Doug Pederson has come a long way since taking his first Head Coaching job in the NFL. Beyond overcoming extensive criticism en-route to winning Super Bowl 52, Pederson has matured both on and off the field. When people think of a coach growing, they automatically think of the playbook or success of the offense or defense. But a more telling sign, in Pederson’s case, is the way in which he has conducted Training Camp this year.
When camp rolled around in 2016, the then-rookie 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 live-tackling back into Eagles practices. It made sense. Football is a contact sport and you wont get any better at tackling if youre 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.
Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, and Malcolm Jenkins were among those who sustained an injury during the heat of a competitive camp and one year later, injury scares didn’t exactly evade the team. Wendell Smallwood, Donnell Pumphrey and even Alshon Jeffery suffered knocks. Jeffery’s injury lingered the entire year and despite playing through it for a whole playoff run, it has forced him to miss the entirety of camp this time around.
Knocks and bruises go hand-in-hand with Training Camp, as do more severe injuries. You only need to look back to OTA’s to realize that an ACL tear can rip the carpet from under your feet in a heartbeat, literally. But in a year where players such as Brandon Graham and Alshon Jeffery are recovering from offseason surgeries, the tone seems notably lighter. While hitting is still a key focus, Pederson seems to be far more aware of the ‘risk vs reward’ when engaging in consistent thumping afternoons in the heat.
Players like Mike Wallace and Zach Ertz have received ‘rest days’, the progress of Carson Wentz has been monitored closer than a Mother listens out for the baby monitor at night and he’s not the only one seeing a slightly different camp. The pads have not been on anywhere near as much in recent years and even today, the Head Coach opted to leave them in the locker room.
“I was going to go pads today, but the weather has been in the 90s.” Pederson told reporters. “It’s been hot and these guys have been working extremely hard. We’re a little over 48 hours, obviously, to game time. So just wanted to pull back a little bit these last couple days. We had a hard workout in the stadium and just good work these last couple days. Getting them as fresh as I can for Thursday.”
Perhaps it was a shorter offseason and a grueling Super Bowl run that has tilted Pederson’s heart. Maybe it was a voice of reason from his new offensive coordinator, Mike Groh, or maybe it’s simply becoming the Head Coach he was always destined to grow into. But while the tenacity and aggressiveness of training camp remains, there’s a more patient approach and apparent focus on the ‘bigger picture’.
When it comes to the upcoming preseason games, Pederson is just as diligent.
“Honestly, if I can get a game full of snaps 65, 70 plays within three games or so, that’s good work” Pederson explained. “That’s good solid work with the starters. Still got to maintain an edge, obviously. It’s harder though. It’s harder in a preseason game because they know they’re only going to play X-amount of plays and then they’re coming out, so it is not a full game yet. We have to try and maintain that edge into the Atlanta game.”
This camp has been no less physical than the last, it’s simply a case of ‘working smarter, not harder.’ The ‘controlled environments’ are becoming more scripted and when the dogs are let off the leashes, there is a sense of balancing the workload and ensuring that health and fatigue are at the top of the priority list.
When Pederson first stepped into the NovaCare Complex, he had to rally the troops. Quarterback controversies and contract holdouts combined with the tasks of learning new schemes and teaching the details of which to 90 players, it was always going to be a case of setting the tone. One year later, that tone was entrenched deeper into the DNA of the team. Now he has his army waiting at his command, there’s a realization almost that conditioning is just as important as the physicality and aggression that normally comes with camp.
It may be that if you ask any player, they see this camp as they have seen any other. They treat the environment as they did in year’s past. But from an outside perspective, Pederson’s maturity and decision making to tone things down ever so slightly is by far one of his most impressive and telling of his personal growth.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports