Not a lot of people paid attention to it back on July 30 at the NovaCare Complex, the extra 10 or so minutes a select group of players had on the practice field working in small groups. The roster of Eagles players had brought it up and broken it down when practice ended, and the fans in attendance moved toward their tents or to the exit, the media started their interviews, and those few players put in some extra work.
As part of the daily plan, Head Coach Nick Sirianni and his staff devoted a portion of their morning for that Saturday's "Developmental Period," a time for players who weren't getting a lot of reps in practice some time to work on their games.
"We're all running that. Today we're going to split up a little different," Sirianni said that day when asked about it. "There will be a developmental at one portion of it, and then on the other portion, the guys are going to be doing some sort of conditioning on the other side. We do that in the morning, right? 'Hey, you guys go with this group today; you guys go with this group.' We have a staff meeting every morning, full staff meeting every morning. We have an offensive staff meeting and a defensive staff meeting every morning, and we go over it there.
"That's planned day by day. The developmental part, though, is huge. The way we think about it is like, OK, let's get (tight end) Grant Calcaterra a ball. Let's get him a catch. You compare it to a shooter sometimes. Let him see the ball go through the hoop. Get him an easy touch. Let (Philadelphia 76ers guard James) Harden see the ball go through the hoop and he's going to get on a roll."
The developmental period isn't something limited to Training Camp. Sirianni and the coaches continue it through the season and it's a great chance for players to gain reps on the field.
And as we see right here, right now with these Philadelphia Eagles, those 10 minutes on the practice field add up for players like safety Reed Blankenship, tight ends Jack Stoll and Calcaterra and Tyree Jackson, cornerback Josiah Scott and linebacker Christian Elliss. And there are others. There is only so much time allotted for on-field practice during the regular season and starters get the vast majority of those reps. The developmental period is perfect for the backups and the practice squad players to make themselves better football players.
"No doubt about it, every rep you get on the field and every bit of work you can put in helps you," said Blankenship, who stepped in for an injured C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the Green Bay game and played assignment-sound, high-technique football and followed it up with 55 snaps of outstanding play in Sunday's win over Tennessee. "For most of the year, I'm on the scout team giving 'looks' to the offense to get them ready for what they are likely to see on gameday. That's an important role and I take it very seriously. But then to jump out and get some extra work in, I think that's what every player wants.
"It's how you get your game better."
The Eagles understand that a regular season is a marathon and that the need for players extends far beyond the 53-man active roster. While the stars on this team have deservedly gained a lot of the attention, it's also true that the team has not skipped a beat even with some significant injuries – starters like tight end Dallas Goedert, defensive tackle Jordan Davis, cornerback Avonte Maddox, and Gardner-Johnson have spent/are spending time on Injured Reserve. The Eagles have had to dig deep into the reserve portion of the roster and they've been able to promote players who have stepped in and played extremely well.
"You have to stay sharp throughout the season. You have to be ready when your number is called," said Scott, who has played 296 defensive snaps, around 40 percent of the total playing time, much of it with Maddox sidelined. "The way we work it throughout the year, everybody has a chance to get better. That's what we try to do here: Get one percent better every day."
It works. The results are clear. A team is only as strong as its weakest links, and the Eagles have worked hard – collectively, from the front office to the coaching staff to the locker room – to eliminate any sense of "weak links." What they have demonstrated this season, with 11 wins in 12 games, is a team that understands that the "next-man-up" need is going to happen, and that that next man had better be prepared.
In each instance, with Scott, with Blankenship, with Stoll, etc., the next man has been ready.
"I want to build confidence with Jalen (Hurts) and with the coaches that they can trust me and rely on me," said Stoll on Sunday after catching 3 passes for 41 yards in the win over the Titans. "That comes with reps and with showing that I can do the job. I think the coaches do a great job working with us and preparing us to step in and play football to the standard that we demand around here."
"We know not to let the older guys down, so there's already a standard. The standard's in place," Blankenship said.
A lot of it happens, then, after the practice whistle blows in Training Camp and throughout the rest of the season. It's Developmental Period time, the results of which we've seen throughout this 2022 campaign.
"There are multiple reasons why you do that Developmental Period, but (Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman) brings in these players that we all really like, and our job as coaches," Sirianni said on that July morning, "I was taught this from day one, Larry Kehres, my first-time coach (at Mount Union), he was like, 'We get players in here, you develop them. That's your job.' How do we develop the players? We think that's a big way that we can develop them."
No doubt about that. The proof is what we've seen from the Eagles all year, with a stretch run to come.