On Monday afternoon, Eagles alumni stopped by practice at the NovaCare Complex to catch up with current Eagles players and coaches.
One eye is on Thursday night in Cleveland and the third preseason game. Another is on September 6 and the start of the regular season against Atlanta. With that, the NovaCare Complex was a fun whirlwind of activity on Monday, for reasons to follow.
It was slow enough to start. Mondays are pretty much like every other day at this time of the year. There aren't many days off. Sunday was a workday. Monday was no different. I sat and chatted Eagles football with NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock for about 20 minutes in the morning. Thursday's game at Cleveland is a national television game (8 p.m., FOX) so the Eagles Network broadcast crew that knows this team so well is sidelined until the preseason finale against the Jets.
Mayock loves what he's seen from quarterback Nate Sudfeld, isn't certain who wins the job at nickel cornerback – Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox are the leading contenders, and has a high opinion of the progress made by rookie offensive linemen Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata. Oh, and that second-round draft pick Dallas Goedert is the real deal and is going to team very nicely with Zach Ertz at tight end.
Quarterback Carson Wentz met the media at 11:45 a.m. and for about the 50th time since March answered all of the questions about his health and his future and what he thinks his chances are of starting on September 6. Wentz has handled everything so professionally. He's just a remarkable gift to the Eagles (and when I say Eagles I mean the fans, too). Wentz has been working on his comeback since the night he injured his left knee, December 10. He's prepared for the green light to return. Now that he's agonizingly close, Wentz is keeping his cool. Not once has he flinched or snapped, even though we all know how incredibly tested he has been.
After Wentz, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz opened his weekly press conference by telling reporters that there is, apparently, a cricket deep in the back room of the NovaCare Complex auditorium. Schwartz, I guess, hears this cricket at times during meetings in the room, and it happened to be on his mind when he addressed reporters.
Anyway, on to football with Schwartz. He basically said that Thursday night would "go a long way" toward deciding who wins the starting job at two positions – nickel cornerback and weakside linebacker. Schwartz also addressed an ongoing topic – the enforcement of "lowering the helmet to initiate contact." The Eagles were flagged three times for the infraction on Thursday in New England. Defensive players are up in arms about it. The media is fanning the flames, instead of explaining it, plain and simple, as it is: A player who lowers his head to initiate contact will be penalized.
"You want to play fast. You want to play confidently on the field. But anytime there's something new, there is going to be an adjustment," Schwartz said. "I speak not just for coaches, but for players (and) for officials. There is a lot of adjustment that's going on right now."
After the Schwartz presser, I headed into the locker room for the mandatory 45 minutes that players are obligated to spend with reporters for three days each week. Truth be told, the players are pretty darn sick of seeing two dozen reporters charging into the locker room each day. We're in the weird part of the preseason. What do you ask Fletcher Cox that you haven't asked him 10 times already? "Um, Fletcher, are you excited to play on Thursday night in the preseason?" You're going to get a rote answer for that one.
Defensive end Brandon Graham, cleared to return to practice after offseason ankle surgery, spent a lot of time with reporters, smile on his face, interrupted only when his wife called. Then he talked about the opener, and about facing the Lincoln Financial Field crowd for the first time since the Super Bowl, and have a banner lowered (or raised, I truly don't know the plan) and then, when the pre-game ceremony is done (I'm assuming there is a pre-game ceremony) then we move on to the 2018 season.
"I've thought about that moment a lot," Graham said. "Running out there, hearing the crowd and seeing that banner, I'm gonna be excited, as excited as I've ever been. Me being ready to practice, it's played out just as we thought it would. The timing is just right. I've got two weeks to get into football shape. The ankle feels great. I'm focused on being ready to go. I don't want to play one snap and have to run off the field because I'm tired. I want to be out there."
The linebackers are located in the back left corner of the locker room, so I spent some time with Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nathan Gerry, the leading contenders for the WILL job. They're friends and they're competitors and they've both made very positive strides in the offseason. They've each gained about 15 pounds. They both have, for the first time in their NFL careers, confidence that they will make the 53-man roster.
"We're bringing out the best in each other," Grugier-Hill said. "The way I look at it, we're both going to help the team this year. For me, I saw this season as an opportunity. Kinda felt I would have a chance to play, and the way things happened have been the way I thought it would go. I'm excited. I'm ready to go."
Then it was time for a bite of lunch, and in the cafeteria there were two dozen or so Eagles Legends, part of an invite to the Eagles Legends Community to visit the NovaCare Complex for lunch and practice. From Trent Cole to Fred Barnett to Ron Jaworski, the generations of Eagles players were represented.
"How great is this feeling!" Jaworski said on the field during practice. "You look out here and see all these great players, past and present, the Super Bowl Champs getting ready to defend their title. It's not going to be easy. Being the hunted team is very difficult. But if there is a team ready to do it, it's this Eagles team. I spend a lot of time with Doug (Pederson) and he understands the challenges. It's going to be highly competitive. There's a reason only eight teams have repeated as Super Bowl Champs."
End of player, coach, and alumni availability. Oh, I walked past the Lombardi Trophy four or five more times and had my heartbeat skip each time, but that happens every day. In the netherworld of focusing on the next preseason game and the start of the regular season, Monday was a fun day to be a Philadelphia Eagle.