BEREA, Ohio – This was fun. On a picture-perfect day in suburban Ohio, the Eagles and Browns conducted Day 1 of their joint practices and it was worth the wait. A two-week road trip back-ended with preseason games against the Browns and Dolphins was everything the Eagles hoped it would be: Intense, physical, fast, different.
"It's really life-like. You're playing these other guys, you don't have the chemistry with them, so it's really all business out here. Just like a game," tight end Dallas Goedert said. "It's fun. The intensity, bring it up. They make a play, they cheer. We make a play, we cheer, it's all in good fun. We're playing a game and excitement is part of it and that's what you don't have when you're practicing against yourself or in the offseason when you're doing OTAs. So, it's fun to get back out here, get a little chippy, and it just brings the intensity up and it makes us all better."
That's exactly what this is all about – that and the chance to build some team camaraderie through the two-week jaunt. The Eagles are living in a hotel, dining together, and Head Coach Nick Sirianni made sure to have a pop-a-shot game and a ping pong table on hand to add to the competition. Otherwise, this is just like Training Camp at the NovaCare Complex in that the meeting schedule is largely the same and the practices include a lot of fundamentals and technique work, part of Sirianni's commitment to those core values that he treasures.
The players had a chance to see something and someone different. Right tackle Lane Johnson worked against Browns defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, one of the game's better pass rushers.
"Going against guys like that makes you better," Johnson said. "I feel like he's very similar to (Eagles Pro Bowl defensive end Josh) Sweat. Good get-off, long, strong, so it was a good matchup there."
These practices are seen by coaches as the relative equivalent to preseason games, at least for the starters. For just about an hour and 45 minutes, the teams practiced, finishing with a 20-minute Eagles vs. Browns period in which the starters and the second-team units had a chance to match up against their counterparts. Great tempo, great competition, and, yes, some talking going on.
"Yeah, it kind of got me out of character because I don't do too much talking out here. I just let my game play," wide receiver A.J. Brown said. "It was fun going back and forth. Playing somebody else for sure, in practice. I'm a guy who just works, bro. I'm not going to do too much talking, but it was cool, though."
How much do you read into these practices? They are part of the larger equation and they are significant. And that's why it meant something for everybody. That's why the Eagles take these trips so seriously. Quarterbacks are still wearing the red jerseys, which means DO NOT TOUCH. And there were no "live" periods, so tackling was not permitted.
Everything else was pure football and it was great competition.
"It's great out there," cornerback Avonte Maddox said. "I think we're getting better by being out here going against a great group of players. We all understand what's at stake. So, every day is a chance to compete. It just so happens that today was against another team, and a good one. They will test a team."
Another day, another step closer to the 53-man roster, and, after that, the regular season. The Eagles brought their A-game to Ohio for these few days and left the practice feeling they had accomplished all they set out to do.
Friday is a new day and a new challenge and then we'll see how Sirianni wants to play it in preseason game No. 2. This all means so much – day by day adds up to a cumulative evaluation and, ultimately, the roster reduction which narrows to 53 by 4 PM on August 30. Tick, tock. It's happening so fast, so strap in and get ready for a second day against the Browns and understand that neither team is here for some light work. They are here to push each other, the kind of work that makes joint practices so worthwhile.
"I love it out here," Goedert said. "It felt great to play against another team. We've been pushing each other since the OTAs in the spring. Seeing new players, a different team, that was a lot of fun out there."