this during his time as Head Coach of the Lions back in 2012:

“We want to push through when you’re hot and going, and you’re out of wind; you need to be able to go. But you don’t want to push through knee soreness. We don’t want to push through hamstring sore or anything like that, and those guys fell into that category. Soon as they’re not sore, we’ll get them back out there. We’ll just see when that is.”

When talking about cornerbacks alone, you notably have a player coming off of an ACL that cost him his rookie season (JaCorey Shepherd), a corner who wasn’t signed until later in Free Agency due to an injury that cut a promising season short (Nolan Carroll)..and a corner who has played in all 16 games of the regular season just three times since being drafted in 2008 (Leodis McKelvin).

Then there’s the linebacker position. Without even mentioning the recent incident involving Nigel Bradham, the Eagles are worryingly low on depth. Beyond Hicks, Kendricks and Bradham who are all yet to play a full 16 game season, are once again are a group of rookies. Three of the four went undrafted and the other (Joe Walker) was selected in the seventh round.

Doug Pederson has places such an emphasis on competition that almost every spot on the Defense is up for grabs. From starting roles to filling out the depth chart, the Eagles have a team of players attacking camp with a chip on their shoulder who are all wanting to make a statement. If it’s toughness that Pederson and Schwartz are looking for, they may find it..but at what cost?

It’s easy to forget that after just three regular season games, the Eagles have their bye-week. Which means even if they don’t make the playoffs, weeks 5-17 will be played without much in the way of downtime. The Eagles already have injury concerns..is it really worth running the risk of losing a starter for the year just to see how hard an undrafted rookie can hit him in a “thud” drill?

Not only that, but attrition is going to take its toll. As the season wears on, those bruises and strains picked up in camp begin to haunt players and become much more serious. Especially in a season in which the Eagles have such an early bye.

Sure, every team suffers injuries in Training camp, it’s almost certain to happen. But if you’re hitting with pads on for three days straight against players just as fired up as you are..tempers are going to flare and the hits are going to get harder. There’s a fine line between health and toughening up a roster to see what they’re made of..and crossing it for the sake of competition could come back to haunt an already depth deprived roster.

Chip Kelly’s practices may have been fast..but they were vanilla. Kelly placed the health of his players above everything else and for the most part, it benefitted the Eagles. They headed into each of Chip’s three seasons without much in the way of injury problems. There were exceptions,  JaCorey Shepherd last year for instance..but we never saw injuries mounting up as they often did under Schwartz in Detroit.

Competition is a great focal point and the adjusted mentality set by Doug Pederson is moving the team in refreshingly new direction. It’s brilliant to hear that this competitive nature will be re-enforced with physical practices designed to bring the best out of a very hungry roster. But if Pederson wants to get as close to the intense Andy Reid practices of yesteryear as possible, there could be a tremendous cost.

 

Photo credit: USATSI

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