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Lawlor: Practice Matters And Here's Why

There is a show on Amazon Prime right now called All or Nothing and it provides a behind-the-scenes look at the 2017 season of the Dallas Cowboys. If you're a football fan and like to see what goes on behind closed doors, it makes for great viewing.

One scene really blew me away. Head coach Jason Garrett walked into a defensive meeting and spoke to the group. Yelled at them, might be a better description. He showed clips from practice and really lit into his players. Not the starters, though. Garrett was upset with the guys on the scout team. Those are the backups who help the starting offense prepare for each game. They act as the opponent in the upcoming game.

The backups were going through the motions. They weren't physical. They weren't hustling. They gave minimal effort, and it sent Garrett into a rage. Those are the players at the bottom of the roster. Effort should never be a question with them. They should go full speed for every rep all season long. Those players should have the mentality that their jobs are always on the line and they constantly should be trying to impress the coaches.

I had to laugh as I watched this. It was the complete opposite of the 2017 Eagles. Steven Means got a contract extension last August. He was going to be the fifth defensive end on the Eagles and wasn't projected to play a lot of snaps, but the team valued him enough to want him for 2017 and 2018. Why? He is a great practice player.

Means understands who he is. This is Means' fourth NFL team. He was a late-round pick. Means is not guaranteed anything. He uses that as motivation and then practices as if his job is on the line every single day. That helps make him better. It also makes his teammates better.

By going all out in practice, Means helped Lane Johnson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai get ready for Sundays last year. Johnson is the best right tackle in football, and Vaitai got better as the season went along. Means didn't play in the Super Bowl, but he was part of that win. He did everything he could to help his team.

All 63 players matter. That is the 53 men on the roster and the 10 on the practice squad. They can all make a difference.

Just this past week, Jim Schwartz went out of his way to praise cornerback De'Vante Bausby.

"I’m excited about him. We’re all excited about the contributions he made to our team last year, and what he can do this year," he said. "Again, his contributions were behind the scenes last year. But we have a lot of guys that have an impact on Sunday that might not be playing. He worked the offense hard last year. I think those guys have respect for him, and I know our coaches have respect for him."

Bausby didn't play at all, but his effort helped the teammates he faced against in practice. The coaches notice that and it absolutely matters.

Doug Pederson set the tone for all of this. He stressed competition starting back in April 2017. He wanted his players competing in the weight room and on the practice field, not just in games. It helps the players to bond, but it also brings out an edge in them.

Give the scouts and personnel staff credit for finding players with such a competitive edge. When you get away from the big-time talents who make up the key spots on a team, finding players who are ultra-competitive is a great way to go.

You know those players will battle every single day.

The Eagles kept offensive lineman Josh Andrews around for four years, spending time on both the roster and the practice squad. Andrews played one snap on offense in that time, but he stuck around because the coaches absolutely loved him. He was a great practice player.

Games are affected by what happens at practice. Think about the fourth-down play that sealed the win over the Falcons in the playoffs. Multiple defenders said they knew what Atlanta was doing when they lined up. Classroom study and practice had them ready for that play, and Matt Ryan didn't have an open receiver. His desperation throw sailed out of bounds.

Think about the Philly Special. That wasn't just some random trick play drawn up in the dirt. The Eagles added that to the playbook in the postseason. They practiced it multiple times leading up to the NFC Championship. That game was such a blowout they never needed it.

When you watch the Philly Special in the Super Bowl, it is easy to focus on the result. Watch it closely and look at the execution of the play. Everyone did his part to sell the fakes, and that got Nick Foles wide open. Trey Burton made a great throw, and Foles made a smooth catch. That wasn't by accident. They made good throws and catches in practice.

Late in the 2017 season, Pederson used light practices to help his players rest their legs. That led to a sloppy end to the regular season. Pederson then used fully padded practices to get ready for the playoffs. That is unheard of but worked brilliantly for the Eagles.

Those practices were intense and physical. They were the first fully padded practices since Training Camp, to help put things in perspective. The team had fresh legs. They practiced well and then played well in all three of the playoff games.

The Eagles have some new coaches and plenty of new players. It will be interesting to see if the 2018 team can be as good on the practice field as last year's group. All that hard work behind the scenes led to a 13-win season and a Super Bowl victory.

With Bausby and Means still around and plenty of other highly competitive players on the roster, I'm guessing practices will remain intense and the Eagles will continue winning big.

LAWLOR

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