Finally, different jerseys. We're at the point in Eagles Training Camp when it's just gotten, well, repetitive. For two weeks the Eagles have practiced against themselves and so they know the nuances of the players they're going against. That changes the evaluation process for every team. Fortunately, the preseason is here to give everybody a change of scenery.
"We didn't have it last year, so I don't really know what to expect, but I'm planning to go out there and have fun," wide receiver Jalen Reagor said. "We will see different players and a different scheme so that presents a new set of challenges that we all need to step up to. I'm looking forward to the preseason games."
Reagor was a rookie last season when the NFL, in the midst of the early months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, decided to shut down, among many things, the Organized Team Activities (the on-field portion, anyway) and the preseason. For the 2020 Rookie Class, the regular season came without a hint of an opposing flavor.
That's one of the many reasons the preseason schedule, perhaps unappreciated by some out there, should be valued in 2021. For the Eagles and a new coaching staff, the three preseason games are valuable opportunities to test every part of the football operation – substitutions, play calls, communication with players, situational football such as the two-minute offense – with the regular-season opener at Atlanta just one month away.
"It's definitely a trial run. As far as game management goes, let's talk about the two-minute drill. We've been together, (Passing Game Coordinator) Kevin (Patullo) and I and (Tight Ends Coach) Jason (Michael) have been together for a while, so we know what we want to call with time on the clock, when our timeout scenarios are, when we are clocking it as opposed to getting up and running on the ball," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "So, there are things that – there are a ton of situations that go into that, right, so feels like every time we sit up there and watch plays – like for instance, we watch about 500 plays, end-of-game plays, the other day, and just like the scenarios inside of it. Something always pops up.
"So, we're really prepared – really, really prepared – but there will be things that pop up, and I look forward to the trial run on Thursday."
It's practice for everyone, including a stadium staff that hasn't had a full building since the playoff loss to Seattle on January 5, 2020. Having nearly 26,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night for the open-to-the-public practice was a good test; this one is the real deal.
"Feeling that energy, that was the big thing from Sunday night," Reagor said. "It was great. I think everybody knows what to expect, or at least has an idea. The fans are coming out there to see us do our jobs and play well."
What we know from Sirianni's side of things is that he's going to call the offense – relaying the play calls to Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen, who then will relay the call to the quarterback's headset. Jonathan Gannon will call the defense. The Eagles aren't going to show much of their scheme on either side of the ball, but they're going to give the players enough opportunities to show what they can do in their quests to make the 53-man roster. And remember, that's what the preseason is all about: to find the best 53, plus to identify any other players who are practice squad candidates.
As far as the offense goes, Sirianni wants to see the Eagles execute and play smart, disciplined football. On defense, it's a chance to go live and bring ball carriers to the ground, something the team hasn't done for a sustained period in this Training Camp.
"Just be consistent with moving the football and be consistent – you know, kind of eliminate anything that – we always talk about eliminating the mistakes that require no talent, right? So, the not lining up right or false start or something like that," Sirianni said. "That requires no talent to lineup right and to not jump offsides. Let's let our talent take over and eliminate those things. So, you know, because I thought the practice over at the stadium went well, as far as offensively speaking went well for them, but there were some sloppy things with pre-snap penalties. (Wide receiver) Quez's (Watkins) big play came back because we weren't lined up right.
"So just eliminating those things, really honing in on, 'Hey, here is what we're running, here is what we are going to do,' and go out there and not have to think a lot because we're doing that and let their talent take over."
And then evaluate the talent. That's what these preseason games are all about, at the end of the day. The evaluation process enters a new phase on Thursday night when the Steelers are in town for a welcome-back-to-the-preseason moment, something we all missed in 2020.