The players call it "brother-in-law" competition as in, you have a brother-in-law and you laugh at all of his jokes and smile and get along and there really isn't any push or pull. That's a no-no with the Philadelphia Eagles, which is why the players and the coaches speak so glowingly of the progress they feel and see as the team enters its final week of Organized Team Activities at the NovaCare Complex before summer vacation begins.
There aren't any pads in this on-field work. The players aren't tackling. While the tempo is very high to match the intensity, this is a long way from game-live football. Still, you understand that it means a lot to the players and that they enjoy pushing each other and making each other better.
No brother-in-law football, in other words.
"He goes at 100 percent and I'm the same way," cornerback Darius Slay said last week when asked how wide receiver A.J. Brown, against whom Slay is often matched in these practices, makes him better. "I ain't out here to – we call it 'brother-in-law' – like, you know, just be nice and cozy out here, whatever. No, no. We're out here to get work. That's one thing he's about, getting better every day. And I'm the same way.
"We can only go up from there."
Spring football is all about acclimating new players to the environment and the culture as well as bringing every one of the 90 players on the roster along mentally and physically. There isn't a depth chart. The "big plays" that are made are certainly applauded, but the players and the coaches know that what happens now doesn't compare to when Training Camp starts and then preseason follows and the true roster evaluation begins in earnest.
Yet, you see things like when quarterback Jalen Hurts completes a couple of deep throws as he did late last week and understand that all of the work he's put into improving the nuances of his game is paying off. Chemistry is building. The results are right there. And those things matter going forward.
"It's just been conversation, getting on the same page. Reps and reps and reps. I think it's been good for us to be out here doing some competitive drills and I think that will help us in the end," Hurts said.
What's very obvious to all is the level of integration the Eagles are enjoying in the schemes with the same head coach (Nick Sirianni) and coordinators (Shane Steichen, offense; Jonathan Gannon, defense; Michael Clay, special teams) returning for their second seasons.
"We're just trying to build every day on what we did last year," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "You want to pick up where you left off. For me, missing most of the season with an injury, it feels like I'm in a good place. It's all about me coming in in shape and being ready for Training Camp. We've got some young guys that I'm excited about."
One of the cornerstones of Nick Sirianni's Eagles program is "compete," so that's the theme for the rest of this week before the break begins. The program has been "organized" and "detailed," said Brown, so it's on the players to learn where they are supposed to be and when and to master the little things that matter so much on the field. After that, it's about winning the battle. Sirianni is always going to have his side fun, whether it's a basketball-shooting drill or a ping-pong game of what have you.
Compete. Have fun. Connect.
"I see it and it's a way for the guys to get to know each other a little bit better and really come together," cornerback James Bradberry said. "All of that adds to the spirit of things, makes it more fun."
We're not going to have a depth chart until the preseason begins, and even then it will be loosely defined. Every player is getting his reps and is being given a chance to show the coaching staff and the personnel department that he belongs and that he can be trusted. As much as this is a physical time for the spring, it is every bit as much of a mental challenge to learn new terminology and, in some cases, a new scheme and, for the rookies, a new way of living a football life.
"It's great," defensive tackle Jordan Davis said last week when asked about having the veterans in at the NovaCare Complex. "I'm learning a lot from them. They've been here and they have the experience, obviously, and I'm just trying to soak everything in that I can. It's been an amazing experience just to learn from them. BG (Graham) and Fletch (defensive tackle Fletcher Cox), they've been in the league ever since I started watching football. Watching those guys, taking mental notes, and learning how to be a pro from them."
That's what these Organized Team Activities are all about. When it comes down to it, the players are then going to have the task of taking all of what they've learned here and all of what they know about "being a pro" and applying it when the players report for Training Camp on July 26, when the intensity ramps up, and the roster evaluation phase takes on a new meaning with the 53-man cutdown date looming in the not-too-distant future.