Exclusive: One-on-one with head coach Doug Pederson

PHOENIX – Doug Pederson rolled up, literally, to the interview area late on Monday afternoon at the NFL Annual Meeting here, hopped up to a high-top chair, and spent 11 minutes discussing the State of the Eagles in an exclusive one-on-one interview. He’s in a good mood, left heel injury (a heel bone protruded into his Achilles’ tendon, requiring surgery, thanks for asking) notwithstanding. The Eagles, he and everyone with the team believes, have had a strong, strong start to the offseason.

“We’re excited,” Pederson said. “So far it’s been good, and we’re not through. We’ve got the draft next and we’re excited about that in the next month.”

More on that later. Quite a bit later, like in mid-April. Now it’s time to talk about what the team has done to date in the free agency period, and Pederson spoke for the first time on Monday night about the moves, starting with adding wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his potent speed to the offensive mix.

“I know him from having worked with him before. He’s dynamic. He’s exciting. He’s game-changing. It’s a matter of getting him in here and getting him caught up and getting him comfortable in our offense because things are a little different that way,” Pederson said. “Just getting him in with Nelson (Agholor) and Alshon (Jeffery) and Zach (Ertz) and the guys and Carson (Wentz) and just kind of fitting in and getting him comfortable in the offense, with the terminology.”

Jackson represents a piece that Wentz has never had in the offense – a jet at wide receiver who changes the way defenses play. Jackson has led the NFL four times in yards per reception and he’s got a league-best 63 receptions of 40-plus yards in his career and, geez, how much fun is Wentz going to have knowing that he can air it out and Jackson will track it down anywhere on the field.

The feeling is that, yes, Jackson changes everything. Even the way Wentz gets rid of the football.

“You’ve got to get the ball up extremely fast. That’s one of the things we saw on film with DeSean, that he can still run,” Pederson said. “You pair him with Nelson on one side or Alshon on one side, you’ve got some weapons going down the field. The tape we watched on him, there was definitely a lot more free-access coverage on DeSean. That obviously helps a quarterback, too.”

Pederson didn’t offer a timetable on when Wentz might return to the practice field, but there is optimism that Wentz is making great progress coming back from last season’s back injury. The Eagles, Pederson said, will “continue to explore that area” as far as adding a third quarterback, so stay tuned. Right now, it’s Wentz and Nate Sudfeld and Pederson feels good about that picture.

Really, Pederson is optimistic about everything that’s happening with his football team. He loves the offensive line situation, happy that left tackle Jason Peters is coming back and expecting that young linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jordan Mailata and Matt Pryor will take significant steps forward in the offseason and compete for playing time in Training Camp and in the preseason. The Eagles need that. We know that right guard Brandon Brooks is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in the playoff loss at New Orleans and that the Eagles must develop depth across the board up front.

The Eagles haven’t addressed the running back position, which has been the talk of the media and the fans, and Pederson says he’s just fine with that. He spoke highly of what is on the roster at the moment – Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, and Boston Scott. That said, “moving forward we’re always going to look for ways to add depth and talent. We’re going to continue to explore that. We’ve got time.”

More than anything, Pederson knows he’s got a roster that, while far from complete right now, could line up and play and win some games if the season started now (don’t worry, we’re still six months away). He’s very well aware of the reputation the Eagles have around the league as a “destination” team and he’s proud that players have decided to remain Eagles in this offseason – among them Brandon Graham and Ronald Darby.

“It means the world to me,” Pederson said, “because that means that they’ve bought in to what I’ve been teaching and what I’ve been kind of talking to the team about the last three seasons. Obviously, we – and when I say ‘we,’ it’s the entire organization – we’ve built a culture where it’s exciting to come to work every single day and an atmosphere that’s conducive for learning and to be successful. You’re hearing it from free agents out there that say, ‘Hey, I want an opportunity to play in Philadelphia and play for that team and be on that team’ for the things they hear.

“For our guys to make the commitment to stay here, that speaks volumes of their commitment to the organization and I’m proud of that.”

Defensively, the Eagles added Malik Jackson to play alongside Fletcher Cox, and Jackson brings the ability to win one-on-one battles and rush the quarterback. There is depth at linebacker with L.J. Fort signing in free agency and with Paul Worrilow staying. Andrew Sendejo is the veteran third safety who can start if needed. Graham likely would have made a lot more money had he tested free agency, but he liked the Eagles’ commitment to him and to winning. Vinny Curry couldn’t wait to return to Philadelphia after a year in Tampa Bay.

Good times. Good offseason.

Much more to go.

“We’ve got to continue to put in the hard work and the preparation,” Pederson said. “We were two steps short last season. We have a lot to do to get to where we want to be, but I know this team is going to work. It’s going to take everybody, and everybody knows that. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and get after it.”

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