The reality for running back Miles Sanders happened when he reached into his locker at the NovaCare Complex, pulled out his midnight green Eagles helmet and put it on his head for his first practice at the team’s weekend Rookie Minicamp.
“It’s a real moment. It didn’t really hit me until I got here and got my helmet and I was like, ‘Dang, I got drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles,” Sanders said on Friday after the first practice of the three-day weekend. “It’s pretty surreal and a dream come true.
“After the draft, when things settled down, I got to work and got in shape for this camp. That’s been the focus.”
Focus. It’s a critical need for all of the 50 players in the camp – the five draft picks, the 11 undrafted players, and guys like defensive end Joe Ostman, who spent last season on the team’s practice squad and is, by this weekend’s standards, a grizzled veteran.
“At least it’s not quite as hectic for me as it was this time a year ago,” Ostman said. “Things are moving fast. You walk in here for the first time and it’s really flying.”
The team’s top three draft picks (as did fifth-round draft pick quarterback Clayton Thorson) spoke to the media on Friday – offensive tackle Andre Dillard, Sanders, and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – and they all pretty much described what the last couple of weeks have been like for them: Being selected in the NFL Draft was as special as everyone said it would be. And as soon as the media blitz and the adulation of that weekend passed, it was time to dig deep into the playbook, get back in the gym, and prepare to be a professional.
The players arrived at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday to get fitted for their jerseys and helmets and full Eagles on-field regalia and then prepared themselves for a blitz of information in the meeting rooms and the on-field introduction to the schemes.
This is just the start, and while it seems super-fast paced and mega-intense, it’s only an introduction.
“It’s a business,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It’s a job. That’s the way you have to look at it. A lot of information is coming your way and you have to be ready for it. You have to put your time in, and then some. Today was exciting. It was fun, but it was only the first day.
“I think there were some nerves, some excitement. For me, the second half of practice was probably better than the first half, but we’ll see. I know the goal is to get better every day. Go out there and work hard and get better every day. If I do that, I’m going to be in a good place. I’m just glad to be here and to get started. I’m a Philadelphia Eagle and there is no other place I’d rather be.”
Dillard worked at left tackle, which is where the Eagles intend to play him and develop him as they bring the No. 1 draft choice along, and the first order of business is to master the technique taught by line coach Jeff Stoutland, who Dillard described as “really passionate who cares about his players.” Stoutland is an emotional, give-it-everything kind of coach who is going to be verbal with his linemen. They know he loves them. They know he’s got energy. They know he’s going to make them the best they can be.
For Dillard, it’s one small step at a time.
“I mean, at the end of the day, it’s football. Everything kind of translates no matter what you come from – offensive-wise, defensive-wise, scheme-wise, all that. It’s not too hard, not too easy. Of course, it’s not going to be easy, especially where I come from,” Dillard said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just football.”
Oh, yes it is. And it’s going to come fast and furiously for the rookies – all of them. This camp provides some foundation and then it escalates from there.
As glamorous as the draft was for Dillard and the rest of the Eagles’ draft class, this part of it is the grind, the first rung in a very tall ladder of a season. Heads down, focus on the playbook, bring your “A” game every day, and be the best player and teammate you can be.
That’s the formula for success.
“They say the rookie season goes really fast,” Thorson said. “I get that. It’s a quick tempo. You’re kind of looking at your playbook all the time. Before practice, during the meetings, and then after practice, you’re working. I’m going back to the hotel and I’m studying my playbook.
“This is my job and I know it’s going to be extremely demanding. I think that’s what’s going to help you make it in the NFL.”
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the rookies as they arrived for Rookie Minicamp.