FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Two weeks of joint practices – at the NovaCare Complex with New England and here with the New York Jets – have the Eagles now eying the preseason finale on Friday night (7:30 PM, NBC10 in Philadelphia) and, beyond that, the roster cutdown to 53 players by Tuesday at 4 PM.
There are plenty of unanswered questions as the Eagles navigate the remainder of this preseason, but certainly, the team understands how much work remains as the regular-season opener at Atlanta won't be far behind. September 12 is nearly here and every day of work is valuable.
"This is a brand-new territory we're in. We don't plan on taking two weeks off before Atlanta. We plan on working our tails off that week. We know what the week is going to look like before Atlanta. Very similar to a week that's going to look like in week four or week seven. That week is spelled out," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said on Wednesday. "We're going to work our tails off that two weeks before. So, we are going to work hard in that time frame. So, again, it's all case by case of what we are going to do. Again, this is great. I love this work that we're getting, and with these two joint practices and the three preseason games, to me, that's what, seven preseason games in my mind of how we've been working."
Everyone agrees that these joint practices have been beneficial. The Eagles worked on things in these practices that they didn't show in the preseason games, and it gave players multiple opportunities to show their best against unfamiliar players and schemes. They emerged from two weeks of joint practices without any projected starters suffering long-term injuries, and in the process, they gained some experiences that will help bond the team for 2021.
"It's been great work," quarterback Jalen Hurts said on Wednesday. "Guys working together toward a common goal, overcoming some obstacles, and finding ways to have success. These are practices that we can use to build on."
This is the new way of the NFL. Joint practices are orchestrated so that multiple position groups can simultaneously take reps. Everyone is on the hop. The tempo is crisp and, yeah, the intensity is real. These practices mean a lot for everyone.
"Just coming out here trying to get better," defensive tackle Javon Hargrave said. "We try to build on each day."
Hargrave is a perfect case study for then (2020) vs. now. He was signed by the Eagles in free agency last year and then suffered an injury prior to Training Camp, so he never even put on his pads, a full uniform, until the Eagles opened their regular season at Washington. Hargrave, then, tried to play catch-up throughout the season. He made strides, but Hargrave never really reached the level of play he expected.
This summer, he's been outstanding – quick and powerful off the ball, relentless, teaming perfectly with Fletcher Cox. It is exactly what the Eagles envisioned when they made the move to add Hargrave in March of 2020.
"Last year, I was just watching at this time," he said. "It's just fun to be out here with my teammates getting better and actually enjoying camp this year."
For players like cornerback Steven Nelson, who signed with the Eagles just prior to Training Camp, every day was new territory in the defense and with this team. Even with limited preseason game reps, Nelson was able to make up for that and much more with the joint practices. Over the course of four practices with the Patriots and the Jets, the Eagles' defense had ample time on the field together to learn about each other and about this scheme.
"I feel like you have to go through the ups and downs of playing the game, and Training Camp is definitely a good chance to kind of showcase that," Nelson said. "I definitely got comfortable playing with these guys."
Sirianni hasn't yet made the decision on who plays how much on Friday night at MetLife Stadium and that's what he will do in the course of the next day, but the coaching staff certainly has plenty of viewing footage to work with as they determine a depth chart and the personnel department whittles the roster to 53 players.
This is a new way of maximizing the month of August in the NFL – adding joint practices to the menu makes sense and it provides a positive and productive environment for coaching staffs and players to work out the kinks and prepare for the regular season. Those joint practices are over, and with it, the Eagles are ready to turn the page and head down the homestretch with the goal of coming out of the gates strong on September 12 in Atlanta.