The planning started long ago as the Eagles and Patriots discussed the idea of two days of joint practices prior to their preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. There were many details to work out – accommodations for the visiting Patriots at the NovaCare Complex with access to conditioning and film review, a practice script to put together, lodging and transportation for New England and its travel party, etc. – far beyond agreeing to which team's rookie class had first dibs at the Rita's Water Ice stand adjacent to the practice fields.
From then until now, the work required a full-team effort from both the Eagles and the Patriots. Now, we're at the moment. New England arrives on Monday at the NovaCare Complex to begin two mornings of joint practices with the Eagles, part of a popular wave in the NFL that many teams are adopting in the new-world summer that includes three preseason games and an extra week of practice between the final preseason game and the opening of the regular season.
"I think people would be shocked about how much detail goes into planning each and every practice. And you talk about each and every practice but then you have to set the stage right at the beginning of like, 'Hey, here's how we practice.' So, it's like you start from the beginning and you just have to talk about every detail. And so, it was just like normal talking to other guys, and we're still having ongoing conversations to get ready for practice on Tuesday," Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni said on Saturday. "You just want your team to work and get better from the scenario. And you want his team to be able to work and get better from it, so you continue to build a relationship and work with each other."
By this point in Training Camp, the Eagles welcome the idea of seeing new faces. They've been on the field for nearly three weeks now, white jerseys against Midnight Green jerseys. They've played against the same teammates every snap, and they have gone to school with each rep. Cornerback Darius Slay has seen wide receiver Jalen Reagor enough times that he can anticipate moves and routes and subtle body suggestions that might otherwise go unnoticed.
In short, it's time for some fresh blood on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The fact that it's the Patriots, with the history between the teams, makes it just a bit more special.
"It feels good playing against them in practice because you don't really get that downtime with them on the field other than after the game. Everybody, depending on whether you win or lose, the losing team always wants to hurry up and get back in the locker room so we can hurry up and get this thing over, and of course the winning team wants to stay out and talk to everybody," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "I feel like now, it's a more intimate practice, things are a little more relaxed so you can say, 'What's up?' to guys. They (Patriots) came back the next year (after Super Bowl LII) and won another one (Super Bowl LIII) so I don't think there will be hard feelings. It's cool to get to know people than just playing on the field."
Former Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills and wide receiver Nelson Agholor, two key pieces from that Super Bowl-winning team, are now Patriots. They know the NovaCare Complex intimately from the home-team standpoint, so these two days will be conducted from a new perspective. But the bottom line here is that this is no social experiment. Pulling this entire endeavor together collaboratively with the Patriots has been an admirable undertaking, all with the intent of providing two more practice sessions to evaluate players in a new light, against different schemes and unfamiliar players.
With the preseason now at three games – instead of the traditional four – the joint practices against New England (and then next week at the New York Jets) give the Eagles more opportunities to evaluate a roster that has to be at 85 players at 4 PM on Tuesday, 80 players at 4 PM on August 24, and at 53 players at 4 PM on August 31.
Time is ticking.
"You always know that every team is watching you," veteran running back Jordan Howard (photo above) said. "This kind of brings that point home. You're competing to make this roster and you know that there are 31 teams out there also putting together their teams. When you practice with another team, you're out there and everybody has eyes on you. I think that raises the intensity of things. I'm looking forward to it. We know New England always has a good defense and they do a lot of things, so this is going to be a good test for our offense."
It sure will. Everything about these joint practices makes sense as the Eagles take this preseason into a new and exciting and very helpful direction. The Patriots are coming! The Patriots are coming! And their arrival is going to make for two days of verrrrrryyyy interesting practices to conduct.