Suddenly, you are hearing the name James Urban when people talk about the development of quarterback Michael Vick, and you know that veteran defensive coach Dick Jauron is in charge of the Eagles secondary, and the value of the team's coaching staff -- not just head coach Andy Reid and his coordinators -- is being recognized.
"More than anything," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said the other day, "we are teachers. We've got a young roster and every day out on the practice field is a lesson for every player."
The Eagles practiced Saturday (a Friday in their week-to-week practice routine) and the performance was crisp, and scripted and intense. The practices are the same every day. Players know where they are supposed to be, they know they are to practice with a high tempo and they are to play to the standards set forth by this coaching staff.
It is athletic poetry watching the Eagles practice. It is beautiful football.
"You can almost tell the good teams from the not-good teams in this league by the way they practice," said ESPN's Ron Jaworski, out to watch the Eagles on Friday in preparation for Monday night's game at the Redskins (ESPN, PHL17 in the Philadelphia region for those who don't have cable television). "The Eagles run a great practice. Every second of their practice time is accounted for."
It's the coaching, and the system that is in place, and Reid's understanding of the nit-picking minutia and the big picture as well. He has a terrific mix of experience and youth on his coaching staff, one that has clearly been energized by the baby Eagles -- who have 13 rookies on this roster.
For the Eagles to defeat Washington and then to proceed through a season and get where they want to be in February, a lot of pieces are going to have to fall into place. And those are young pieces, and new-to-the-team pieces and players who aren't all that very familiar with the schemes here. You think, for example, that Colt Anderson has a chance of playing any kind of productive football without the coaching staff teaching him -- and making sure he knows -- everything he can handle in one week?
Think about what the Eagles have going on in their secondary for this game. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson makes the second start of his NFL career. Rookie Kurt Coleman makes his first start. Anderson is the third safety, having been signed off of the Vikings practice squad a few days ago. It is an insanely-young group asked to step up in a prime-time game and play well in an NFC East game that is so critical to the Eagles.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles may start Nick Cole at right guard and nobody is flinching. Starter Max Jean-Gilles had a concussion (he practiced on Saturday for the first time all week) and could be replaced by Cole and nobody has made a mention of it all week. Why not? Because we have seen Juan Castillo coach up his group for years and years, and he has always brought them up to speed. This year alone, Castillo has lost his starting center (Jamaal Jackson), he has had Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters on the sidelines for two games, and the right guard spot has been a source of question since training camp.
Don't look now, but the Eagles offense, somehow, is maybe more dangerous than it has ever been. Maybe that's because coaches like Castillo are so good, and because David Culley (wide receivers) and Tom Melvin (tight ends) and Ted Williams (running backs) and Doug Pederson (quality control) have expertly brought along young players so well, so quickly.
As for Vick, well, he wouldn't be here in this spot without the help of Urban, a relentlessly positive coach who has greatly impacted Vick and, for that matter, Kevin Kolb and Mike Kafka. Suddenly, the Eagles have three quarterbacks they really, really like in a quarterback-starved league.
When you see talented teams like Dallas falter, you understand just how important coaching in the NFL is, and how much impact it has in the win/loss column. If, as they say in these circles, the most important time of game week is Monday through Saturday -- in this case, Sunday -- then the Eagles are going to be fine for this Monday Night Football game. The coaches have made sure of that.