We all want to know what the NFL is going to look like starting in late July, when Training Camp opens around the league and the fans get their first peeks at the players in uniform and how it's all going to look. What's next?
The last time the league had an instance that even compares to this moment was in 2011 when the league had a work stoppage from March 12 through July 25. A spring was lost. The NFL was thrown into uncertainty. And when the work stoppage ended and the players reported for Training Camp, business moved forward as normal. Eagles fans don't remember the work stoppage. Eagles fans remember a season that went south after the team had a flurry of high-profile signings, ending in an 8-8 performance.
Back then, teams were not in any way permitted to contact players. Today, the Eagles continue their offseason conditioning program, conducted virtually, in its fourth week and something with which Head Coach Doug Pederson has been extremely pleased. Pederson is staying in the moment. He has no choice. There is not clear guidance on what happens next in the NFL. July and August seem so far away.
"I'm preparing as if we're going to be back in our building by Training Camp," Pederson said on Tuesday in a conference call with Eagles reporters. "Nothing is definite, nothing has been set, obviously, but I'm preparing that way to be back in the building hopefully in mid-July so we can be on the grass. That's my preparation. That's my mindset right now as I prepare for Training Camp. That's one of the things – we get these guys back, it's got to be full steam ahead."
Until then, it's full Microsoft Teams platform ahead. It's a virtual world and we're living in it. In pre-coronavirus days, the Eagles would be in "the time of year where we are in the middle of Phase 2, kind of preparing for Phase 3, the OTA aspect of our offseason. We would be in the building with a lot of meeting time, a lot of extra meeting time with our rookies trying to get them caught up with our playbook," Pederson said. "We are making do with the virtual setup. The coaches have done a great job of meeting and preparing and getting the guys as close to ready as possible, but we do need the grass time to see what these guys can do and see what they have taken away from the offseason from a mental standpoint."
Once the Eagles literally hit the NovaCare Complex fields, they will do so running. Those expected six weeks of camp and the preseason will be vital to be razor sharp with the way the Eagles utilize their time and how quickly the players recover for the next day.
And as frustrating as it is for the reporters and for the fans who want to fast forward to then, we can't. We have to accept that we just won't know much about the new Eagles or about how the pieces of the roster puzzle fit or who is going to win starting jobs at key positions (cornerback, safety, and linebacker, to name three) that appear, on paper, to be up for grabs.
We just have to wait.
"I do think because we've missed the entire offseason, it's going to take all of the five to six weeks that we have of Training Camp to be prepared for a regular season. I think that you have to – that's part of Training Camp is conditioning the mind, conditioning the body for the physical aspect of the game. In the spring and summer, it's about the mental side, and then just your physical conditioning from workouts and running and things of that nature," Pederson said. "So I do think that a full Training Camp, moving forward, would it prepare you – because I do think you can get enough contact in, and get enough padded practices in, and you would have to maximize those, but at the same time, you would have to be smart to get your guys ready and prepared for that opening weekend."
That opening weekend is Sunday, September 13 at Washington. That's when the regular season is scheduled to begin. A lot is going to happen between now and then, but just not much in the near term. There wouldn't be a lot of news to report in a typical May, what with players on the field with no contact and no pads, anyway. With the football world in virtual mode, there is even less that the coaching staff and the football team can learn about players other than their ability to retain what they're being taught in a classroom and what kind of effort they are putting into the conditioning program.
That's on-paper stuff, and while it's important, there isn't enough evidence to swing the scales of judgment on how much a player can help this football team.
"I basically wanted to put our guys in an offseason program. I wanted them to work out. I wanted to do meetings," Pederson said. "I just didn't feel – and listen, this is my own belief – I just didn't want guys to be idle. I think when you become idle, you get a little bit … it becomes a challenge. And so, this way, it gets the guys up. It gets the guys moving. It gets the guys thinking about football. And is it right? I don't know. We still don't know if Training Camp is going to start on time or not. But, at the same time, I do know that at least we are getting some football done and hopefully we'll be better off for it."