We are still a full week away from the real action at the NovaCare Complex with 90 players in the house, a coaching staff on the move, and a team learning what it is all about. But on Monday – on a glorious, sun-filled Monday – the doors opened at the NovaCare Complex for the Eagles' business operations staff to, for the first time since March 13, 2020, gather together. Things aren't exactly the same, as much of the business side of the building is now stationed at Lincoln Financial Field, but that's a developing story.
So is the football team for 2021. Nick Sirianni is the new head coach, with a mostly new staff around him. The quarterback position will have a new starter. The roster had what would accurately be called a "normal" player turnover, but there is no question that the Eagles are in what Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie described as a "transition" period moving forward. And with that, as the indisputable signs of Training Camp are all around the NovaCare Complex – the signage is in place, the fields are pristine, and the finishing touches are in place for fans – yes, fans – to attend both here and for two dates (August 8, August 22) at Lincoln Financial Field.
Get ready for some Eagles football. It is truly right around the corner. And as the coaching staff dots the I's and crosses the T's for the Training Camp and preseason schedule, there are topics on the table surrounding this football team. Let's take an early peek ...
1. Getting to know Head Coach Nick Sirianni
He is a bundle of positive energy and that is something that Nick Sirianni exudes in every way. Seeing him in the spring practices, Sirianni is a hands-on, extremely verbal head coach who wants that same energy and tempo in his practices. Sirianni is an outgoing man who believes in building trusting relationships, encouraging competition, playing fundamental football with a high level of intelligence, and being accountable for actions on and off the field. This is his first time as a head coach, so we will see how Sirianni navigates the inevitable ebbs and flows of the profession. Sirianni is going to do things his way. He's a take-charge guy who believes the very earliest pillars of an organizational foundation have been put in place through the work in the spring.
The task ahead is to take a team that slumped to 4-11-1 in 2020 and get the Eagles headed in the right direction in 2021. The NFC East appears to be wide open, right? This is, remember, a division that hasn't had a repeat winner since Philadelphia from 2001-04. So, anything can happen, and the Eagles emerged from the spring excited with the work they put in and the developing chemistry in the locker room.
Sirianni is in the spotlight, and that's fine with him. He's a football grinder through and through and he expects the team to follow his lead.
2. Roster battles to watch
Sirianni has signaled that he has a "competition-at-every-position" mindset heading into Training Camp, and that makes sense. Nobody should have the sense that he will be handed a job, from starters all the way down the depth chart. That said, there are some jobs more open to "battle" than others. For example, the starting left tackle position is wide open, with 2019 No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata, who emerged in 2020 after two seasons on the Injured Reserve list, expected to push each other. Darius Slay is expected to be a starter at one cornerback position, but who lines up to start on the other outside position? Who wins playing time at linebacker? Safety? Special teams?
The truth is that most positions are going to have real and unfiltered competition. Players are going to have to "earn it" with a new coaching staff in place.
3. Welcome to joint practices
There are three preseason games, which are going to be so important to see how the players respond to new surroundings and different players across the line of scrimmage. After the zero-preseason schedule last year, this is very much welcome. So are the Eagles' plans to conduct joint practices with the Patriots and the Jets ahead of preseason games against those two teams. This gives players more reps to win jobs and the joint sessions give the personnel department more looks at the entirety of the roster. The spring practices were more about the cerebral part of the game – learning the playbook, assimilating to the Eagles' way of doing things, adjusting to the pace of the NFL life – and the late summer is where the physical part of the game becomes more apparent.
Joint practices are a great way to evaluate the players on your roster. Paired with three preseason games, any concerns that younger players – especially those not drafted – would get the short shrift on evaluation are largely gone. This is going to be a great, great August and having that extra week between the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season gives the coaching staff plenty of time to get everyone on the same page heading into the opener at Atlanta.
4. Cleaning up some contract business
There isn't a lot to see here. Second-round draft pick Landon Dickerson is the lone draft pick unsigned, and these things usually clear up by the time the players report and get on the field. With Dickerson, coming off an injury suffered late in his final season at Alabama, there is a question as to how much on-field work he will do in the summer, so his unsigned status shouldn't be much of a concern at all. Otherwise ... it's the usual stuff. The Eagles were pleased with the voluntary player participation in the spring and the sessions went well, according to Sirianni.
5. Welcoming back Eagles fans
Can't wait to see you! It was terrible last year without the fans at Training Camp or at the regular-season games. What was especially telling was how players missed the fans so much. Maybe it is because fans are often taken for granted, but players seemed to understand all of a sudden just how much energy fans bring to gamedays. We are all in this together, and the together part of it is especially exciting for 2021.
6. Setting the tone for a new era
There are a lot of unknowns about this football team for the season ahead as the Eagles ramp up for a new run at sustained success. Everyone agrees on that. Establishing a true foundation and an expectation of how things are going to be operated in the Nick Sirianni era is important. No longer is what the Eagles did in 2017 relevant to the 2021 team. It's about now, and it's about the future. We are all going to learn a lot about the new coaching staff and the new construction of the roster. It starts when the players step on the field on July 28 through every step they take in what is going to be a fascinating 2021 campaign.
We're nearly there, folks. The offseason has been a long one. It feels more normal around the NovaCare Complex than it has been in 16 months, and while it isn't all the way back, things improve every day. The best part – the football part – is just ahead.