Doug Pederson did not agree with a questioner’s assumption that the Eagles were behind in preparing for the 2020 season as they got ready to practice fully for the first time Wednesday, with Pederson back at work following a 10-day COVID-19 absence.
Pederson said that “we’ve had time with these players,” and “we’re really not playing catch-up,” despite the lack of on-field work in the spring, and a training camp that until Wednesday was limited to positional drills and walk throughs.
Pederson, 52, who said he was asymptomatic when he stepped away from the practice facility Aug. 2, offered no details of his coronavirus experience Wednesday when he spoke with reporters via Zoom. He said he was able to watch practice remotely from his home in Moorestown, N.J., and could do everything he needed to do as head coach during his absence, though assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley was in charge at the facility.
Even so, Pederson acknowledged that he was “ready to get back here and to be out on the grass with the players.”
Pederson said the offense and defense are installed; the focus, with pads going on Aug. 17, is on finding out what the rookies and new veterans can do, how they fit into the puzzle.
“Once the pads come on, you really start seeing the physicality of guys, and how well they’re going to suit what we need as an offense, defense, and special teams,” Pederson said. “[Thursday] I think would have been our first preseason game. We’ve got everything that we need in, if we were to play a game [then],” he said.
Asked if this training camp will be more intense than usual, given the lack of preseason games and the need to assess quickly, Pederson said training camp practices are always “grueling”. He noted that when there are preseason games, players get more days off – there is no practice the day before or the day after a game. That won’t be the case this year.
“It’s a little more of a fluid schedule, I would say, for the next couple of weeks, so we’re going to have a lot of good answers, because of the amount of days we’ve got stacked back-to-back, or end-to-end, coming up,” Pederson said.
“I typically have two days [when padded practices commence] where it’s more of a live, controlled-live sort of practice, tackle to the ground. I’m going to stick to that schedule,” Pederson said. “I’m going to stick to two days of having situational, scrimmage-type practices. I feel like it’s a great way to get our guys prepared to game situations, game action.”
Normally, Pederson likes to randomly throw a rookie into a first-team unit here and there for a practice period. He was asked Wednesday if he can still afford to do that, with so little time to prepare the starters for the season.
“I can remember back when I was a young player getting reps with those starters. I mean, it gets your juices going a little bit. It’s exciting for that player, but at the same time, that’s a game rep for them. That’s a true feeling on what game day is like,” Pederson said. “I’m still going to do that. The coaches are going to do that. The coordinators are going to do that, and make sure that our guys, one, they’re prepared to go and do that, then at the same time it allows us to find answers on some of these young players.”
Pederson said coaches will wear face shields or masks, and might coach from a little farther away than usual. He said there might not be as many ball boys and equipment people on the sidelines as during a normal camp. He said a few players seem to be wearing the new Oakley mouth shields, for virus protection. He said he hopes to “get a feel for it, and see if the guys like them.”
Pederson was asked about the abrupt retirement last week of 26-year-old Jatavis Brown, a free-agent signee who had been the most experienced member of the Eagles’ young linebacking corps, having played in 56 NFL games with the Chargers.
“Everybody goes through different things in life. There are times when you just come to a point where maybe you just don’t have the passion, the drive. It’s unfortunate, because he’s a great kid. He and I had a great conversation last week. I understood where he was coming from,” Pederson said.
“When your heart’s not in something, you don’t want to do the team, you don’t want to do yourself, your teammates a disservice. … That’s a tough decision for a player to come to, to be able to step away from a game that he loves, obviously. I have a lot of respect for Jatavis and wish him all the success and all the best moving forward.”
Pederson was asked about this year’s role for Greg Ward, the quarterback-turned-receiver who was such a big part of the Eagles’ stretch drive to the playoffs last season. Looking at the current corps, Ward might project into the starting slot receiver role.
“He’s in that rotation, in that starting mix for us. It’s just a matter of him embracing every day, getting better. Being a former quarterback, he understands our offense. … He knows the concepts and the routes. He and Carson [Wentz] have a really good feel for one another,” Pederson said.
“We expect some really big things from Greg. He can also be a leader. He can be a leader of that group,” along with DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, Pederson said.