Every day is exactly the same at Philadelphia Eagles training camp. 90 players go to work regardless of where they’re at on the depth chart. When the day is over, they all toe the company line, no matter if the question is about competition, playing time, conditioning, a mistake in practice, expectations for 2014, whatever—even if they’ve answered the same questions the same way 100 times already.
This is year two under head coach Chip Kelly, and in case you haven’t heard, every returning player will tell you the squad is miles ahead of where they were this time last year. This team, to a man, has bought into the program that’s been put in place here, of that there is no doubt. Everything the players do, from the practice field to what they say when the workday is over, looks and sounds less and less like a collection of individuals, more and more like a single-minded and single-bodied organism.
Sure, there have been some blips on the radar. LeSean McCoy and Trent Cole brawled on the second day of practice. Jeremy Maclin and Bradley Fletcher got into the day after in front of a live crowd at the Linc. A skirmish here or there is not at all unusual in all 32 camps across the NFL, though.
Cary Williams calling the New England Patriots “cheaters” probably wasn’t well received by his superiors. Then again, there’s no such thing as bulletin board material for a preseason game, either.
The biggest story is easily Lane Johnson’s four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs, but Kelly nipped that in the bud right away before the first practice was even held. Johnson was demoted, Allen Barbre was plugged into his spot at right tackle, and camp continued as scheduled.
A few guys are dinged up, but nothing major so far as we know. Even the “unofficial” depth chart lacked many real surprises, particularly at the top, given there are relatively few starting jobs or key roles seemingly up for grabs. Those decisions won’t be made until a few preseason games are in the books, anyway.
One might even go so far as to describe Eagles training camp as boring, or at the very least, without incident up to this point. There are few of the storylines the press typically salivates over. There is little drama beyond the manufactured.
What a massive departure from a year ago.
In 2013, there were questions as to whether Kelly’s offense would work in the NFL. There were doubts about whether pro players would follow a college coach’s lead. A quarterback competition between Michael Vick and Nick Foles lingered into the summer, and nobody seemed shy about offering their opinion of who would win. The league’s vice president of officiating scoffed at the idea referees would bend to Chip’s pace.
Underwhelming defensive coordinator Bill Davis was charged with converting Philadelphia’s long-standing 4-3 defense to a 3-4 alignment. We wondered whether defensive tackles could transition into defensive ends, and if defensive ends could transform into outside linebackers. The secondary was in absolute shambles. There were battles for starting jobs up and down the roster, on both sides of the ball.
Within weeks of camp opening, the Eagles had lost four players for the season to torn ACLs, including Maclin. Yet at the same time, Kelly was under fire due to the absence of tackling to the ground during team drills. Video of Riley Cooper using a racial slur emerged to test the leadership and maturity inside the locker room. Joint practices against the Patriots revealed just how far removed from the elite the Birds truly were.
It all seems so far away now. There are no massive overhauls to the coaching staff, scheme or even the roster—some new faces, for sure, but nothing like when everything was brand new last summer. Kelly’s emphasis on sports science coupled with the team’s practice habits have helped cut down on the number of serious injuries before a game even so much has been played. Everybody is buying in, to the point where they are conscious of parroting clichés day after day, so much so that the answers often seem rote.
If any of this sounds like a complaint, it’s not. Frankly, there are very negatives, if any, to take away from these developments.
On the contrary, what is happening to the Eagles at training camp could only be described as progress. Every player and coach is moving in the exact same direction—forward— toward the exact same goal.
Miles ahead of last year? It may be rote or cliché to say, but all of the evidence we have backs up those types of statements.
The Eagles are preparing with a quiet efficiency that is practically unheard of at NFL training camps.
At the very least, it should lead to a faster start than in 2013, when Philadelphia lost three of four out of the gates and compiled a 3-5 record before winning seven of their final eight en route to the playoffs and division title. Then again, perhaps this camp is also a sign the Eagles are building up to an even bigger finish.