They’ve played 11 games in 11 weeks. The calendar turned from September to October to November without a break. It’s been 13 years since the franchise played this many games before the bye week.
You’d expect the Eagles to have aches, pains, bumps, bruises and all sorts of soreness and fatigue that come with 11 weeks of violent collisions on the football field.
You’d think 30-somethings like Todd Herremans, Jason Peters and Jason Avant wouldn’t be able to handle 11 consecutive games.
But as they headed for the NovaCare Complex exits on Tuesday, several players said they’ve never felt this fresh, this late in the season.
“I feel a lot better at practice and on Sundays than I have in the past,” Herremans, who turned 31 last month, said.
Chip Kelly’s sports science is the most common reason given for the team’s health and general well being.
Sure, guys are coping with minor aches and pains, but rookie safety Earl Wolff is the only starter whose status for next Sunday’s game against Arizona is in question.
Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks and left cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who each missed the Redskins game with injuries, are expected to play against the Cardinals. Quarterback Michael Vick could be ready to return for that game, although Nick Foles is now the starter.
It appears the personalized smoothies, stretching sessions, post-practice massages, Tuesday practices, Saturday jogthroughs and softer, gentler training camp have yielded the intended results.
“I'm not surprised,” Kelly said. “I mean, that's part of the plan. It's a well-thought-out research plan. It's not just, ‘Hey, let's try this.’ So it's a two‑way street in terms of they have to buy into it and they have done an unbelievable job buying into it, because we're not with them 24-7, nor should we be with them 24-7.
“We've got a bunch of guys that want to be great at what they do. They understand not only what they do here during the day, but what they're not doing here during the day has a great effect on you being able to respond on Sundays. And they've bought into that, and I think that's a credit to those guys."
The Eagles haven’t had a bye week this late since 2000, when they played the first 15 games of the season before having their week off. They had Week 7 off in each of the past two seasons and Week 8 in 2010.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, an assistant on Andy Reid’s staff in 2000, sees the impact of Kelly’s sports science on the team’s overall conditioning.
“The guy I talk to frequently is Brent Celek to see how he's doing because he's a guy that's a very veteran player,” Shurmur said. “He's a guy that gets out there and plays hard and takes a beating each week. I'm kind of watching it, like some of the other people in this building that are new to it.
“He's kind of my gauge because we've always had a great relationship. I ask him how he's feeling, how he's doing. I see a guy that each week has a high energy level once the game starts. Yeah, it works.”
And how’s Celek, who turns 29 in January, feeling 11 games into his seventh season?
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I just hope that it keeps going. We’ve got five more games. Hopefully, more after. Just take it one week at a time and continue to take care of my body on those off days.”
Veterans can sometimes be skeptical of a new coach’s program, especially an unconventional coach like Kelly, who has introduced several practice habits that are relatively new to the NFL and some off-field health and wellness concepts that suggest guidelines for diet, nutrition and even sleep.
Celek shrugged off the notion that the anyone had to “buy in” to Kelly’s theories.
“He wants you to sleep better,” Celek said, “wants you to eat right, and he wants you to take care of your muscles. It makes sense to me.”
Kelly’s approach to body preservation is much different than his predecessor’s. Almost the opposite, really.
Reid’s training camps were infamously grueling, notorious for tackling to the ground for several days. Kelly had his team practice in pads frequently throughout camp but his “live periods” never involved tackling to the ground.
During the regular season, Reid usually gave his team off Monday and Tuesday before reconvening Wednesday. Friday practices were light and Saturdays were reserved for brief walkthroughs.
Under Kelly, the Eagles are back at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday after Sunday games and have walkthroughs on Friday. On Saturday, they run through several special teams drills that get the blood pumping.
Reid’s teams were famous for excelling after the bye week. The jury’s out on the post-bye performance of Kelly’s team.
But as the Eagles prepare for the toughest part of their schedule, consecutive home games against 6-4 teams Arizona and Detroit, they’re well rested and confident in their conditioning.
“Coach Kelly does a good job of getting us to put a lot of work in during the week, but we also have our bodies ready for Sunday,” Fletcher said. “We don’t put ourselves in position where we’re going to feel like we don’t have anything left in the tank. I credit that to the sports science, just how Coach Kelly runs his football team.”