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The most anticipated practice every summer at Andy Reid’s training camp was the first practice in pads. On a good weather day, the first practice with “live” sessions typically packed the Lehigh grandstands with a few thousand fans.
This year, under new coach Chip Kelly, the first contact practice has the potential to be viewed by roughly 60,000 fans, and nobody has to trek up the Blue Route to see it.
Kelly on Tuesday said his first padded practice will take place Sunday, three days after veterans report to the NovaCare Complex for the coach’s inaugural camp. Sunday also happens to be the first of five practices open to the public at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles have already already given away close to 55,000 free tickets for the event and anticipate several thousand more being scooped up in the next few days, which adds a new and potentially exciting element to Kelly’s camp.
Reid, who ran one of the NFL’s most notoriously grueling camps, practiced in pads as frequently as possible. Even under the new CBA, which restricts time that players can be in pads for every practice, Reid used every allotted minute to have his team in pads.
Kelly, who comes from the new school, was less forthcoming about the frequency of padded practices and the amount of tackling to the ground that will take place within those sessions.
“It will be spaced out within the practices,” he said. “I can't give you the exact number of how many. But … the entire practice won't be hitting. But there will be certain parts of each drill that will have to do some tackling. And they'll be tackling in full.”
On contact days, Reid would warm up his team with “thud” drills that involved contact but not full tackling. Gradually, the team worked its way toward all-out tackling, starting in 7-on-7s before moving to 11 on 11.
Although he eased up on veterans over 30 later in his career and lightened contact as camp progressed and injuries mounted, Reid had no problem demanding that the pads come out on several consecutive days before the first preseason game.
Even as camps around the league began to scale back on contact, Reid’s camp was always known as one of the last remaining bloodbaths. He believed tackling and blocking were fundamentals that needed to be reviewed and honed each summer.
Kelly said his contact practices “won't be every day,” and suggested that most of the action that pits first-team offense against first-team defense would come in the joint August practices against the Patriots and four preseason games.
“Most of that work will come in the preseason scrimmages,” he said, “but there will be a little bit of that [in practice].”
It’s somewhat ironic that Kelly’s first contact practice will occur at the Linc. The Eagles haven’t had a real, physical open practice there since the inaugural “Flight Night” practice of 2009, which backfired when starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley sustained a torn knee ligament that sidelined him for the season.
The nightmare left a sour taste in Reid’s mouth. From the next year on, he eliminated contact from the practice and turned it into a fan-friendly exhibition that lacked any feel of a real football practice.
Kelly has stressed the importance of personnel evaluations carried out with pads on and in an environment as similar as possible to real game action, but he can’t make honest judgments if several of his key players are sidelined for prolonged stints.
“Again, with this group, we've never had pads on,” Kelly said. “We went through the whole offseason with just helmets. So when you finally get the shoulder pads on and the fundamental part of it, you also have to be conscious of, ‘We can't lose people either.’
“But ... the difference I think between the college level and the NFL, we've got four preseason games where they will be live. You've got to factor that you get at least four opportunities there, and we'll sprinkle some opportunities in practice. But it will be individualized by the situation part of the drill.”