Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said goodbye to his players Friday until they report back to the NovaCare Complex July 27 for training camp.
This year’s organized team activities weren’t everything a rookie coach could have wanted, given that veteran Eagles players, like those on most teams across the league, flat-out refused to report for voluntary work until a compromise was reached that eliminated contact, and the mandatory minicamp that usually closes out the spring.
Sirianni has spoken positively about that compromise -- he speaks positively about pretty much everything, though the puppy-dog-bounding-across-the-sofa-and-knocking-over-lamps enthusiasm of his first Eagles news conference has been dialed down a notch. There was no 11-on-11 work this spring, not even any seven-on-seven. Practice was mostly positional drills, and if the offense or defense assembled, it worked against air, maybe with a few coaches offering token resistance.
As Sirianni pointed out in his wrap-up news conference, something is better than nothing. Last year, all spring work was virtual. Coaches didn’t see their players in person until training camp.
“When you get to see them every day on the field, in the meeting room, like, that’s different. That’s different, to walk into the meeting room and talk to them about their family, smack their hand and say, ‘What’s going on?’” Sirianni said.
Sirianni suggested that having to focus more on individual work might produce benefits. (Of course, last year’s coaching staff talked about how getting all that extra classroom work might produce benefits. The Eagles went 4-11-1 and most of those guys lost their jobs.)
“We were able to really dive into the fundamentals of how guys work. It’s rare to have as much individual time at this time of year as we had, each and every day,” Sirianni said. “Like, what they do and how they mature as a person, how they mature in the weight room, and how they mature in their fundamentals are the three major growths that a player makes. And then it’s about us as coaches putting them in the right spots to let those talents shine.
“So what we did find out is what guys need to work on as far as their fundamentals go and what they’re really good at as far as their fundamentals go. … Last year we had none of this. … You had nothing.”
Sirianni said that he and his assistants felt this year that “every correction we made or every praise we made, like, even from walk-through or from individual drills, it was so exciting to make that. We’re just that much further ahead starting camp. … We have a lot more to learn. But we know a lot about what our guys can do right now.”
Players interviewed over the past few weeks invariably praised the enthusiasm and the drive of Sirianni’s young coaching staff. “Competition” definitely is a Sirianni-era buzzword.
Sirianni apologized Friday for being late for his news conference.
“Greg Ward just got done beating me at a three-point contest. Not too happy about it,” he said.
On the field Friday, when the team worked at Lincoln Financial Field, it was common to see Sirianni demonstrating how he wanted a pass route detailed, or linebackers coach Nick Rallis, who turns 28 next month, stepping into a drill his players were running.
Asked about coaches taking part in drills, Sirianni said: “I just know how I learned. I’m a very visual person. The guys that have the ability to learn [by listening], that’s amazing to me. But I’m very visual. … I feel like a lot of the guys that I’ve coached have been very visual.
“When you’re able to move your body the way you want it to move to demonstrate a drill – like, if I’m a quarterback holding the ball in the right particular spot, turning my body the way I want to throw it, if I’m able to do that like [quarterbacks coach] Brian [Johnson] does and [offensive coordinator] Shane [Steichen] does, or if I’m able to get down into my break like a receiver does … that is a huge advantage because now you can show them what you want instead of telling them.”
Drills often were set up as competitions, in lieu of coaches being able to pit the offense against the defense.
“The ‘why’ behind it is, if you practice competing, you’re going to get better at competing,” Sirianni said. “This is such a cutthroat business. … There are guys constantly coming in for their jobs.”
Sirianni, who turns 40 on June 15, is running an entire team for the first time. What did he tell his players Friday, as they prepared to disperse?
“I told them our habits are our core values. It’s connecting. Continue to find ways to connect with guys,” he said. “Continue to find ways to compete with guys, right? And really … when you’re working by yourself as a football player, in that summertime before the fall season starts, it’s how do you compete with yourself?
“I talked about accountability to them. … If you do what you’re supposed to do each day in and out, that’s going to show up when it comes time for the fall.
“And I just encouraged them, yes, get in the books. Football IQ is so important, to get in the books, to watch the tapes over again from our practices, and watch the installs over again. And when you’re out in the field, work on the fundamentals we talked about.
“The other thing we talked about … continue to practice good habits, stay out of trouble, and then be ready to come into camp in the best physical shape of your life. Because when you’re in the best physical shape of your life, now your football IQ and your fundamentals can really show.”