Eagle Eye: Eagles flipping the page on win over Lions
Chip Kelly is one of just five NFL coaches known to have his team practice on Tuesdays. (AP)
When their opponents are resting, or lifting weights, or spending time with family or doing whatever it is most NFL players do on days off, the Eagles are on the clock.
When their opponents are still recovering from previous game, the Eagles have already begun preparations for them.
The Eagles practice on Tuesdays throughout the season for a normal Sunday game, bucking a time-tested NFL trend of starting preparations for Sunday games on Wednesday.
By NFLPA rule, NFL players are required to have one day off per week, and most teams reserve Monday for treatment of injured players and give Tuesdays off, especially after wins. The only other teams known to practice on Tuesday are the 49ers, Lions, Seahawks and Dolphins.
Practicing on Tuesdays is one of the many unconventional elements of first-year head coach Chip Kelly’s program and feeds into the sports science emphasis that accompanied Kelly from Oregon to Philadelphia.
At first, several veterans weren’t warm to the idea of coming into the NovaCare Complex for an extra day of practice. In 14 years under former coach Andy Reid, the Eagles never held Tuesday practices unless they were slated to play Thursday night.
Now that they’re atop the NFC East after last year’s 4-12 season, and with 52 of 53 players healthy enough to practice in mid-December, even the skeptics have become advocates.
“I mean, you talk to a lot of older guys, we weren’t fans of it at first,” Connor Barwin said, “but my body feels as good as it’s felt at this point in the season as I ever have.”
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, once reluctant about the six-day work schedule, now only reveals little about its advantage, careful not to let the other teams borrow from the Eagles’ playbook.
“Honestly, I never really liked it, but you've got to buy in,” he said. “As a professional athlete, you’ve got to adjust on the run. But here we are in December, and I think it’s definitely helping out.”
“We’re just fresh,” added Jackson, who’s just 177 yards shy of a new career high in receiving and one touchdown catch short of tying a career high. “We’re able to get out there and get our bodies going, so it kind of gets all the soreness out early in the week.
“By the time we look up, we just feel good on Sundays. I do miss going into the locker rooms on Sunday and [hearing], ‘See you Wednesday.’ I miss getting them two days. But, honestly, we’ve got all the time in the world in the offseason, as long as we could finish the season and do how we want to do.”
On a normal Tuesday, the Eagles come into the NovaCare Complex and spend about 45 minutes observing game film with an emphasis on correcting bad plays and accentuating good ones. Then they hit the practice field for about an hour and run through plays they needed to correct along with some advance planning for the game ahead.
It’s not as much about getting out the lingering Sunday soreness as it is about keeping active along with getting in a few more snaps and plays.
“Anytime you can get physical reps, that's huge,” center Jason Kelce said. “There's only so much you can do watching a monitor and trying to visually picture yourself in certain situations. The more physical reps you get, the more it's ingrained in you. I think that's kind of been the biggest benefit for Tuesdays.
“I think the biggest thing where guys go wrong is if they don't move on Tuesdays. Everyone who played under Andy, for the most part, between Monday and Tuesday, they came in and got a lift. You can't just sit down for two days and not do anything. Then your soreness is going to be pretty bad. It sets in and the lactic acid gets stuck. It's just not good for your legs.
“I don't know that [practicing on Tuesday] has been beneficial in terms of getting soreness out, but I think that it certainly hasn't been detrimental in terms of making us more tired, which I think was what a lot of people were talking about before the season.”
All of Kelly’s practice methods are grounded in scientific research, much of it intended to maximize the limited time coaches have with their players.
Much like in college, where the NCAA restricts the number of hours student-athletes can spend on the football field, the NFL and its players union have collectively bargained policies that legislate the time coaches have to work with players, including in the offseason.
Kelly bucks several NFL practice trends. He holds daily walkthroughs after practice, instead of before, and has his lightest practice on Friday, instead of Saturday.
After a 3-5 start, the Eagles have won five straight games. They’ve held tight leads or trailed in the fourth quarter of their past three games. It’s impossible to pin a measurement on how Tuesday practices have influenced their win-loss record, but defensive coordinator Bill Davis said there’s definitely a psychological advantage, if not a tangible one.
“We think that is an advantage to us because I think we get a little bit of a head start on getting in here Tuesday and getting some of the kinks out of the Sunday soreness,” said Davis, whose defense is the league’s only unit to allow 21 points or less to nine straight opponents (see story).
Some of Kelly’s unique program tenets, which include custom-made, post-practice smoothies and guidelines for proper sleep, were seen as gimmicky and more suited for college kids than grown men. But other teams that follow a similar practice schedule are also thriving.
In the three years that former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has coached the 49ers, they’ve won two NFC West titles and appeared in an NFC Championship and Super Bowl. If the season ended today, they’d make the playoffs for the third time in Harbaugh’s three seasons. The Niners trail NFC West-leading Seattle, which has the NFL’s best record and will also make the postseason for the second straight year. The Lions are 7-5 and tied for the best record in the NFC North.
The Dolphins, who at 7-6 are chasing an unlikely wild-card berth, practice Tuesday but have Thursday off, so they’re not really putting in a six-day week like the others.
Success is one of the biggest reasons for veterans buying into a plan they may have initially doubted.
“It seems to be paying off,” Barwin said. “Right now it’s working for us, so we don’t want to change.”