With great gusto, it begins. The offseason conditioning program is in full swing at the NovaCare Complex as the players reported with an eye on what's ahead. The 2014 season is here, and the players feel it as they have gathered together for the first time since the playoff loss to New Orleans.
The mood of the locker room? By all accounts, it's fantastic. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has a way of making sure that his energy and enthusiam is contagious. The players are into this program, and that means into it.
It's go time for the Eagles. The offseason program runs through June, and while the players aren't yet on the field taking practice reps, they are working to improve themselves for the 2014 season.
Time to take some stock of the pulse of the team ...
LANE JOHNSON, offensive tackle
The Eagles' first pick in the 2013 draft (fourth overall), Lane Johnson returned to South Philadelphia bigger and stronger and prepared to take a huge leap in his second NFL season.
He was pleased with his rookie campaign.
"It went good. I think I had some rookie bumps in the first half of the year, but toward the latter part of the year I think I played really well," he said. "I think my body is a whole lot more rested than it was last year. I feel a lot stronger than I was last year, I weigh more than last year – it's the most I've ever weighed – and I just feel that from a mental aspect I know what to expect. Nothing is going to catch me off guard."
Johnson said the mental adjustment is the most challenging in the transition from college. The physical part, he's got that down. More time in the film room and more experience is going to take Johnson to rarefied air in the league.
"I'm excited to take the next step," he said. "I feel so much better after my first year."
CONNOR BARWIN, linebacker
It's fair to say that Connor Barwin never really left Philadelphia after the season ended. He's adjusted so well after signing with the Eagles in free agency last spring, and he loves the City. He's everywhere. He's a Philadelphian.
At age 27, Barwin is literally in the prime of his football career.
And he's far, far ahead of where he was last year. So is, he thinks, the defense.
"I think guys are excited. There's a good culture. I like the few guys that they brought in so far and I look forward to seeing what we add in the draft next month," he said. "The feeling in the locker room is positive, but I think there's kind of a chip on our shoulder as far as improving on last year. I know we finished the second half of the season well, which is something positive to look at, but we didn't get it done in the playoffs. We started the season a little rough. We want to get the defense in and get ahead of things and start better and improve on the little things."
How about the locker room with all of the changes? How do the players react to that?
"It only takes you a year to realize how this business works and every single year there's a turnover," said Barwin. "When things happen, you don't try to figure out why it happens. You trust in your management, your coaches. You get focused on your team and you get focused on the guys in the locker room. You rely on some leadership to do that. But guys quickly learn how this NFL offseason works."
JEREMY MACLIN, wide receiver
Here's the best news of the week: If the Eagles had a training camp practice tomorrow, Jeremy Maclin would be on the field taking part. After suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament on the second day of training camp last summer, Maclin attacked his rehab and is right where he needs to be.
In Philadelphia, with a one-year, get-back-on-track contract, and ready for practice action. Maclin has come a long way since the day he went down with the non-contact injury.
"There were many thoughts going through my head," said Maclin, recalling the injury. "It was a unique situation that I was in, as far as it was my contract year, being in a new system. You see Chip Kelly's offense in college and you're really excited about what it could possibly be in the NFL. When I got hurt, you think, 'Why me? What did I do to deserve this?'
"But then you have to understand that everything happens for a reason. I think there's a reason why it happened last year. I can't go back and change it. I can only continue to move forward. I think I'm in the best position I can be in right now."
Maclin has put on some muscle -- he weighs 205 pounds, up from about 200 last year -- and he's nothing but extremely optimistic about what's ahead. Maclin will be a large part of the passing game as the Eagles look to build on last year's success when they led the league in rushing and in explosive (plus 20 yards) plays.
"I think I'll do a little bit of everything. I'm a guy they can move around in a lot of different positions and be successful. I think I'll play outside and I think I'll play inside. I'm just really, really excited about what they have in store for me," he said. "This is something that I love doing. I'm still young. My excitement for the game is still there. This is something that I've been working for since I was 9 years old. I started playing when I was 9. To not be able to do that definitely was something that was hard for me. But I've got the right supporting cast around me and we have the right guys in the organization here to help me push through that and my spirits are high. I think that's why I tackled rehab the way that I did."
ZACH ERTZ, tight end
A second-round draft pick from Stanford, Zach Ertz found his stride following the bye week in 2013 and had some big games down the stretch. He had 5 catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona and followed up a couple of weeks later with 6 catches, 57 yards and a score in Minnesota.
The blur of the first season that accelerated after the draft, became compounded when Ertz missed the Organized Team Activities because his class at Stanford hadn't graduated, finally slowed a tick for Ertz midway through the year.
"I think after the bye week last year things really kind of slowed down for me. At the beginning I was kind of rushing a lot of things," said Ertz, who said he was "miserable" taking engineering classes at Stanford while the Eagles practiced at the NovaCare Complex last spring. "Then in that Cardinals game I had a big game and I think I was like, 'OK, I can make an impact in this league.' "
Goals for the offseason? Ertz expects to take a massive step forward in Year 2.
"I want to be more of a complete tight end. I don't want there to be a situation where I have to come off the field because it's a running play or a passing play and the coaches feel they have to get me off the field. That's what I'm working for this year."
That's expected to be the case. Ertz could move around the formation quite a bit as the Eagles ultilize his ability to get down the field. The depth at tight end is going to be a weapon as the offense creates favorable matchups.
"We have a great group and Brent (Celek) and James (Casey) have been so helpful," said Ertz. "You hear horror stories from around the league, but that's not the case here. It's been great."