The winds of change are blowing in Philadelphia. Gone are the days of vanilla Training camps and conservative coaching and in their place are days of intensity, aggression and passion. But as with all change, there are times where you have to ask yourself if this is the right direction to go down.
Today might just be that day for Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson. It’s clear that there’s a cultural shift in Philadelphia. From the 10-10-10 practices to deciding to keep practices in South Philly, Pederson has eradicated every last trace of Kelly’s rein and instead replaced them with echoes of the Andy Reid era.
One of the major changes was the decision to add tackling back into the Eagles practices. Full pads, full contact.. Football is a contact sport and hitting is the norm, so why should Training camp be any different?
When your star Tight end who just signed a 5-year extension, your number one receiver and a former first round DE all leave the same practice with injuries caused by contact, it certainly raises the question.
As I mentioned in today’s “The Outside Insider Podcast“, if this was any other Defense, the consequences wouldn’t be so drastic. But this is Jim Schwartz. A Defensive Coordinator who for his Defense to succeed, needs to give his unit an aggressive and physical personality.
The combination of a hybrid west-coast Offense that relies on short routes over the middle, curls, screen passes and a successful running game and a relentless Defense that is being metaphorically whipped into becoming the beast Schwartz envisions is just asking for trouble.
Wide receivers are going to take big, blindside hits. Running backs are going to be demolished when catching passes out of the backfield and Offensive linemen are going to be trampled because of tenacious Schwartz needs his Defense to play..which is fine. We’ve seen what can happen when tackling isn’t prioritized in Training camp, just look at last season.
The Eagles struggled massively when it came to wrapping up receivers in 2015. Whether it was the piggy back embarrassment of Byron Maxwell or the team’s worrying performance against the Cardinals, the birds struggled finishing their tackles..and if they don’t practice, they can’t get better.
But there has to be a middle-ground. At the moment, you have the likes of 6th/7th round draft picks hitting key Offensive players below the midsection in undisciplined tackles that have almost ended in serious injuries. It’s all very well instilling this ruthless mentality..but at what cost? Is it worth having an undrafted linebacker flying into a tackle to stop a veteran wide receiver and potentially ending his season before it’s even started?
I’m not saying that the Eagles should stop tackling..at all. But as I referenced in a previous article, Jim Schwartz Defenses tend to endure a lot of injuries in Training camp:
And when you partner this consistent level of physicality with three consecutive days of padded practices where the hitting is hard and the play is relentless, people are going to go down on both sides of the ball. Malcolm Jenkins, Marcus Smith, Marcus Johnson, Wendell Smallwood and Nolan Carroll are just some of the other names who have already missed time during Training camp this season.
As Eliot Shorr-Parks tweeted earlier, Pederson’s response to the concerns surrounding the hitting was strange.
This was Pederson's response about hitting in practice. Makes no sense. #Eagles pic.twitter.com/9Zmr2Dz8RA
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) August 5, 2016
It feels like Pederson is approaching this situation as a player, rather than a Coach. The culture, the way he deals with controversy and the playbook all have similarities to Andy Reid’s style..but with a grounded and focused angle. It’s like taking a renowned recipe and spicing it up by adding some ingredients you like that others may not. For instance, Pederson even said that the only thing he’s admitted to changing is adding a break.
“The only thing I’ll do probably a little different,” Pederson said, “is about every third or fourth day, go ahead the take the pads off and give the players a little break at that time.”
The problem is, a lot has changed since the days in which Pederson would go through grueling, physically excruciating practices in extreme heat only to do it again the next day. Safety is now a more prominent concern than ever..and considering that the Eagles Bye-week falls just after three regular season games, it may be worth reflecting on that.
Pederson seems to have ran before he’s learned how to walk but appears to be resent the idea of second guessing himself..something that’s obviously been embedded into his brain through his years as a player and a coordinator. But as a Head Coach, your responsibilities lie far beyond your own game or even some parts of the offense. Your actions effect every single person in that locker room.
It’s all a learning process for Pederson..and it’s going to take time. While players actually enjoy the padded practices, stricter measures have to be taken on undisciplined tackles. If they can’t, then even reducing the padded practices to one day a week will have a significant effect.
We know Doug Pederson has the heart to take this team all the way. We know that Jim Schwartz is one of the most renowned coordinators in the NFL due to his vicious Defense. As a player, this is all Pederson has known since he’s been in the NFL. But as a Head Coach, it’s up to him to enforce measures that ensure the safety of the players is paramount. Be it through coming down hard on rookies who struggle technically, or reducing the risk of injury altogether by removing a day or two of tackling.
Tackling is an integral part of the sport..and thus, it should be an integral part of Training camp. But Pederson has to approach this not as Doug Pederson the quarterback..not as Doug Pederson the Offensive coordinator, but as Doug Pederson, the Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. And as a Head Coach, it’s your duty to ensure you have the 53 best players on your roster come week one. That could become difficult if some of your key players are banged up with injuries they really didn’t have to endure.
Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports