On the day when the Eagles donned the pads for the first time of the 2014 season and unveiled the new and improved Lincoln Financial Field to the almost 15,000 fans in attendance, the organization also did its part to honor the bravest among us during the annual Military Day.
Servicemen and servicewomen from all five branches of the military were on hand to take in the action. Perhaps no one had better perspective on the day than the Eagles' resident Army Ranger, defensive end Alejandro Villanueva.
"I think Chip Kelly and the whole Eagles organization do a great job. It's not necessary, but it's something that they do … and it's great for the organization to preach something like this," Villanueva said after practice. "I mean I think everybody works really hard in their pursuit of a dream. But that 19-year-old, 20-year-old private who enlists in the military overseas, that's the hero. The guy who doesn't know what's going on as he's boarding the plane, he's going out to a foreign country, that's the real hero."
Villanueva remembered what football meant to him while he was on duty overseas.
"It wasn't a distraction," he said. "I could tell you staff sergeant Todd Mark, who was one of my squad leaders, he was the biggest Eagles fan. He was always giving me the score of the Eagles. He was always telling me how good Nick Foles was doing when he took the starting job. He was really excited about Chip Kelly coming in. So I don't think it was a distraction, I think it keeps everybody really motivated at the end of the day."
In turn, Villanueva said that he's already passed along a ball signed by the Eagles team to staff sergeant Mark.
Tonka Tossing Take Two
Prior to Monday's practice, head coach Chip Kelly was asked about Sunday's minor skirmish between LeSean McCoy and Trent Cole.
"Those things happen," Kelly said. "It's no different than sometimes little kids don't get along very well and throw Tonka trucks at each other."
The toy trucks came out for the second consecutive day when wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and cornerback Bradley Fletcher had their own altercation towards the tail end of practice.
"Emotions got going and one thing led to another, but we'll come back and practice again after our day off," Fletcher said. "It's football. The emotions get going and things happen, but we're all working to get better."
Fletcher's position-mate Cary Williams, no stranger to a practice dust-up himself, explained why the shoving match can be a common scene during the summer.
"It's just frustration, man, it's a part of camp," Williams said. "Guys are giving everything they got on every play, you're tired, you're not getting too much sleep, you're in a different environment from where you were at home, so it's hard to get those nine hours, 10 hours of sleep. You're just frustrated man, and everybody's out there competing. So you have two guys who didn't want to back down on a particular time and those things happen. But at the end of the day, we're going to be friends, we understand that we have to be our brother's keeper and do a little bit better. It's not going to go into the locker room. It's not going to continue into the next practice. We understand that. We're out here trying to chase the ultimate goal, and that's winning the Super Bowl."
"That's the norm. You have a bunch of prideful guys out here, grinding and competing for jobs. So you're going to get agitated by the heat," agreed safety Malcolm Jenkins. "It just happens."
Alex Henery's A Fan Of The Stadium Improvements**
While the two-year, $125 million Stadium Revitalization Project was done to improve the fans' experience at Lincoln Financial Field, it may have also provided a surprise benefit for kicker Alex Henery.
The construction of two infills to close in the northeast and southwest corners of the stadium changed the wind pattern. In the past, the wind blew directly blowing into the stadium through those corner gaps. There is now more of a swirl effect, said Henery, which is similar to most stadiums.
"It was pretty windy today, but it wasn't affecting the ball flight as much as I thought it would," Henery said.
The combination of the new wind pattern and the focus placed this offseason on technique resulted in Henery's kickoffs consistently reaching the end zone during Monday's open practice.
"I think I've put in a lot of work this offseason," said Henery, who had 37 touchbacks last season. "The past two days I've hit pretty good balls. I'm happy with how they've been going. Now, it's just getting more consistent and getting the distance that I want and keep improving."
While the changes to the stadium will impact Henery's kicking this season, the NFL also made a couple of rules changes. First, the goal posts are now five feet higher. Second, extra point attempts will move from the 2-yard line to the 20-yard line, but only for the first two preseason games.
"It's crazy because they only added five feet on it, really," Henery said of the extended goal posts. "They look tall, but as a kicker you'd rather have them tall than short. At least I would. It's one of those things where when you pick out your sightline and where you want to hit the ball, you can still see the posts."
When lining up his kicks, Henery said he will use aspects of the stadium such as letters in the Lincoln Financial Field sign or even the wind turbines as a guideline.
A Little Bit Of This And That**
- First-round pick Marcus Smith II saw his first action with the second-team defense since the start of Training Camp, working exclusively with the unit during team drills on Monday. Smith continues to practice at Connor Barwin's Jack linebacker position.
- While Bennie Logan continues to work his way back from what multiple reports have indicated is a hamstring injury, Damion Square has worked as the primary nose tackle, sandwiched between Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. Square made a nice would-be stop in short yardage when he met LeSean McCoy at the line of scrimmage during team drills. Thornton, meanwhile, was replaced by Vinny Curry when the defense was in nickel situations.
- Safety Earl Wolff made one of the more impressive plays of the day when he ranged from centerfield over to the right sideline to leap and break up a deep pass to Arrelious Benn, tossed by Mark Sanchez.
- During a team drill, quarterback Matt Barkley saw wide receiver B.J. Cunningham in single coverage against defensive back Davon Morgan. Barkley threw the ball down the left sideline and the receiver outjumped Morgan to haul in the pass.
- With Chris Polk not practicing on Monday, undrafted rookie David Fluellen worked with the third-team defense and looked spry as the former Toledo and Senior Bowl standout fights for a roster spot.
Finally, cornerback Cary Williams explained why he particularly enjoys the open practices.
"It's great to give the fans an opportunity, the people who can't afford to be out here for a regular game," Williams said. "This is a game experience and this is their opportunity to sit in these green seats and enjoy what we put out each and every day. It's a blessing to be out here … We have a huge role in this situation, so we're going to sign autographs and do everything we can to kind of satisfy the fans because without them, there's no us."
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