- Several Eagles already know how to handle the challenges of being the defending champions.
When the Eagles took down the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, it capped off a hunger-driven campaign of underdogs reveling in the chance to hunt down those above them.
As Training Camp begins in 2018, the Eagles suddenly find themselves facing the difficulties that defending champions endure each season. They are no longer the underdogs, they are now the alpha dogs. They are no longer the hunters, they are now the hunted.
In order to retain their status as champions, the Eagles need to take on the task of facing everyone's best efforts. Luckily, they have several players on the roster who have won a Super Bowl prior to last season and understand these challenges.
Linebacker Corey Nelson, who won Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos, broke down the reasons why only eight teams have ever repeated as Super Bowl Champs.
"You can't get complacent," Nelson said. "Another thing is thinking you got it made out there on the field just because you won a championship, everyone is going to lay down for you. And it's not the case. It's the exact opposite. You become a target. Everyone plays 10 times harder against you. ... Those three things for sure - quick turnaround, complacency, and knowing that you have a target on your back. If you can understand those three things, I feel like you will have a shot at repeating again."
When players arrived for Training Camp on Wednesday, they were surrounded by messages from head coach Doug Pederson of staying hungry and taking on the challenge of facing every team's best effort. Nelson said it is a significant improvement to his time in Denver, where taking on that challenge was not a team focus.
"I was like, 'Wow, he's right on the money with it,'" Nelson said. "For him to say that, it says a lot about our team and the place that we're in and the mindset that we have going into this season which is real good."
Safety Malcolm Jenkins won Super Bowl XLIV with the New Orleans Saints in the 2009 season. The following season, Jenkins' Saints went 11-5 in the regular season before losing in the Wild Card round. He said working hard in camp is key for success later in the season.
"I think it is something that's obvious," Jenkins said. "We're Super Bowl Champions so everyone is going to give us their best shot and you've got to embrace that. But the only way to truly embrace being a target is if you feel like you are without a shadow of a doubt prepared. So, we've got to enjoy the grind of Training Camp and we have to enjoy the grind of preparing so when you step out on the field knowing you're going to get everybody's best shot, it doesn't matter."
Jenkins isn't worried about complacency or shyness in the spotlight from this team. Right now, guys are focused on getting better and helping each other out.
"I think this team is a mature team," Jenkins said. "We've got some really good leaders on it, I think we'll be ready. We're so caught up in competing against each other that we're really not worried about other teams and what people are bringing. We're just worried about getting better and better every day and competing against ourselves.
"I don't think we're defending. We don't have this year's title. That's the good thing about this league, it's not like you carry a belt that people have to come and take from you. We're at the beginning just like everybody else."
Defensive end Michael Bennett was a key contributor for the Seattle Seahawks in their Super Bowl XLVIII victory. In the following season, they repeated as NFC Champions and were a goal-line play away from winning it all once more. He knows what it takes to have a quick turnaround and attempt to match the previous season's level of success.
"I think it's ego," Bennett said. "The whole time people are talking about the past while you're trying to live in the present. It's just about living in the present and not thinking too much about what happened the year before. You just want to go and move on. It's a new season. You can't really think about what you did. The time for celebrating was all offseason."
For guys who won their first Super Bowl last season, the task remains the same. Tight end Zach Ertz said that focusing on his own improvement like any Training Camp and preparing for every team's best effort will be key in getting back to the Super Bowl not just this year but for several years to come.
"I'm trying to go out here and be a better football player, that's all I'm focusing on," Ertz said. "Come September 6, everyone is going to be coming after us. When we've played Super Bowl Champions in the past, we've looked at them and turned it up a notch so we're going to get every team's best shot.
"I think we're trying to throw away the underdog mentality and move on to the next phase of this chapter. And it's going to be a great book when it's all said and done but the ending is nowhere in sight."