A team doesn’t amass a 9-1 record by chance. The Philadelphia Eagles have done nothing but shine as the year has progressed, with every hurdle, obstacle, and adverse event being completely trampled by a selfless mentality. Doug Pederson was hired to be a coach who emotionally connects with his players…and that’s exactly what he’s done.
One of the most impressive aspects of this season has undoubtedly been the development of players behind the starters. The “next man up” mentality has become a trademark of of Doug Pederson’s winning culture, but it doesn’t happen overnight…and the players have to be all in on their coach. That respect has to be mutual and it has to be earned. 10 games into the season and it’s safe to say that Doug Pederson is all in on his players.
There may be no finer example than Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The TCU sophomore endured a trial by fire last season but after months of tutelage and advice from one of the greatest tackles to ever play the game in Jason Peters, Vaitai has come on leaps and bounds. Just one year after being forced to fill in for Lane Johnson, Vaitai is now manning the left hand side of the field in place of Jason Peters. His form this season however has dramatically improved.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s another one that’s just incrementally getting better and better and better.” Pederson said of last year’s fifth round pick. “I’m calling less protection help to his side. He’s just really coming into his own, and he’s trusting his instinct, trusting his skill, trusting his coaching. [Offensive line] Coach [Jeff] Stoutland and [Assistant offensive line/tight ends/run game coach] Eugene [Chung], they do a great job of getting him ready and all the guys ready each week, and he’s done a really nice job.”
While Vaitai is trusting in his coaching, he’s also trusting in himself. Something Doug Pederson has been keen to ensure is a trait in all 53 of his players inside the locker room.
“Definitely. You can’t be a Jason Peters or whoever it might be.” Pederson explained on Monday. “It’s like when I was in Green Bay playing, you can’t be Brett Favre. You’ve got to be you and be the best that you can be, and that’s the case with Vaitai; just let your talents show, trust your ability, trust your instinct, and good things are going to happen. And that’s what you’re seeing out of him.”
That very sentiment was echoed to tight end Trey Burton last year. Burton may be the perfect example of a player who has developed within the team. Withstanding the chaotic Chip Kelly era, Burton was signed as a fourth tight end behind Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey. A few year’s later, Burton has five career touchdown receptions including two this season along with 111 yards to his name. When speaking to him earlier this year, Burton was keen to open up on the emotional connection Pederson has with his players.
“One of my favorite things about Doug is one of his biggest mottos, “let your personality show”. You don’t hear coaches say that very often. They don’t want crazy things to happen. Doug used to say that all the time and everytime he would say that, to me personally it gave me peace. It would calm me down and let me be who I am, instead of being like a robot and trying to impress a coach who likes a tighter ship.”
The results of injecting a sense of individuality can now be seen on a weekly basis. Players are smiling throughout the game and the celebrations coordinated by the offense are simply a sign of enjoyment. From baseball home-runs to “backpack Mack”, the Eagles are winning and they’re having fun doing it.
“It’s a lot of fun.” Pederson said with a smile on Monday. “The guys enjoy coming to work every single day that they’re here, and part of my messaging to the team is: if you can’t have fun doing what you’re doing, you should probably find something else to do. Even sometimes through the ups and downs of the season, you can — you still find ways to keep it fresh and creative and have fun doing it, and the guys are having fun playing together, and that’s what you’re seeing. It’s definitely a team effort right now.
Even last season, when the Eagles endured a character testing five-game losing streak, positive signs could be seen. The locker room didn’t fracture as it did just twelve months before. Players gave it their all each and every play. The results may not have appeared right away…but as with all things, this was a process worth trusting for the “53 angry men” playing under Doug Pederson. One year and an infusion of both veteran leadership and explosive youth later and the fruits of Pederson’s labor are beginning to ripen.
It may not always be ‘Sunny in Philadelphia’, but the previous ten weeks have been glowing in the City of Brotherly Love…and while the staggering highs of emphatic wins continue to lift the city into a new sense of excitement, it all begins with something so simple. Letting your personality show.
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports