JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — John DeFilippo knows what Nick Foles likes, because he likes them, too. Deep balls. RPOs. EPOC. You know, Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
“I think we’re very similar on and off the field. We have the same core values. We love our families. We love golf. We love Orangetheory Fitness,” DeFilippo said.
Orangetheory Fitness, a boutique workout craze that touts the benefits of EPOC. Both Foles and Flip adore the system, which lands you in the “Orange Zone” for at least 12 minutes of personalized heart-rate hell. They love the fad because it matches their football philosophies; obsessing over proper technique, using every ounce of energy, preparing with a level of focus that approaches mania.
They look the part of obsessive fitness freaks, too. Foles is leaner than ever and sports a close-cropped summer 'do. DeFilippo, with his crew cut and Ray-Bans, might be a middle-aged Secret Service agent.
“When you’re around like-minded people who enjoy football, enjoy working hard, enjoy the process and the grind of what we’re trying to accomplish — people of that nature gravitate toward each other,” DeFilippo said.
This is how DeFilippo, as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach, transformed Carson Wentz from a raw talent from a second-level college into a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2016 and an MVP candidate in 2017. It’s how Flip resurrected Foles’ career in 2017 and helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII with Foles at the controls after Wentz shredded his knee. It’s how Foles, now Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback, and Flip, his offensive coordinator, will turn the Jags into a contender in the stingy AFC South.
First, though, they must survive the injury epidemic in Jacksonville that led Jags coach Doug Marrone to sit 31 players, 20 of them starters, in their preseason opener last week, including Foles, their 4-year, $88 million investment as they moved past the Blake Bortles era. It will keep Marrone from playing most of his starters when the Eagles visit Thursday night. Foles almost certainly will not play. His only preseason action will come a week later, in Miami.
With a new coordinator and a new QB, familiarity will be crucial.
“Flip knows exactly how Nick thinks, how he plays, his style, having gone through it for seven, eight games there at the end of ,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “And it is a benefit. For a coordinator, a play-caller and a quarterback to be together again or at least for a long period of time, you can have great conversation. You can bounce ideas off each other. You end up thinking alike."
Likemindedness would matter more if DeFilippo had been Foles’ coordinator in Philly. He wasn’t. That was Frank Reich. Pederson called plays on game days. DeFilippo became the Vikings’ coordinator in 2018, but, intent on maximizing his air attack, Flip clashed with head coach Mike Zimmer — a slave to the running game — and lasted only 13 games. DeFilippo’s scheme has elements of what Foles ran in Philly, such as his precious run-pass options, but it isn’t identical.
“There’s probably like 50 percent of it I was familiar with," Foles said. "The other 50, I’ve acclimated to and feel really comfortable with."
His comfort level won’t matter much if the personnel is lacking. Marqise Lee, who blew out his knee in training camp last year, might miss the first six weeks of the season, which leaves Chiefs free agent Chris Conley atop the receivers’ depth chart. DeFilippo loves to use tight ends, but Cowboys free agent Geoff Swaim and his one career TD catch probably don’t ideally fit his vision. Left tackle Cam Robinson, coming off a knee injury, might be ready when the Chiefs visit Sept. 8.
It all might hinge on third-year running back Leonard Fournette, who, after playing just 21 games his first two seasons, is healthy and eager to prove himself worthy of the No. 4 overall pick the Jags used on him in 2017. If Foles’ targets struggle to get open, expect him to lean on Fournette. Big Play Nick earned a reputation as a mad bomber — he led the league at 9.1 yards per attempt when he went to the Pro Bowl in 2013 — but his short, clever passing touch is undervalued.
“People don’t give Nick enough credit for his ability to throw off-balance and change his arm angle,” DeFilippo said. "He can find lanes very easily on shallow crosses, on basic crosses, deep crosses, that our guys are really good at running."
Now in his eighth season, Foles, 30, has lost some of the Brett Favre, gunslinger mentality that hurt his teams — even as recently as the Super Bowl run he led during the 2017 season.
“He’s actually helped me with this. He keeps a very simple thought process,” DeFilippo said. "If we have an easy throw to the flat, he’s going to take it. He’ll make it second-and-5, and not make the game harder than it has to be. I just need to do a good job of running the plays he likes and continue to do the concepts he feels comfortable with."
As he spoke, DeFilippo was dripping sweat from the hem of his black nylon shorts. Nearby, Foles sweated in pads as he eavesdropped on the receivers’ post-practice huddle, chiming in once or twice. DeFilippo noticed, and nodded toward the assemblage:
“It’s great having a player who understands the schemes and understands what you’re trying to do, because he can reinforce the intricacies of what we’re trying to do offensively.”
Understanding concepts is one thing. Executing them with sufficient personnel is quite another. DeFilippo flipped out at a sloppy Jaguars practice Sunday, and he nearly lost it again Monday, as annoying cornerback Jalen Ramsey taunted his ham-handed receivers. Several times, Foles spoke to his struggling teammates and helped Flip keep control, for which he was grateful.
“You have four or five bullets a year in your gun, being able to go off your rocker a little bit. I probably fired one of those bullets yesterday,” DeFilippo said.
He’ll use all his bullets by the end of the season. Realistically, how much can Foles and Flip improve the second-worst scoring offense in the NFL last season? Not enough to turn 5-11 into much more than 8-8.
But 8-8 would save head coach Doug Marrone’s job. It would rehabilitate DeFilippo’s image. It would justify the $50 million the Jags guaranteed Foles.
It would, at least, get the franchise back in shape.