Doug Pederson’s plate will be piled high, and we’re not talking about the coach’s beloved ice cream, when the Eagles finally gather at NovaCare for training camp, probably on July 28.
As Pederson embarks on his fifth season in charge, there is the matter of already having to replace one of his top stars, three-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks, who tore his left Achilles tendon in a Monday workout.
“My heart sunk when I got the news about Brandon’s injury,” Pederson said Tuesday in a Zoom call with reporters.
Pederson’s dismay seemed to primarily focus on Brooks’ having to face a long recovery from yet another serious injury, rather than concern for the team’s offensive line, which was already facing the challenge of playing without 38-year-old franchise great left tackle Jason Peters, now a free agent.
“This guy has worked extremely hard to get himself back … back in playing shape to have a solid 2020 season. We feel for him, to have to go through this again, obviously, but we know he’ll push through," Pederson said. "He’s done a great job with all his rehab. … We’re very confident there.
“As far as the plan moving forward, we’re still looking at a lot of options, obviously, starting with our own roster. … We’re going to take a look at a lot of different scenarios, different possibilities. We’ve got some time before training camp to try to sort these things out.”
Players are not allowed in NFL facilities yet unless they are recovering from injuries. Brooks underwent shoulder surgery in January, after suffering an injury in the regular-season finale at the Giants that kept him out of the playoff loss to Seattle. He’d spent last offseason rehabbing a torn right Achilles tendon.
When camp starts, among other things, Pederson must address the following:
How to handle the issue of concern over and protests against racial injustice, with many players indicating that kneeling during the national anthem will again be in play.
How to get rookies, free-agent newcomers and inexperienced vets who are moving into starting roles up to speed after a virtual offseason that did not include any work on the field.
How to handle strict COVID-19 precautions dictated by the NFL and the NFLPA, precautions that Ravens coach John Harbaugh last week called “humanly impossible.” Pederson indicated the Eagles might make use of Lincoln Financial Field, which has much more locker-room space than the NovaCare facility.
The Brooks situation headlined the session with Pederson, who was speaking from his home in Moorestown; he said he will not return to NovaCare until players report. Brooks made an extraordinary, seven-month recovery from his first Achilles injury, starting all 16 games last season. Even if he can duplicate that effort, Brooks will miss the 2020 season — unless it is seriously delayed by COVID-19.
Later in the call, Pederson expressed solidarity with players protesting for social justice, but he declined to say if he would join in potential protests this season.
“I support players who demonstrate peacefully and stand for something,” Pederson said. “We’re going to have these conversations [about how to address the subject] once we get into training camp.”
In their virtual meetings, Pederson and the Eagles have discussed the movement that sprung up in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“The first thing I wanted to do is listen -- listen to my players, listen to the guys that have feelings, have strong beliefs -- and I want to understand everything that I can,” Pederson said. "A lot of it’s personal, for me, just hearing from the players -- and I don’t want to get into a bunch of dialogue that way, but me just understanding more and more about what these players go through on a daily basis, and what the black community, the African American community, go[es] through on a daily basis. And we are seeing it more and more, not only with sports but obviously in our communities. ...
“This is what I told my team several weeks ago ... I want to learn, I want to understand. I came from a world that didn’t understand that. And so for me as an adult, I want to also be able to take the information and teach my own boys, for those of you that know my three sons.”
Pederson said first-round rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor will first study behind DeSean Jackson, outside, presumably at the "Z" position, and after mastering that, he then will be taught the other two wide-receiving roles. This would seem to indicate the strong possibility of a starting role for wideout Alshon Jeffery, who is rehabbing a December Lisfranc injury.
Pederson called Jeffery “a big part of the process going forward and a great leader,” who might miss the first few weeks of the season. “He’s a big part of our offense, and we do plan to have him in the offense at some point,” Pederson said.
The team seems disinclined to release Jeffery and face a $26 million-plus dead cap figure. That cap charge would be reduced by Jeffery’s $9.910 million 2020 salary if the Eagles could trade him, but trades for expensive, injured 30-year-old wide receivers are only slightly less rare than unicorn sightings.
Pederson noted that because of the lack of on-field spring work, a lot of young players are going to be in a high-speed, high-pressure learning situation in camp, more than in other years. He was answering a question about possible replacements for Brooks. That group includes 2018 sixth-round pick Matt Pryor, 2019 undrafted rookies Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta, and 2020 fourth-round rookie Jack Driscoll.
“These guys have to understand that there’s a little bit of a sense of urgency once we get into training camp. Things are going to move fast,” Pederson said. “Things are going to move fast, and we, as coaches, need to evaluate these players. I have to put them in position to be successful, to show what they can do, and that’s everything that we are in the process of doing right now leading up to camp.”
Pederson said the team’s second-round pick, quarterback Jalen Hurts, has been impressive in the virtual setting.
“His growth from a mental standpoint from the beginning of the offseason to now has been very good,” Pederson said. “His ability to recall plays and recite plays and put them -- one thing [passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Press Taylor has done is put him into a huddle situation where he’s calling plays, and being able to just spit that back to him. He’s done that at a really good, high level, and now it’s just a matter of once we get him on the grass, he has to do it for real and go from there. But I’ve been really impressed with his progress this spring.”
When Hurts finally gathers with the rest of the 90-member roster, the league wants players to dress at least six feet apart, among many other requirements that are going to be tricky. Throughout the pandemic, rather than rail against restrictions, the Eagles have talked about how the problems posed to society by the coronavirus make football seem trivial, and Pederson didn’t change that focus Tuesday.
“This is a unique time in our society, in our country, and our world,” Pederson said. “This is just what we’re faced with.” He spoke of making use of the Linc, “to take advantage of everything that we can. And the No. 1 thing here is making sure that our players and our coaches and all our staff are safe. ... It’s going to look different. It will feel different, but at the same time, we are going to embrace it and we are going to make the most of it, and our job as coaches is to prepare our football team for the regular season."
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians has mused about possibly quarantining one quarterback, so if the coronavirus were to spread around the quarterback group, he would have one healthy QB to practice and/or play. Pederson didn’t seem to have given a lot of thought to the idea, but he didn’t dismiss it.
“That is definitely something to consider as you move forward, to protect the quarterback position, but at the same time, you have to think about the entire roster, as well,” Pederson said. “A lot of different scenarios and a lot of possibilities we’ll think about here in the next few weeks.”