The Eagles are headed to Foxboro on Tuesday for the start of joint practices, but unlike last year, they’re bringing some extra motivation.
Apparently, only one team brought the proper level of intensity and intimidation to last year’s scrimmages in South Philly, and it wasn’t the home team. Both teams were warned about getting too physical, but the Eagles felt they were the only team playing by the rules.
This time, there’s just one rule.
“When we strap up, we’re gonna be ready to go,” cornerback Bradley Fletcher. “We want to have a little something to it that maybe we didn’t really have last year, so we’re gonna have a lot more of that this coming week.”
For whatever reason, the Eagles were a little too gracious when they welcomed the Patriots to the NovaCare last August for a couple of practices leading up to their preseason game.
Pats quarterback Tom Brady, in particular, seemed right at home finding his new receivers against an Eagles defense that offered very little resistance -- except, of course, Cary Williams, who was tossed out of one practice for tussling.
That’s another issue, some Eagles acknowledged.
Despite an agreement between coaches Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick to kick jousters out of practice, a message shared by each coach in meetings with his respective team, only one team seemed to tone down on contact and extracurricular activity.
Apparently, it wasn’t coincidence, either.
“I had that same meeting in New Orleans and we got whooped,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We got sucker punched, so I think we’ll have our guard up this time.
“The coaches tell you, ‘Hey you’re going to get kicked out of practice if you fight,’ and all this and you go up there thinking ‘OK, this is gonna be a practice,’ and they’re ramped up. It’s hard to turn that switch on once you turn it off.”
So the Eagles were already dialed up Monday afternoon, even after a routine walkthrough without pads, especially the defensive backs. They had their sights set on revenge and showing the Patriots what’s in their DNA.
No more Mr. Nice Guys.
“The tempo is definitely going to go up some more when you go play against a different team for a few days,” Fletcher said. “We’re gonna have the pads on and it’s gonna ramp it up, so we’re definitely going to be be ready for it.”
About a week ago, Williams made headlines for critical comments about joint practices and about the Patriots, who were once penalized for illegally videotaping an opponent’s defensive signals. Williams expressed concern about another team -- especially the Patriots, citing Spygate -- having an up-close look at their playbook and personnel. He said these practices weren’t beneficial.
Jenkins disagreed. Sure, the Pats get an idea of what the Eagles will do, Jenkins said, but it’s a two-way street.
“Now, there’s things that you have to do. You’ve got to change some of your signals because you’d be dumb not to take notes on what the other team is doing,” he said. “So from that standpoint you don’t want to open up your entire playbook when you’re there.
“But I think it’s good for your team to kind of come together and go against another opponent in practice day after day. I think it brings you closer, because you really got to have each other’s back every day when you’re out there. It gets ramped up and turned up and you really get to really see who likes to compete and who shies away from competition.”
The Eagles didn’t have joint practices in the 14 years Andy Reid coached them, but Reid liked conducting his annual camp away at Lehigh for the same reasons Kelly likes joint practices, for the camaraderie building and intensity.
Reid’s teams bonded in dorm rooms and cafeterias for two long weeks away in the mountains. His practices always featured tackling, so fights frequently broke out and alliances were formed quickly. Kelly’s team bonds through combat against other opponents.
“I think it needs to be that way,” Jenkins added. “It’s competition that’s gonna bring the best out of both teams, and we can always get told to slow down. You don’t wanna ever have to tell anybody to speed up.
“The biggest thing is compete as a team. Go out there and really day in and day out, period in and period out, compete and see where we stand. We definitely don’t want to go out there and get pushed around. We’ve got to start out fast, from practice [until] the game and really just establish ourselves and see what we’ve got.”