This is the challenge a Super Bowl-winning head coach faces, as Doug Pederson understands very well: Given the nature of the short offseason after playing as late as February 4 and also knowing how a seemingly much-improved roster has provided competition from one end to the other, Pederson’s vision has to be both on the “now” and on September. In other words, he has to manage his players, the ones who still have some soreness from the Super Bowl, and he has to allow the newcomers to show their best stuff.
“It’s my job to protect them a little bit through this offseason,” Pederson said. “Obviously, we’re not playing a game right now so it’s my job to make sure that these guys are getting the work they need but at the same time getting them more prepared for Training Camp.”
In other words, Pederson knows he needs to push the players, but he needs to do so with some TLC and some “emotional intelligence.” It makes no sense to come out throwing 100 mph fastballs to batters just settling into the box.
As the Rookie Minicamp opened on Friday (actually Thursday, when the rookies arrived at the NovaCare Complex), the line of questioning that Pederson faced was pretty much everything other than the rookies. He was asked all of one question about the rookie class during his morning press conference, instead hearing more of the big-picture (the health of Carson Wentz and Tim Jernigan, Training Camp plans, etc.) queries than anything about a five-player draft class that ballooned into 51 players including a select group of first-year players (eight Eagles in all) to go along with undrafted rookies and tryout hopefuls.
Things have moved very quickly for Pederson and the Eagles since that historic February 4 night. It’s been a wonderful progression, to bask in the glow of the Super Bowl win, but for the coaches and the players and the personnel staff, the sheen wore off in a matter of days. Then it was time to get back to work and build a roster for 2018 and beyond.
There has been nothing meek and mild about this offseason for the Eagles. They were bold right out of the gates in free agency and they’ve continued to add to the roster. It’s been that kind of offseason. The Eagles are going for it … again. They want to stay on top.
To do so, Pederson has to manage his locker room in an intuitive, caring way and at the same time make sure to work his players and get them ready for the regular season. His line of communication is well established and extremely positively received. He understands what it’s like to be a player in the NFL. He understands what it’s like to win a Super Bowl and come back in a truncated offseason.
What does all of this mean? Well, think back to last spring and summer and the way Pederson handled wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. All eyes were on Jeffery, who signed with the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent, as he sat out four consecutive practices and was bothered, at various times, with a shoulder strain and an ankle injury. There was some concern in the media, and perhaps among the fans, as Jeffery watched practices. Why wasn’t he playing? Wasn’t it important for Jeffery to be on the practice field establishing chemistry with quarterback Carson Wentz?
“The more I can do to give him rest. We’re not playing games that matter for a while,” said Pederson. “I want to give him time and get him ready for Washington (season opener in 2017).”
Yeah, it was important to get Jeffery on the same page as Wentz. But Pederson gave Jeffery all the time he needed to regain his health and prepare for September’s games. Jeffery turned in a terrific season, as we all know.
Pederson handled Jeffery the right way.
He’s just got that right feel for knowing what the players need.
“I think it’s one of Doug’s strengths,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said last season. “He knows what we’re going through and he knows what we need to be prepared to play on gamedays. It’s a trust thing and Doug trusts us and we trust him.”
This isn’t to suggest that Camp Doug, Part 3 will be a joyride. The rookies who walked off the NovaCare Complex practice field on Friday spoke of the tempo demanded on and off of it. The conditioning needed is at a different level. The depth of information being fed to the rookies is enormous.
“It’s all business,” fourth-round draft pick Avonte Maddox said. “You know that going in, but then you see it and you have a better understanding.”
The rookies are on one side of the spectrum and the returning veterans are on the other. Pederson is the one performing the balancing act, one eye on making one day better than the previous day and one eye on making sure the Eagles are ready to fly on September 6 when Atlanta comes to Lincoln Financial Field to kick off the 2018 NFL season.