Traces of Andy Reid linger in Doug Pederson's 'physical' training camp philosophy

Traces of Andy Reid linger in Doug Pederson's 'physical' training camp philosophy

It's been 18 years since Andy Reid's first training camp as head coach of the Eagles. Those who were a part of it will never forget it.

"It was brutal," Doug Pederson said recently. "It was hot. It was long. It was physical. It was bruising.

"It was before the rule changes, so we hit all the time. We were allowed to go full two-a-days. They were physical practices. Just tough. Real tough."

Pederson was a 31-year-old quarterback with the Eagles that summer, and those ferocious Reid training camps helped shape the training camps he runs now as head coach of the Eagles.

Reid's first three training camps — 1999, 2000 and 2001 — were insane.

After a walkthrough on the first day the full team was together, the players were put through three consecutive days of full-pads, full-contact two-a-days and then began the fourth day with another live, full-pads session.

So from 8:30 a.m. on Day 1 until 11:30 a.m. on Day 4, the team was on the field for seven live full-contact practices.

That's roughly 18 hours of contact in the span of 75 hours.

“Ask Duce (Staley), ask any of the guys who were here that summer, they still talk about it," Pederson said "It was hard, it was tough. We hit a lot that first year. I think Coach was trying to send a message that we were going to be a physical football team.

"Obviously with the rule changes and the way the CBA is you can’t be that aggressive anymore, but it was tough. It did bring the team together. You learn to protect each other, you learn to practice and play fast. It definitely brought us together."

The rules have changed dramatically. At first, the NFL outlawed hitting in the afternoon practice, then eliminated pads in the afternoon practice, then eliminated the second practice entirely. An afternoon walkthrough is currently allowed, although the total time of both practices has to be less than four hours.

The current NFL collective bargaining agreement limits how often teams can hit during training camp, and Pederson — who worked under Reid as a player or assistant coach with the Eagles and Chiefs for a total of nine years — said he prefers as physical a camp as possible within the current rules.

"The two-a-days to start camp over a 3½-day period, obviously you can’t do that anymore," he said. "But at the same time, I can pick some spots and choose some days that we can go live.

"I don’t want to do it a ton in camp, but at the same time, guys have got to feel contact, they’ve got to feel the ground. You know, injuries are part of the game. Whether it’s in training camp or in the regular season, obviously you don’t like to see it, but at the same time we can be smart about it, protect each other and still be in pads and get the work done."

Pederson's 2017 camp gets underway Monday at the NovaCare Complex with rookies, quarterbacks and veterans who finished 2016 on Injured Reserve. The full team will be on the field for the first time Thursday.

We saw last year that Pederson's practices are dramatically more physical than those of Chip Kelly, who didn't believe in tackling to the ground at all.

“I think (practices vary depending on) the philosophy of each head coach around the league," Pederson said. "I just feel like this is what works for us.

"You’ve got to play in pads so might as well put them on and use them. Just getting the soreness out. You’ve just got to get used to hitting. It’s a physical game. You’ve got to learn how to tackle properly. Running backs have to learn how to get hit and protect the football, so I think it’s important to continue to have that.

"I do think there’s a fine line. Don’t get me wrong. You don’t go over the top with it. Plus, you’re only down to one practice a day right now.

"But I think you can maintain that physicality and you can maintain that hitting in camp and just be smart about it. It doesn’t have to be live every single day."

Pederson said there will be three live tackling days during camp this summer, the same as last year.

"I feel like it's important that the guys hit," he said. "It's a physical game, and it's hard sometimes just to show up on game day and just put the pads on and go hit if you haven't at least prepped them for it.

"Three live days, I think, is plenty. I think two of them are before Green Bay (preseason opener on Aug. 10) and one of them is after Green Bay, so it kind of … gets them into that physical mentality that you want, especially early in training camp."

Pederson also said he won't hesitate to make changes as camp continues depending on how he sees the players responding to the daily workload.

“If we need to increase it, we’ll increase it, if we need to back it down, we’ll back it down," he said. "I’m not naive. You stay in-tune with how they’re doing and adjust it however you need to."

Doug Pederson's Packers comparison puts a bullseye on his back

Doug Pederson's Packers comparison puts a bullseye on his back

It was one of those remarks that at the time you kind of assume you misheard.

Doug Pederson didn't really just say the 2017 Eagles have more talent than the Super Bowl Packers teams he once played for.

Did he?

By now, everybody has seen or heard Pederson's remark, which he made in a group session with beat writers earlier this summer:

"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there. And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"

Pederson spent seven years with the Packers either as the No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback— 1996 through 1998 and, after stints starting for the Eagles and Browns, 2001 through 2004. And the Packers reached the playoffs in all seven of those seasons, made two Super Bowls, won seven playoff games, and averaged 11.6 wins per year.

So while Pederson won't come out in public and say what his goals for the 2017 Eagles are — “I’m not one to make bold predictions” — that comment about the Brett Favre Packers and the Carson Wentz Eagles is awfully revealing.

Pederson believes this is a playoff team, a 10- or 11-win team, a team that should be able to not only reach the postseason but also do some damage once it gets there.

Pederson couched his remark with a disclaimer about Wentz staying healthy, about how everything has to "blend" together, and about how talented teams don't always have success and how a lot of factors go into it.

Pederson spoke for about 40 minutes that day and when he was finished and about to leave the room, I double-checked with him to make sure he meant what I had heard … that this year's Eagles team is as talented as the Packers teams that had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Favre, a Hall of Fame defensive end in Reggie White and stars like receiver Antonio Freeman, four-time all-pro safety LeRoy Butler, running back Dorsey Levens, safety Eugene Robinson, pass rusher Sean Jones and so on.

He couldn’t have been clearer.

"Yeah, I think we're there," Pederson said. "It's just bringing it all together, though, that's the thing. Bringing it all together."

The Eagles certainly did upgrade their talent level this offseason. At least on paper.

Doug Pederson: Eagles 'probably' more talented than '90s Super Bowl Packers

Doug Pederson: Eagles 'probably' more talented than '90s Super Bowl Packers

It's been so long since the Eagles won a playoff game there are only three players still active in the NFL who've worn an Eagles jersey in a playoff victory: Brent Celek, Trent Cole and DeSean Jackson. And Cole may be finished.

It's been almost a decade since the Eagles beat the Giants in a conference semifinal game after the 2008 season. They haven't won a postseason game since, and second-year head coach Doug Pederson's job is to end that streak.

Now.

Howie Roseman brought him receivers, defensive linemen, offensive linemen, corners and a running back, and with Carson Wentz now in Year 2, everything points that way.

Does Pederson think this team is ready to finally make a run?

"I think you’re capable," he said. "There are a lot of (factors). I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there. And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?

"But we also had a lot of talent in 2010, here, and where did that get us?"

Pederson spent 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay, and the Packers reached the postseason in all seven of those seasons, winning seven playoff games and reaching two Super Bowls, winning one.

If the Eagles have as much talent as those Packers teams, shouldn't 10-6 and a playoff berth be a reasonable goal? Maybe more?

"It’s hard to put a number on that," Pederson said. "There’s a lot of things that factor into a season. You can lose your quarterback on opening day."

OK, what if Wentz stays healthy? Is 10 wins a reasonable goal?

“It still goes back to, 'There’s a lot of those factors,' " he said. "So it’s hard to put a number. I’m not going to put myself in a box that way, obviously. It’s still a game-by-game mentality. We focus on our division. We focus on the NFC East, we start there. We have to win those games, focus on those. We focus on the NFC. There’s layers."

The Eagles have reached the playoffs three times since reaching the 2008 NFC Championship Game — 2009 and 2010 under Andy Reid and 2013 under Chip Kelly — only to lose in the wild-card round each time.

The eight-year gap without a playoff win is the Eagles' longest since they went 11 years from 1981 through 1991. The three years without even reaching the postseason matches the franchise's longest drought since a six-year drought from 1982 through 1987.

The Eagles are one of 12 teams that hasn't won a playoff game the last eight years and also one of 12 that hasn't reached the playoffs the last three years.

After winning 10 playoff games and reaching five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl from 2000 through 2008, it's been a dismal eight seasons.

"There has to be a combination of blending all of this talent with a coaching staff, with my ideas and philosophy, to bring all that together, with the egos aside — put pride aside — and just go focus on winning this game that we have in front of us," Pederson said. 

"I’m a big believer that if you do that, then you look back at the end of the season, and you’re probably going to be where you want to be, and that’s playing in the postseason."

The last Eagles head coach to not reach the playoffs in his first two years (not counting the 1987 strike season)?

Marion Campbell in 1983 and 1984.

But if this team has as much talent as those Packers powerhouses, they have to get there this year, right?

“I’m not one to make predictions or bold predictions but obviously (we want) to show the incremental improvement from last season and get better as a football team," Pederson said.

"Ultimately, you're judged and critiqued on Super Bowl wins and getting yourself into the postseason."

The Eagles won their first three games last year, then went 2-9 over the next 11, then won their last two, including the finale over the Cowboys' backups.

It marked the franchise's first back-to-back losing seasons since 1998 and 1999.

“By no means are you satisfied with 7-9, and you definitely want to get better," Pederson said.

"I want to get better personally as a head football coach, not only from managing the football team but also with play calling and just the little things, working with Carson Wentz, spending more time on special teams and defense, getting to know those schemes and philosophies as well. … You’re definitely trying to get yourself better."

How does Pederson define a successful season?

This is a franchise that has gone 56 years without a championship. They are one of only 13 current NFL franchises without a title since 1961, although four of the others — the Chiefs (Texans), Bills, Oilers and Chargers — won AFL titles before the merger.

“Oh, man, if you win the Super Bowl," he said. "That’s a successful year. Thirty-one teams failed to win the Super Bowl. I think if you’re not winning or playing in that game, everyone’s trying the next year.

"I think success can be measured in a few different (ways). If we go 8-8 is that a successful year? I don’t coach to be average. I’ll tell you that. These players don’t practice the way they do to be average. We’re all in this together. We’ll just continue to work every single day until we get to that goal.”