"We only have about two and a half weeks really of this padded session, this Phase 3 so to speak. That's not a lot of time to really prepare yourself," said Head Coach Doug Pederson on his first day back to the NovaCare Complex after testing positive for COVID-19. "At the same time, we're going to make the most of it and do our part to see who the 53 (players on the roster) are going to be at the end."
That's the time frame as Training Camp 2020 at the NovaCare Complex ramped up on Wednesday when the first full-squad practice wearing helmets took place. The Phase 3 portion of camp begins on Monday with full pads, full contact, and the start of the real evaluation of the roster.
In other words, it's "go" time for the Eagles.
Pederson will hold two days of "live" contact, meaning there will be two days of tackling to the ground during camp. And there's going to be a lot of contact, which includes "thud" drills and the natural hand-to-hand combat that comes with each day of working in full pads on the field.
It was great to have Pederson in South Philadelphia on Wednesday after he spent the last 10 days overseeing the team from his home. He's grown accustomed to the virtual environment, although it's obviously not preferred. Now, it's all systems go for Pederson and for the Eagles as we begin the true sense of discovery of what this team is really all about.
That the Eagles have an offense with players at every position who have started games here is a huge help. And the fact that veteran coordinator Jim Schwartz oversees the defense helps transition in some projected new starters up front (Javon Hargrave at tackle), at linebacker (T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley joining Nathan Gerry?), and in the secondary (Darius Slay at cornerback, Jalen Mills moving from cornerback to safety). The kicking game returns intact. The coverage and return units will have the usual amount of turnover.
To this point, as Pederson said, the players have largely been in the classroom taking mental reps, mixing in strength and conditioning drills, and moving to the field only for accelerated walkthroughs. How can you really learn about a player, particularly a new one, in that environment? You can get a sense of their ability to retain information and you can get a feel for their conditioning, but so much changes when the pads go on.
"I think there's a couple things that we need to know. I think the first one is obviously the guys that we have in the starter roles, starter positions, making sure that they're in the right frame of mind, their bodies are conditioned," Pederson said during a video teleconference call with reporters. "Those are the things we've got to know in the next few weeks leading up for that first game (a month from Thursday at Washington).
"I think the second thing is obviously the new additions to the team – the free agents, draft picks, undrafted guys. Those are the guys we have to have our answers on as coaches. So, as we continue throughout the process, and we begin to put pads on next week, those are some of the answers that we're going to get leading up to that first regular-season week."
Because of the limited on-field time, coaches around the league have to find the balance between evaluating their rosters and, at the same time, putting players into "situational" football experiences. Maybe in that sense, because of the veteran presence, the Eagles have an edge. Maybe not.
Certainly, that's the challenge for the coaching staff.
"I think that's the fine line. I think that's the balance that we as coaches have to come up with. This is why when I had a chance to really dive into the schedule and how things are situated and where things are situated in the next couple of weeks, that's the fine line," Pederson said. "We have to be able to get answers on these players. All 32 teams are in the same boat, same situation, same scenario. It's a matter of putting these players in practice situations to be successful to show us what they can do.
"Once the pads come on, you really start seeing, again, the physicality of guys, and how well they're going to suit what we need as an offense, defense, and obviously special teams."
The first preseason game would have been on Thursday, at Indianapolis. The world has changed since March. There are no preseason games. Instead of boarding a team charter for Indianapolis tonight, Pederson is hunkering down and mapping out the next few, critical weeks.
The clock is ticking for every team on the countdown to the regular season.
"It's a little more of a fluid schedule, I would say, for the next couple of weeks," Pederson said. "We're going to have a lot of good answers because of the amount of days that we have stacked back-to-back or end-to-end coming up."