Another one of Andy Reid’s training camp staples has been swept up in Chip Kelly’s dustpan, joining Lehigh and huddling. This time, it’s tackling to the ground, a longstanding tradition of the Reid administration.
Monday’s practice back at the NovaCare Complex was the first in pads held at the Eagles’ facility after the first padded practice took place Sunday at the Linc.
Although there was a noticeable uptick in contact and competitive juices flowing -- defensive end Cedric Thornton knocked running back Chris Polk backward during one scrimmage -- nobody was intentionally tackled for the second straight day.
Afterward, Kelly told reporters to get used to this. There won’t be any “live periods” until the exhibition games.
“We have four preseason games for that,” he said. “They're hitting pretty good when they get an opportunity.”
Kelly's belief is that players leave their feet too much in practice, which can result in the kind of gang tackles that often result in the guy buried underneath the pile getting carted off the field.
“When you get guys on the ground, it is not really the two guys that get tackled, it's what's chasing it,” he added. “Most of the time it's not the tackle or the tackler, it's the rest of the guys coming through.
“You have a lot of big bodies moving. There's a fine line [in] what we have to get done from a work standpoint. We also know we have to get our guys to the game, too. It's a dance everybody's got to dance, but you want to make sure you get enough physicality in practice.”
For 14 years, the Eagles danced to Reid’s tune, and that meant hitting for at least the first week of camp until a few days before the first preseason game.
Kelly’s scrapping of the old system in favor of a gentler touch, which has been the league trend for several years, ensures that Aug. 9-24, a 15-day span in which the Eagles play their first three preseason games, will be a prove-it period for those either fighting to win a starting job or make the roster.
Kelly said he hoped that his roster would take shape during that time so he doesn’t have to play starters and significant bench players in the fourth preseason game, an exhibition normally reserved for the third stringers and those hoping to put some good film on tape for their next employer.
“We'd like to get this done as soon as everybody else wants to get it done,” he said. “Again, we can't force it in terms of that.”
Several Eagles embraced Kelly’s softer approach to camp contact, and some believe it’s the best remedy for a defense that was the NFL’s worst last year at making tackles.
Nate Allen, one of the main culprits of last year’s red-carpet defense, said it’s easier to improve tackling form doing it the Kelly way.
“It actually could be a better thing because you don’t have guys flying around, leaving their feet to make tackles and have guys rolling up on each other,” he said. “You’re practicing the fundamentals of tackling -- bringing your feet, wrapping up and staying up -- instead of bringing guys down and having guys blow out knees and all that stuff.”
Left tackle Jason Peters said live drills bring out the worst fundamentals, especially from the overeager types trying too hard to make an impression. Ever since camp rosters expanded to 90 under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams have taken more undrafted rookies to camp, which means more players who have nothing to lose and are looking to make an impression.
“Exactly, because you got young guys out here coming out of college, don’t know the speed of the game and it causes injuries when you do that,” he said.
Wide receiver Jason Avant noted “friendly fire” injuries that frequently happen to defensive players converging on a ball carrier or wideout.
“Their mentality, they end up hitting each other a lot,” he said.
So far, reduced contact hasn’t prevented major injuries from mounting at Camp Kelly. The Eagles have already lost two significant players, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on Saturday and linebacker Jason Phillips on Monday, for the year to blown-out knees.
Maclin was a starter anticipating a breakout season in his contract year. Phillips, a fourth-year pro, had carved his niche on special teams with the Panthers and signed with the Eagles early in free agency to play the same trade for a kickoff and punt coverage unit that badly needed some brawn.
Reid took measures in his final years to avoid injuries from stockpiling. He moved up practices to earlier in the morning, to keep players from cramping up in extreme heat. He gave breaks to veterans over 30. He even scaled way back on live periods compared to his first few years.
But there were very few camps in which Reid’s medical staff didn’t have at least a half dozen prominent players crowding the tent or working separately on an isolated field.
“It’s better [this way],” Peters assured. “Everybody here is a professional. We know how to tackle and hit. It’s not good to hit your own guys. Guys can only get injured that way. We’re just going to hold off until we get a game going.”