Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: Thursday night marks the next step in finding the right 53

Training Camp is a strange time of the year. Eagles scouts and coaches will focus on Jordan Mailata on one rep and then Jason Peters the next. Stop and think for a minute about how different those two players are.

Mailata has one year of football under his belt and every practice is a learning experience. Peters is a Hall of Fame player, one of the best offensive linemen to ever play the game. Talk about night and day. That is the strange and wonderful nature of Training Camp.

The personnel department has built a 90-man roster filled with everything from stars to long-shot rookies. The coaches take those 90 players and try to develop their individual talents, while also building a cohesive team. Oh yeah, and also finding the 53 players who will comprise the opening day roster.

There is a lot going on.

I'm fascinated by the different mindsets. Jim Schwartz told a great story a couple of years ago about Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. One Spring Training, Palmer was getting lit up like a Christmas tree. He struggled to get anyone out.

Someone in the media asked Palmer about his struggles. He said he wasn't worried at all. Palmer threw only curveballs. Wait, what? Palmer wasn't focused on getting batters out in meaningless games. He was working on his curveball so it would be ready for the regular season.

The casual observer would have seen a struggling pitcher. Instead, a great player was honing his craft so he would be at his best when the games mattered.

You have to be careful when you hear that Player A beat Player B for a catch or a sack or whatever. Young guys are going all out on every snap. They are desperate to impress the coaches and make the team. A veteran player might be working on a particular aspect of his game. Training Camp means different things for different players.

This is Doug Pederson's fourth camp as the head coach of the Eagles. I think he does a great job with Training Camp. Pederson is a former player and that experience serves him very well at this time of the year.

Some coaches can be overly tough with their players. Everyone practices every day and there's no letup. Other coaches run camps with little contact, scared of getting their players hurt.

Pederson understands the value of a tough camp. The Eagles do plenty of hitting and even some live tackling. The starters get most of the reps and there are some long practices. The Eagles run one of the tougher camps in the league.

At the same time, Pederson understands the importance of rest and recovery, especially with veteran players. He will give DeSean Jackson or Jason Kelce a day off to help keep them fresh. You shouldn't treat a 10-year veteran the same way you do a rookie or second-year player. Their bodies are very different.

Pederson plays music at the practices. If the players are out there grinding away in 90-degree heat, why not let them hear some music? That's a simple gesture, but the players like it.

You can't make practice fun, but you can find ways to mix in some fun things. The Eagles run trick plays on a regular basis. Players love doing that. Pederson encourages his players to celebrate after a touchdown or big play, just like they would in a game. Take a moment. Have some fun with your teammates. I think that helps build chemistry.

Thirty years ago, Training Camps were brutal. They would last for six weeks. They had two-a-days, meaning two practices every day. And the players were in pads and did live hitting in virtually every practice. Toughness was the key to those camps.

Pederson is more about teaching and developing. The results have been good so far. The Eagles start seasons well. They have won the opener in all three years. They were 3-0 to begin 2016, 11-1 in 2017, and 2-1 last year. Pederson is 33-20 as coach of the Eagles (including playoffs) so his ideas are working, both in getting his teams ready and in the games.

The Eagles are having a good Training Camp this year. Carson Wentz looks better than ever, which is flat-out exciting. If he can get back to his 2017 form, look out. Nate Sudfeld is starting to show why the Eagles trusted him enough to enter Training Camp as the primary backup.

Wentz will have some really good pieces around him. DeSean Jackson has had a terrific camp. Rookie Miles Sanders is getting everyone excited. He has big-time talent. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is playing guard for the first time and has stood out. Rookie Andre Dillard has played really well as the backup left tackle. He's handled himself well even when going against starters.

When you have playmakers and protection, good things are going to happen.

Kamu Grugier-Hill has been one of the stars of camp, but recently hurt his knee. He'll be out indefinitely, but it is hard not to be excited by how well he's played this summer. Young cornerbacks Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, and Rasul Douglas have all played well. They got a lot of experience last season and it seems to be paying off now.

Tim Jernigan is having a strong camp. He looks better than ever. The Eagles traded for Hassan Ridgeway on draft weekend and he's showing why the team liked him so much. Defensive end Josh Sweat has made his share of plays. He was mainly a spectator as a rookie and he wants that to change. Sweat is doing everything he can to impress the coaches this summer.

The next step for some of these players is to show what they have done in camp translates over to games. The preseason starts on Thursday. That will bring out the best in some players, while others will struggle.

Howie Roseman and his staff did a great job in building a talented roster. Doug Pederson and his staff have done a great job in developing the talent. The challenge over the next few weeks will be deciding which players make the roster. The Eagles are going to be cutting some talented players.

Players are going to have to really compete to make this roster. Pederson doesn't care if you are a decorated veteran or a draft pick. Everybody earns their spot. Nothing is given. That mentality brings out the best in the players and helps the Eagles win a lot of games.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. You can also find his work at IgglesBlitz.com where he is the site's editor.

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