Brandon Graham just spent the past few months getting to understand the entirety of Chip Kelly’s system, from the new coach’s diet-and-nutrition program to his defensive schemes to the breakneck speed of Kelly’s practices.
Graham, making a transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in his fourth season, is also trying to get to 255 pounds by training camp. The last thing he wants is to reverse all the work he’s put in by coming into training camp with pounds packed on.
“That’s why I’m staying here [in Philadelphia], so that they can monitor it,” he said. “So that when I come to camp it’s like I’ve already been here. I’m not going anywhere.”
Not all of the Eagles are staying behind for the next six weeks, but several have echoed Graham’s sentiment about the importance of showing up in shape when training camp for the full team starts July 25 at the NovaCare Complex.
In the past, players who reported to camp with some extra flab could work off the pounds in the weight room or integrate back into game speed by the middle of camp. It helped that former coach Andy Reid ran a notoriously brutal camp that featured more tackling and live speed than most NFL teams.
But the ramifications for arriving to Kelly’s first camp in poor shape could be steeper, for a variety of reasons. First, the pace of Kelly’s practices are much faster than most NFL practices. Second, several starting jobs are up for grabs as the new coach puts his stamp on the team.
Being unprepared to practice at the right speed could mean the difference between a starting and backup job, or a roster spot and unemployment.
“Being in shape is the top thing,” said second-year defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “You don’t want to come back relaxed, take all the five or six weeks got off. You don’t want to let that go. You don’t want to let those nine or 10 weeks that we’ve been here go to waste. With five weeks to rest, you don’t wanna get lazy. That’s the most important thing, staying in shape.”
All veterans have the next six weeks to do whatever they please. Some players coming off injuries or surgeries will stay behind for treatment. The rookies are staying for a two-week rookie program. Two rookies who missed almost all of the spring camps because of an NCAA graduation rule - second-round tight end Zach Ertz and seventh-round cornerback Jordan Poyer - will be eligible to participate in the second week of the current program. Rookie training camp starts July 22.
The strength-and-conditioning staff created a summer program for each individual. It’s not mandatory for players to adhere to the program, but it’ll be fairly obvious which ones kept up with their diet and conditioning and which ones let themselves go.
“By league rules, it's not like we can say, ‘Let's meet at these certain times,’” Kelly said. “They can lift here, but we can't have any instruction with them or anything like that. They're on their own to work out.”
The coaches aren’t hitting the highways yet, either. They’ll stick around for a few more weeks and start to prepare for the season and their first month of opponents. The season opens Sept. 9 in Landover, Md., against the Redskins. It’s the first Monday night game of the league season.
Kelly has never coached at any level in the NFL, so he’ll be catching his first glimpses of several players and coaches around the league and their tendencies.
“There is a ton of work. There is work every day,” Kelly said. “You're never done. You've never arrived. There is always something to do. We've got a schedule. We have a yearly schedule, so we know where we're supposed to be and what has to be broken down and when we're reporting back here and all these things. We never feel like our work is done.”
Readjusting to practice form after a long layoff has been an annual hurdle for Eagles to confront, but Trent Cole, who’s also possibly transitioning from defensive line to linebacker, suggested that making the switch this summer would be even more challenging given Kelly’s emphasis on fast practices.
“People don’t know when you come out on this field practicing and then you go outside the team and [do] running and doing all that, you can’t compare,” he said. “There’s no comparison to it. You can prepare as hard as you want but, like I said, you’re going to feel it when you come to practice because it’s a whole other speed. The only thing we can do is try to do what we can to keep at this level from what we got from this [past] camp.”