Doug Pederson’s first season in Philadelphia was an eventful one. It was always destined to be the moment he signed on the dotted line. There’s one aspect of the Eagles offseason that drew a slew of criticism however…and it had nothing to do with trading up for quarterbacks or dealing with off-the-field situations impacting the team.
When Training Camp rolled around, the Eagles Head Coach made it clear he wanted this team to carry his identity. Not only did practicies remain in South Philly, but Pederson bought back echoes of the Andy Reid era, embedding “10-10-10” style practices throughout training camp. Perhaps the most prominent change to training camp, was the injection of tackling back into Eagles practices. It made sense. Football is a contact sport and you won’t get any better at tackling if you’re not in a situation to practice it in the run up to the regular season. This was vital for an Eagles team who in 2015 struggled to wrap up receivers on a consistent basis…but things very quickly turned sour once practices began.
Jalen Mills made a huge hit on Jordan Matthews, who subsequently missed valuable preseason time, while tight end Zach Ertz joined the likes of Malcolm Jenkins, Wendell Smallwood, Marcus Johnson, Marcus Smith, and Nolan Carroll as someone who sustained a contact-induced injury during training camp, causing them to miss crucial reps.
The slightly alarming trend was this was yet another Training Camp where a Jim Schwartz Defense had sustained injury setbacks, most notably to the secondary. The very nature of the Schwartz Defense thrives on aggression, physicality and competition with a tenacious streak. It’s easy to see then, that in the heat of the moment tempers can flare and what should be a safe hit turns into a tackle that’s technically dangerous. If we look back through Training Camps under Jim Schwartz, the pattern speaks for itself.
After an offseason of transformation for the Eagles roster, this year’sTraining Camp is set to be the most important in recent memory. With competition embedded deep into the DNA of every position on the roster, Pederson’s mentality has been clear. Whether it’s a fight for supremacy at wide receiver, or simply figuring out who will be the team’s starting cornerbacks come week one, every spot has questions that only intense competition will grind out answers for. If anything, the intensity is going to be higher due to the new levels of competition. So now that Pederson has the Eagles raring to go, with receivers already working out with Carson Wentz in North Dakota, will the approach to Training Camp be any different?
Year one was just as much of a learning process for Doug Pederson as it was for Carson Wentz. With so much going on, it was safe to say that there were bound to be scenarios where the former Kansas City Offensive Coordinator wanted to do things differently. One season of experience later, the relationships are strengthened and the foundations are laid, giving Pederson some much needed room to breathe and time to focus on the intricacies of Training Camp.
“Yeah, for me, it’s really getting to know your players in Year Two.” Pederson told the media after Mandatory Minicamp. “The first year was all about putting schedules and getting training camp and the OTAs and getting all that stuff sorted and you kind of miss that bond with the players. This offseason has been really good for me from that standpoint. I’ve been able to build the relationships that I talk about all the time with the players and get to know these guys and see how they interact with one another and get to know your roster that way and that’s been the fun part for me this spring going into the second year. And then just, you know, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], too, just Frank, having a better understanding of what I’ve brought offensively and schematically. We’re excited, we work well together and [we] look forward to camp.”
The Eagles also got through the spring workout program with much in the way of injury concern. Jordan Matthews missed some time along with a few others, but as far as serious injuries go…the Birds flew out of OTA’s and Minicamp unharmed.
But while there may well be a more pressing focus on keeping players healthy, it’s not going to take away from the physicality that Training Camp brings. After a camp of injury stress last year, Pederson simply stated “We’ll continue to obviously monitor the guys, but at the same time, we won’t shy away from contact.”, refusing to second guess himself and ensure that he and the team were fully behind every decision he made.
“I mentioned to them that training camp is going to be tough and physical and I wanted them to be prepared mentally and physically to come into camp ready to go.” Pederson said. “Again, if they are with teammates, take care of each other. Be smart. Make good choices, good decisions, and get their minds and body ready for July.”
The mentality seems to be one blending a careful approach with competition and intensity. It’s unclear as to whether or not the Eagles will perhaps give their players more time to rest during what promises to be another grueling Training Camp that carries even more weight than the last. But the knock on effects of injuries this year, the second of what is essentially a five-year window for success, will be amplified…meaning that we may see Pederson take a few extra cautions this year after the warning lights flashed in Training Camp one year ago.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports