The spring is a wrap for the Philadelphia Eagles, and now the players and coaches scatter until the end of July. They report to the NovaCare Complex on July 24 for the start of Training Camp (July 25, first practice) and between now and then they will exhale, visit family and friends, and fine-tune their conditioning for camp.
What did we learn in the spring, which concluded on Thursday with a 20-minute session indoors at the NovaCare Complex? In the big picture, said head coach Doug Pederson as he exited the final press conference of the spring, it was all about health, camaraderie, and teaching the new Eagles the schemes and making sure the experienced Eagles had every bit of rust knocked off in anticipation for what's ahead.
"Number one," Pederson said, "our injured guys are healthier and our healthy guys are not injured. Quite frankly, that's the biggest takeaway. We wanted to get better as a football team and I think we've done that. We've incorporated the rookies and we've incorporated the free agents. My new coaches from last year are all settled in this spring and that's another big step in this whole progression, so those are some of the highlights."
Pederson is right in that we all have to remind ourselves that this is the spring and that any stone-cold proclamations of any kind for any player aren't fair. The players didn't wear pads. The defense couldn't tackle. The contact was limited, if any.
How is that football?
It's football in that the mental part of the game was stressed throughout the three offseason phases and the three-day mandatory minicamp. The "install" periods of each practice were extremely critical as the players took what they were taught in the classroom onto the field. Did they make the correct reads? Were they in the right places at the right times? Was everyone on the same page with audibles and changes in coverages and fronts?
The coaching staff and personnel department watched every practice and graded each drill and crunched the discipline of every phase of the techniques being taught. Everything had to be perfect. That's the goal.
As Pederson walked out of the NovaCare Complex on his way to a well-deserved vacation, he commented on the position-by-position competition he anticipates when camp opens.
"I think it's going to be great. That's exactly what we wanted to see, even with the guys who are not out there," Pederson said. "When those injured guys come back, it's going to create even more depth and competition. That's what I'm always looking for each and every year going into Training Camp. It just makes us better as a football team. You know, iron sharpens iron and it gives you a chance to really hone in on your schemes a little bit more.
"Some of the young players who had a chance to play last year (Pederson named tight end Dallas Goedert and cornerback Avonte Maddox in his press conference) took another step in their progression, and that's exciting for us."
Observations from the field? Quarterback Carson Wentz looked sharp and extremely fit and had no setbacks after rehabbing the back injury from a season ago. DeSean Jackson's speed is going to turn defenses upside down and open up opportunities across the board in the passing game. The running back room looks so much different with Jordan Howard leading the way. Defensively, there's only so much you can talk about when the players aren't permitted to tackle.
At the end of the day, the Eagles emerged from the spring intact, confident, and with a good mix of experience and young talent. Training Camp is going to be must-see football.
Beyond that, we know how much everything changes when the pads go on and the camp practices, as different as they are from years ago, step up in tempo and intensity.
"I'm excited about what we did and what we have here and I expect the players to treat these next six weeks professionally. It's important that they get away," Pederson said. "They know they need to come back here ready to go. Take this break, make the most of it and understand that when you come back, the regular season is right around the corner. That's kind of the message you leave them with.
"I'm pleased with how the spring progressed. I think we became a better team. It's a new game when Training Camp starts, as we know."