As Training Camp begins and the storylines unfold as the 2016 Eagles take shape, Doug Pederson stands at the head of the room and addresses his team. He is the head coach and enters his first camp in the position confident that his message is being heard and heeded, and promising each of his players a fair shake and two-way communication.
A new era winds into uncharted territory as Pederson steers the Eagles through the rest of July and August and into September and the NFL's regular season. On a team of many plots and sidebars, Pederson is the macro story, the long-term key. A career as a player and an assistant coach, with a four-year pit stop as a high school head coach, Pederson has made the big step as the Eagles' face, the leader, the football CEO with the direct responsibility of restoring this franchise into a playoff team and a year-by-year Super Bowl contender.
"I'm enjoying the challenge," Pederson said in the spring as the Eagles conducted their Organized Team Activities and minicamp. "Obviously there are things along the way that I have never experienced as a head coach but I'm embracing those situations. I feel like we're all swimming in the same direction. We all want the same thing, so that's what we're emphasizing every day."
The spring wasn't exactly smooth sailing for a first-time NFL head coach. The Eagles were heavily engaged in player contracts and roster juggling and then they pulled off a two-step trade series to move into the No. 2 position in the first round of the draft.
With all of the roster revamping and the quarterback drama – starter Sam Bradford, who in March signed a two-year contract to remain with the team, left the voluntary portion of the spring for two weeks after the Eagles traded up to No. 2 in the draft with the intention of selecting a quarterback, ultimately North Dakota State's Carson Wentz – Pederson remained calm, cool, and exceedingly positive and open-minded.
His approach paid off.
The Eagles enter Training Camp exactly as Pederson wants them: A focused team that knows the coaching staff is stressing competition and physical football. A demanding camp starts Monday at the NovaCare Complex with rookies, selected veterans and quarterbacks – all of whom report on Sunday – taking three days of reps to refresh their knowledge of the schemes, to knock off the rust and to get up to speed so that when the remainder of the roster meets on Wednesday night ahead of Thursday's first team practice, everyone is on the same page.
"I have no doubt that his message has been heard," tight end Zach Ertz said of Pederson. "He's the new head coach and it was important to have him stand up in front of the entire room and talk to us every day in the spring and let us know what he demands. He's not going to do a lot of talking. He knows we have a lot to get to and to learn. We're all competing. There are no promises. We have to perform every day."
Pederson has been up to the task of handling his locker room, managing the time asks from the rest of the organization, cooperating and engaging in a very likeable way with the media, and, last but not least, moving his family from Kansas City to the Philadelphia area.
He's the head coach and he's here to stay, and the long-term vision is one of sustained success for a franchise that has not won a playoff game since 2008, has not been to the postseason since 2013 and, of course, continues to chase the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.
"I understand the passion of the fans and I know they want what we want," Pederson said. "I played here and I coached here and I know the fans. I love the support they provide us. Our job is to win football games, and that's not easy to do in the National Football League."
There are going to be a lot of headlines in the coming weeks about the quarterback picture and the running backs and everything that Jim Schwartz is doing with his newfangled defense. These are all valid stories and topics to talk about and positions to watch. The Eagles have high goals, as they do every season. There are a lot of new faces here and there are a lot of questions. The daily chatter is going to be interesting, and the preseason schedule is absolutely worth watching.
But the most important big-picture story is Pederson, the head coach, and how he navigates this franchise back to the NFL postseason and beyond. Pederson has done an admirable job since his hire in January, with new challenges ahead that he enthusiastically welcomes.
"I know there is a lot of work to be done here and that is something that we all dive into together," Pederson said. "I am really pleased with what I've seen so far and with what we've accomplished. Long way to go, though. It's a step-by-step process and you have to really focus in on each step. That's what we're doing. One step at a time."