- Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, and Jordan Hicks talk about their return to the field and what it means to them.
Darren Sproles admits that he hasn't had much sleep in the last week or so, and that's actually a good thing. See, Sproles has been soooo looking forward to the start of Training Camp that he couldn't shut it down. In his 14th NFL season, Sproles felt like a rookie – a very excited one – when he stepped back on the field on Thursday as Eagles Training Camp, 2018, began.
"I'm so happy to be out there. It felt great," Sproles said. "Just to be back with my guys, to be back out there, moving around again. It was so much fun."
Sproles was among a group of veterans who practiced on Thursday that spent most of the 2017 season on Injured Reserve and missed the run to Super Bowl LII. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks was smiling ear to ear at his locker in the NovaCare Complex after his first practice since tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 7 against Washington. Tackle Jason Peters was laughing as he talked with reporters about his "good genes, man" coming back from a torn ACL only nine months ago, having gone down in the same October 23 game as Hicks.
As much as anything, Day 1 of camp was a welcome-back moment for those veterans – along with quarterback Carson Wentz, of course – who missed the championship ride. They're back with hunger and with a sense of purpose to help the Eagles repeat as Super Bowl Champions. That's the big-picture plan. In the short term, in the today, the players just want to get back to playing their best football.
"That is the first day I've been out there since I tore my Achilles," Hicks said. "It was amazing. Those first few reps were special. They felt good. It's just rewarding because I know all of the things that have gone into helping me reach this moment – all the stresses, all the pressures, the thoughts and the challenges when you go through an injury. It's still early. It's still Day 1, but just to be back out on the field with the guys was a special moment."
Hicks knows he has "rust to knock off to get into my groove," and that it's now just a matter of time. And while six weeks doesn't sound like a lot of time – six weeks until the Eagles open the season against Atlanta at Lincoln Financial Field!! – it should be plenty of time to get the needed reps and ease past the mental restrictions and just let go when the games count. Hicks, as the team's middle linebacker, is being counted on heavily to return to form as a ball-hawking, do-it-all player.
This first step, this very important big first step, was a welcomed hurdle to leap.
"Who would have thought the first day of camp would be so much fun?" Hicks said, laughing. "I really enjoyed it out there."
So did Peters, one of the game's great left tackles of all time. He had taken limited reps in the spring, but on Thursday he was out there for 11-on-11 reps and he looked like, well, he looked like how Jason Peters looks. After some good-natured ribbing from head coach Doug Pederson, who said "It's good to have you back, old man," as practice began, Peters hunkered down to business. Not only did he take his reps and work perfecting his movements, he spent time in the ears of young linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Matt Pryor, and Toby Weathersby.
That's just Peters' nature: He's a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he loves the game, and he loves helping younger players.
"I try to work every aspect of the game and when I hurt my knee I just knew I had to try to get back on the field because I wasn't going out (of the NFL) like that," Peters said. "Right now, nine months today, I'm still working. Doc told me like a year or so (to recover from the injury), but I don't listen to that stuff."
Peters dedicated himself to returning, as did Hicks and Sproles and Wentz and everyone who missed the run, including safety Chris Maragos. The sight of Peters and Hicks and Sproles and Wentz meant something on Thursday. If there are any concerns that the Eagles are going to be complacent, hearing Peters talk, and seeing how Hicks smiled and listening as Sproles talked about his recovery and the idea that he could actually be quicker and faster after "getting some rest" for his legs and, hey, it's hard not to get excited.
"It means something to us," Sproles said. "We're all hungry. We want to be on that field winning a Super Bowl."
One step at a time, as the Eagles know very well.
"I'm 36," Peters said. "I don't pay that no mind. This is fun for me. Coming off an injury, you're trying to make sure you're still playing at a high level and that's what I'm going to try to do this year."