It's the "new normal" of a Monday morning for Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson as the team begins its fourth week of a virtual offseason program. He says the program is "going probably better than I hoped for" with players scattered across the country tuned in via the Microsoft Teams platform, virtually connected to the Eagles' strength and conditioning program for one half of the four-days-per-week program and connected to their position coaches for the other half.
Two years ago – doesn't that seem like an eternity? – Pederson's "new normal," which he proclaimed at the City's Parade of Champions celebration four days after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, reflected the expectations for a football team that expected to play deep into the postseason and annually challenge for the Lombardi Trophy. This "new normal" is upon us because of the coronavirus global pandemic that has shut down the NovaCare Complex since mid-March with no defined return date in sight.
The Eagles are in the midst of a nine-week program, so that's one focus for the coaching staff. They are also looking ahead, planning for a return to the NovaCare Complex and on-field work, the preseason, and the 2020 regular season. Many teams are scheduling joint practices before preseason games, so that is something the Eagles would obviously consider.
It is an ambitious program, and plan, and Pederson is confident that the basic tenets of his messaging to the team – he addresses the full team and as well as the coaching staff and football operations department each Monday and Thursday mornings – will have everyone working in the same direction with the intention of starting fast when the regular season opens September 13 at Washington.
"Once the 2019 season ended, I hit the reset button, and I thought about what my new messaging points are going to be moving forward for the coming season," Pederson said in an exclusive interview. You can hear the entire interview in the most recent episode of the Eagles Insider Podcast, presented by Lincoln Financial Group. "Quite honestly, it kind of fits in line with where we are with this pandemic and sort of self-quarantined at home and working from home, virtual workouts, virtual meetings, things of this nature. The two messaging points are this: One is the word 'trust.' And I think the word 'trust' really fits where we are right now. Our guys and our coaches, our trainers, our strength and conditioning staff, we need to trust each other through this process.
"The second one is 'stronger together.' I think through this process we are going to become stronger together. We are going to be united coming out of this pandemic, whenever it is and when we get back together, guys are going to be extremely motivated, extremely excited. For me, it was putting those two phrases together – 'trust' and 'stronger together' – those have been my two messaging points to the team."
With new Director of Sports Performance Ted Rath overseeing the strength and conditioning program, the players are given the guidelines for workouts each day by Rath and his staff and then the players find a way to have their workouts filmed – in their homes, socially distanced – and then the players send the videos back to Rath and the staff for evaluation and, as a byproduct, to use as motivation for players who, even in this virtual world, are competing against each other. And, as Pederson did when the team was at the NovaCare Complex in his four previous offseasons, he names weekly competition winners with, ultimately, a single player winning the "championship" belt at the end of the offseason program.
"It's a fun way to still have that friendly competition, even at this time," Pederson said, who said he is "extremely" pleased with the voluntary program's level of participation. "I'm extremely pleased with where the guys are. You have to find creative ways to keep the guys engaged because I feel like, after a while, and not being together and constantly looking at your phone or your iPad can kind of wear on you a little bit. My hat's off to the team, to my coaches, for finding creative ways to stay connected through this time."
Players who are recovering from injuries are not permitted to take part in the workouts, but they can rehab at the NovaCare Complex under the direction of the team's sports medicine staff, directed by Tom Hunkele.
For the position group meetings, the players are joined with their position coach who leads the meeting and they all watch, on their tablets, the video prepared for that meeting. Screens are shared, videos are downloaded, and the levels of communication flow. There are some instances where a player isn't in a great Wi-Fi environment and that's a challenge, but for the most part the program has been "seamless," said Pederson.
This is the part of the offseason that is normally devoted to the conditioning side and the mental side. What's missing, of course, is the touch and feel of being in the NovaCare Complex and the Organized Team Activities on the field when the players, wearing helmets and shorts, are able to conduct non-contact practice drills. Those aren't happening and they won't happen until, well, late July if all goes according to plan and Training Camp opens.
Every team has that challenge. That's why joint practices would be so valuable, in addition to the four preseason games. The roster goes from 90 players to 53 players on September 5 by 4 p.m. Pederson and his staff have one eye on the current program and one eye on late summer when the on-field work is scheduled to begin.
For now, it's about the daily program, one that includes guest speakers organized as a collaborative effort within football operations. While the team is "socially distancing," Pederson is doing everything he can to keep the players from being "socially distant" from each other and their coaches.
"I feel like all the other 31 head coaches do," Pederson said. "There's optimism, there's excitement with the roster, and when you look at the pieces that we have, the pieces that we drafted and even our free agency, the new faces there, I'm really looking forward to when we can get back on the field there. I'm looking forward to getting back on the grass and watching these guys physically perform."
Until then, it's a virtual world, and the head coach, Doug Pederson, says the Eagles' new "new normal" is proceeding without any hiccups and that "trust" and an emphasis on growing "stronger together" will benefit the team in the ramp-up to the 2020 regular season.