In a normal spring, Eagles rookies would already have gathered for a weekend at NovaCare to establish some basics. The team would be in Phase 2 of the offseason workout program, with either the defense or the offense taking the field to go over system stuff, but no head-to-head work yet.
On Tuesday, Fletcher Cox was in Mississippi, where he’d traveled for Mother’s Day from his offseason home in Texas. But the Eagles’ five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is really living in limbo right now, with the rest of us.
Eagles players have daily workout schedules, and position meetings via the Internet. It’s hard to practice football online, though.
“It’s been weird. … Having to call in, do virtual workouts. You get to see everybody [at home], see what they’re up to,” Cox told reporters via Zoom. “It’s still taking me some getting used to, the calling in, and remembering to call in and things like that.”
When or if there is a 2020 season, expectations for the Eagles’ defense will be at least a little higher than in 2019, given the investment in corners Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman, along with defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Cox pitched the Eagles to Slay, his former Mississippi State teammate who was acquired from the Lions, and is eager to get to work with Hargrave, a free agent from the Steelers.
“When all this craziness is over with, I’ll be ready to get back with those guys,” Cox said. “I just told [Slay], ‘If you want to win, come to Philly.’ I said, ‘We win around here, we do things different around here.’
“I know what he can bring to our team — the character, the swagger, the hard work, and the leadership.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about [Hargrave]. We’ve chatted on the phone a couple of times. He’s ready to come in and give Philly all he’s got. That’s all he’s talking about. I know it’s kind of tough [for Hargrave] right now, being that he’s not around, not in the building.”
The NFL’s official position is that the season will start on time, Sept. 13 at Washington for the Eagles. But nobody knows how the league plans to get there -- what sort of testing will have to be done, whether players and coaches will have to be quarantined, how much practice there will be before games are played, if fans will be allowed into stadiums, or even if playing football in 2020 is going to be feasible. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County’s public health director said LA’s lockdown is likely to extend another three months.
“You’ve just got to assume it’s all going to work out, man, you know, I tell myself all the time, control what you can control,” Cox said. “We’ll get over this, we’ll be fine. As long as guys are doing their job, make sure they’re working out, make sure they stay on top of their job, not coming back out of shape — which I know no guys will.
“It’s going to come down to us [taking care of] the new guys, getting them used to the way our culture is … the way we do things around the building. But as pros, I know those guys will catch on pretty quick.”
Cox knows the obstacles standing in the way of normalcy right now. He figures the NFL and the players association will keep him safe.
“Obviously, they’re going to be real cautious about it. We’re in the locker room in the offseason with, I guess it’s 90-plus people,” he said. “Even in the regular season, you’re still in there with 65 people, however many players it is, and then you count all the staff and stuff up. … I’m pretty sure they’ll be cautious about it, and our health is a priority.”
For now, Cox is able to do most of what he normally would be doing in May; a six-year, $102 million contract lets you set up a pretty sweet home gym.
“Pretty blessed to be in the position I’m in. I have an actual gym … I can do all my normal workouts,” he said. “I’ve got a place where I can pull sleds and push sleds and it’s keeping me in shape.”
He said he knows everyone is not in his position.
“Guys just create ways to keep themselves in shape. I told guys, ‘Hey, go drive the car to a flat parking spot and push it.’ … You’ve got to push on bodies for 3 or 4 seconds [during a typical play]. I feel like that’s a good way to simulate it. At the end of the day, it’s really hard to simulate and put your body in those weird positions, [as if you were] actually playing football.”
In response to another question, Cox said: “I do wonder how everybody will look once we get back, but the most important thing is to make sure we’re ready to go. I don’t think looks ever sacked a quarterback.”
When the new-look defense finally does convene, it will be missing the longtime leader of the secondary. Safety Malcolm Jenkins went back to his original New Orleans Saints home in free agency. Cox, the only current Eagle named to the NFL’s all-decade team last month, has a very different personality than Jenkins but a similar stature in the locker room.
“I’m not a big rah-rah guy. Maybe [Brandon Graham] will take over that role. I like to lead by example, just show guys that I’m here if you need me,” Cox said.
He said he can speak up when he feels it’s needed, but that “there’s no pressure on me, doing something different.”
It is hard to imagine an Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field with no fans, or with far fewer fans than normal, but barring some sort of testing-availability breakthrough, one of those options seems likely, if the season really does start in September.
“For sure, it’ll be different … if we have to play the game with no fans. But I think we have to understand that health is a priority,” Cox said.
It was evident that after eight seasons here, Cox has trouble wrapping his head around what such a scene would look, feel, and sound like.
“We have to look at our health. … I don’t know how to explain it, but it’ll definitely be weird,” he said.