There is a reason those in the NFL stand by the idea that a player improves the most from his first season to his second. It is an axiom that is tried and true and, when you live that life, you understand it in real time. Last year at this time, linebacker Nakobe Dean was learning how to be an Eagle. Safety Reed Blankenship was trying to keep his head above water in the fast-paced world at the NovaCare Complex. Offensive lineman Cam Jurgens did everything he could to shadow All-Pro center Jason Kelce and defensive tackle Jordan Davis tried everything he could to stay in the moment and take things day by day.
That was 2022. Now it's an entirely different situation for the Eagles' 2022 Rookie Class, one that steps forward and expects to be a major factor in the team's 2023 success.
"It's a lot different," said Dean, who has a chance to earn a starting job in Sean Desai's defense after playing 34 snaps in his rookie campaign. "It was all new last year, so naturally there were a lot of things to learn. We're still learning, but we've gone through the daily schedule all of last season. I know that for us (fellow Georgia Bulldog Davis) we had won the National Championship Game and then went right into the (NFL) Draft preparation and then the Draft and then we're here in Philadelphia. There wasn't any time to stop, so you just kept pushing and pushing.
"We have an offseason now and we can work on things and improve on what we did last year, so that's a big difference."
The fact is, things just move more slowly the second time around. The first three players selected by the Eagles in the 2022 NFL Draft – Davis, Jurgens, and Dean – were locks to make the team and the only real question was how much they would play as rookies. Blankenship, on the other hand, had a fight on his hands every day. He was not drafted after playing five seasons at Middle Tennessee State and arrived in Philadelphia with a mindset that he has always had, and still has.
He wasn't going to leave anything on the table.
"Just go out there and give it everything I have every day," he said. "I didn't look at numbers or try to figure out how the roster was going to break down. I just kept my head down, got in my playbook, listened to the coaching staff, and worked as hard I could each and every day. That's just the way I am, anyway. It was nothing new for me. I love football so much and I just want to play and be the best player I can possibly be.
"But it was fast, man. I could see where guys get a little dizzy when they're first here because it's so demanding mentally and then there's the physical part and if you don't stay on top of things, I could see where it would swallow you up. I wasn't going to let that happen to me."
Said Jurgens: "It's a lot different now. I'm so grateful to have someone like Jason Kelce who helped me then and continues to help me get used to the speed of everything, making decisions, how to watch film the best way, and to be the best player I can be. Everything he does is so on point, so learning from him last year and going through the process this season, I feel I'm so much further ahead."
They're all now mentors to the 2023 Rookie Class, taking the new Eagles and helping nurture winning habits. It's a line of leadership and succession and Eagles have long fostered and encouraged and the rookies from last season are now part of the young veterans group helping the kids grow.
It all looks so familiar, right? And it seems so long ago, but it really isn't that far in the past.
"I look at these rookies and they're just stressed as heck and that reminds me of me last year," Jurgens said. "You have a lot of time when you first get here but it kind of gets jammed and there is so much thrown at you all at once. Now I get to focus on certain aspects of my game that I struggle with or new things I want to learn and get better at. It's not doing everything all at once.
"You have to learn how to be an NFL player. It's not about going out on the field and getting as many reps as you can. That's the way it was in college. It doesn't work like that here. You have to know everything and be as smart as you can in every aspect of the game. That's my message to the new guys. The mental side of the NFL is so important. You can win with talent in the college game. You can't do that as much, if at all, in the NFL."
Davis was in a nice groove playing about 20 snaps per game on defense until he suffered a significantly sprained ankle in the win over Pittsburgh on October 30. He missed four games and then returned in a smaller role as the Eagles signed veteran tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph to help shore up the middle of the defense down the stretch and into the postseason.
Everything that happened with Davis is now on file. He aims to be a larger part of the defensive picture in Year 2.
"I know they have the expectation for me and I have that same expectation," he said. "Having gone through it last year, I learned so much. It's a totally different world in the NFL. I'm much more aware of that and what I need to do to prepare myself, so let's go. I want to be a big part of our success, and that's up to me. Every day, I feel better and better about what I'm doing and how I fit in, so it's a matter of going out there and doing it every single day."