Head coach Doug Pederson is back to work at the NovaCare Complex, which can only mean one thing: Football is right around the corner, and with that comes the annual feeling of optimism of a successful season.
But that feeling of optimism took a bit of a hit moments before Pederson was set to speak to the media Monday morning, as news of the Miami Marlins' COVID-19 outbreak began to proliferate social media. The unfortunate news hit home, as the Phillies' game against the New York Yankees was postponed, as the Marlins were the most recent guests in the Citizens Bank Park visiting clubhouse down the street from the NovaCare Complex.
News like that and the potential of it happening in an NFL locker room are "the new norm" that faces Pederson heading into Training Camp, far from the one he had in mind when he proclaimed it on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art two years ago.
However, Pederson told reporters Monday that the Eagles are more than prepared to adapt. Pederson not only praised the entire organization – from President Don Smolenski to the groundskeepers – he also praised the NFL for being thorough with its protocols.
"It gives us hope. It gives us excitement moving forward," he said.
"We understand that the virus is real, and we do everything we can in our powers to stay safe, protecting ourselves when we're in the building, protecting our players," he added. "It's unfortunate what has happened, but we do have a lengthy set of protocols that we have to abide by. This is our new normal right now.
"It's something we're going to embrace. We're going to make it a positive. It is what it is, and we're going to embrace it and move forward."
Pederson said the Eagles are keenly aware of what is happening in other leagues as they prepare to return to competition and that there is a constant dialogue between the team, the league, and experts to ensure everything is being done as safe as possible. All of that has made him feel "extremely safe" in returning to work in preparation for the 2020 NFL season.
"Obviously coming into it, there might have been some skepticism, you know, about the testing, the screening that goes on, but it's very thorough," he said. "When you're here, you get tested in the morning, you have a screening process that you have to go through to get into the building, wearing masks in the building everywhere we go, I feel extremely safe."
"This is our bubble right here at NovaCare," he added. "I can't control everything. We can't control everything. There are probably going to be some things that come up down the road, but right now, I feel extremely safe and this is a great environment for our players to succeed in."
With a knowing lack of control, Pederson is aware that he has to have a plan in place if things go awry. Specifically, in the event players, coaches, and staff test positive for COVID-19, which is something Pederson said he has given a significant amount of thought heading into camp.
"We're in a different environment," he said. "We all have to do our part to protect ourselves, protect our players and our families, and hopefully we minimize any setbacks."
The entire league has already faced a setback with the eradication of the 2020 preseason, which will force Pederson and his staff to be creative in creating game-like situations before the real games are scheduled to begin Sept. 13.
But Pederson believes that the continuity among the players and coaches – something the rest of the NFC East lacks – will help give the Eagles confidence heading into the season opener and help them adapt to whatever potential issues come their way.
Until then, the optimism that comes with the start of football remains.
"As coaches, we've got to get our young players caught up extremely fast. We had a really good offseason, as virtual as it was with the meetings. We spent some time virtually with our rookies this past week and these guys are in a really good place mentally. Now, it's about taking it to the grass, seeing what they know, and then leaning on these guys as much as we can throughout Training Camp."
Other nuggets from Coach Pederson's press conference to open Training Camp:
How will the new Training Camp format impact rookies and other young players?
"I've got to do what I feel is best for the football team from the standpoint of putting guys in position to succeed on the field, meaning we got to have answers on a lot of our players, especially the young guys," Pederson said. "We haven't seen these rookies live and in person.
"It's my job as the head coach from a scheduling standpoint as we go throughout this Training Camp to put our guys in competitive situations to see what they can do and then do the best we can at the end of Training Camp to come up with (a 53-player roster)."
Does that mean rookie expectations should be limited for 2020?
"I wouldn't go that far because, as you know, every year there's going to be a rookie or two that really steps up and performs and catches our eye," Pederson said. "It doesn't matter if he's a guy on offense or defense. He can be a starter on special teams. We can't forget that, so that's what I'm most excited about.
How do you replace the preseason games?
"Just coming up with creative ways whether I do more scrimmage situations ... and put our young players and put the guys we need answers on in those situations," Pederson said. "I've got to come up with ways of having game-like situations in practice because we are missing the preseason games, so it can definitely be done. We'll be creative about it as a staff, and we'll eventually have the answers we need at the end of camp."
Is it an advantage to be the only team in the division returning with the same head coach and a majority of the coaching staff in these circumstances?
"It'd be hard and then not having your players in the offseason trying to teach a new offense, defense, special teams I'm sure is difficult in its own right. We've been blessed. I've been blessed going into my fifth year here in Philadelphia and maintaining the staff that I have and had some great additions to the staff this year," Pederson said.
"I think that our players are excited because they're not having to learn a new offense, defense, or special teams. I'm not necessarily thinking there's going to be a leg up, but at the same time, it does give us confidence going into camp that we are all on the same page."