Five long weeks stand between the Philadelphia Eagles and one of the most important Training Camps in franchise history. There are several questions looming large as this window opens and several starting roles that will be hanging in the balance by the time the NovaCare Complex opens its doors once again. All eyes are on the future, as they absolutely should be.
The Eagles were handed their Super Bowl rings after a long wait and following an emotional ceremony, it’s time to finally close the curtains on one of the most remarkable underdog stories in history. Nobody can change the past and nobody can ever take that incredible run away from the players, staff and fans. For Doug Pederson however, ensuring his players don’t stay in the past will be the key to moving forward.
“The message from me to them and really to the whole team was about sacrifice; what are you willing to give up between now and camp to prove that we can make another run?” Doug Pederson explained to reporters ahead of his final OTA practice. “Again, nothing is ever handed to us. We have to go earn it. We faced adversity. The team was very resilient last year, but what are you willing to give up individually between now and camp to help this football team get back to that championship game again? Things aren’t going to be handed to us. The target got a little bit bigger on our backs, and we embrace that.
Moving forward, that’s going to be our challenge. That’s going to be our motivation. Again, looking forward to camp.”
The target on Philadelphia’s back is now bigger than it ever has been. Earlier that week, the team’s Head Coach opted to describe the changing of seasons in an illustrative way that sets the tone for the months ahead.
“It’s a great opportunity for us this season. Great motivating factor for us to sort of rip off the dog masks and no longer be the underdog, but now be the hunted. Have the target on our back.”
The hunted. If Hungry Dogs run faster, what about those with an angry pack chasing them down? That’s the mentality for this team moving forward. The Super Bowl winning season is in the books, but how do they find a way to avoid complacency, to keep pushing forward and to elevate their game to an even higher level?
When Camp does arrive, that part will be easy thanks to the structure of the practices coordinated by the Head Coach. Since his arrival in 2016, the Eagles summer practices have been filled with a competitive nature that aims to bring the best out of every single player. On-the-field rivalries emerge, camaraderie heightens and even the most established starter can be left looking over his shoulder as preseason draws near. But in the five weeks separating the Eagles from yet another grueling Training Camp, implementing that mentality is a fresh challenge.
“They’ve got to continue to do something.” Pederson explained. “Our strength and conditioning guys, [Head strength coach] Josh Hingst and his team, they put together a booklet for the guys and give them a chance to have a summer workout program. They need to do something, obviously, because when we get in, we pretty much hit the ground running. Maintaining their weight, maintaining their physicality a little bit in the weight room. They need to take some time, obviously, and enjoy it, but at the same time, as we get closer to camp, they’ve got to get back in the weight room and maintain their strength.”
The calm before the storm is upon us, but there is more pressure than ever on this team to push just as hard when the lights are turned off. There are 31 other NFL teams who want to rip that Lombardi Trophy from the clutches of the formerly championship deprived Eagles and stopping that from happening starts now. Sure, the mentality of players such as Carson Wentz, Jordan Hicks and Jason Peters, who were all left watching that success from the sidelines by seasons end, will go a long way in setting the tone for the rest of the locker room, but avoiding complacency in the heart of June could make all the difference by the time September rolls around.
Underdogs are always below the radar, with nobody giving them the respect or attention that they deserve. The Eagles have won it all now and that spotlight is brighter than ever. Even the slightest slip-up will be amplified and in many ways, the team will need to work even harder than they did last season when overcoming all of that adversity. This will be the one period where there is a deep breath, a silence before the flurry of cameras, microphones and practices begin. If the Eagles have one chance to put in work behind the scenes and gain an advantage on the rest of the league, who are undoubtedly tearing into playbooks and game-film, trying to figure out how to stop such a dominant team, it’s right now.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports