At the stroke of 10 a.m. on a gloriously sunny Monday morning with low humidity, Eagles Training Camp 2020 opened with a full squad in pads ready to get after it. For the first time since January when the team prepared for its playoff game against Seattle, the Eagles played football. It was a 10-10-10 practice – 10 play for the offense, followed by 10 for the defense, and then 10 minutes of special teams, rinse and repeat a couple of times – so it wasn't the lights-out, work-em-till-they're-dragging practice we've seen in the past. But it was football.
It was Eagles football, and it was magnificent.
In this COVID-19 world, of course, things were different. The coaches all wore their masks when they were not able to physically distance, which is why Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz pushed his mask down when lined up on the sideline all alone and barked out instructions to his group, which, by the way, looks like a hockey team coming over the boards at times the way he interchanges some of the pieces in the secondary. The athletic trainers carted out individual bottles of water for each player, rather than carrying one in each hand and sharing it throughout the huddle. Every towel used was discarded immediately and cleaned after practice. The footballs, too, were sanitized after the day of work. Fans? Sorry, not permitted. Reporters were in their usual stations on the sidelines – masked up and spaced out as much as possible.
And there was football. The rest of it was just … Eagles football.
"It was pretty normal, actually," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "It takes some time to get used to with all of the protocols, but once you understand what do to, it's pretty normal. It felt great to be out there with the guys and playing football."
"It felt like football," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "Business as usual."
Yeah, it did, all things considered. And there is a lot to consider here. To reach this point, the Eagles and the entire NFL had to basically reconstruct many areas at each team facility, in the Eagles' case the NovaCare Complex. All of that heavy lifting – the daily testing, the consistent signage throughout the building, the new spacing required to adhere to the league's protocols – led to Day 1 when the pads went on, the media arrived, and the rough spots were there to smooth out. There are still no one-on-one interviews and the players and coaches remain in a private bubble in the NovaCare Complex, but I'm not sure that fans care a whole lot about the new ways the media go about their business.
What matters is that the NFL, collectively, crossed a new threshold on Monday. We're now within four weeks of the regular season, so time is ticking. The Eagles are going to have a couple of handfuls of padded practices for the next couple of weeks – 14 are permitted by league rules leading into the opener – and then they're going to start honing in on Washington.
There are concerns here. How concerning remains to be seen. Two projected starting defensive linemen are injured – tackle Javon Hargrave is out "multiple weeks" with an undisclosed upper body injury. He and Cox won't have much time to develop chemistry at defensive tackle, so that's a worry, for sure. The good news there is that Malik Jackson is back on the field after missing all but one game last season with a Lisfranc injury. He looked explosive and powerful on Monday. Also out is end Derek Barnett, who is "week to week" with a lower body injury. Barnett's struggle to stay healthy in the NFL continues. Hopefully, he's back before too long. Without Barnett, the Eagles started Vinny Curry and backed him up with Josh Sweat at right defensive end, with Brandon Graham and Shareef Miller taking a lot of reps at left end.
To go overboard on what happened on the field is, I learned so long ago, foolish. But it was great to see No. 1 draft pick Jalen Reagor dominate at wide receiver – he was outstanding – and to get a first look at No. 2 pick Jalen Hurts, who was spectacular running the third-team offense at quarterback. Both had good opening days, but as we all understand, the league is about stacking days one on top of the other and we're still a long ways away from Washington and September 13.
The energy level was high and the mood was just, so very welcomed. It felt like the real world was coming back into focus, if only for a few hours. The NFL is on track to have a season, a full one, and the Eagles are in the same boat as every team: Every day is different, with a new set of challenges. The goal is to be smart and safe and take one step at a time to reach the regular season with a full roster.
Between now and then, the Eagles have to establish their 53-man roster and practice squad, up to 16 players. As important as the practice squad was last year, it's even more important in 2020 with what could be a fluid roster situation. The work is just beginning, then.
On Day 1, it all felt right. Under sunny skies, with low humidity and temperatures in the mid-80s, the Eagles played football at the NovaCare Complex. It was a great couple of hours and a preview of what is ahead. Eagles football is back, and don't we need it now more than ever in our lives?