So, the rookie head coach thinks his young quarterback, who has made just four NFL starts and played two preseason series, doesn’t need lots of preseason work. He thinks the young receivers will instinctively comprehend the challenge of NFL defenses and develop synergy with said quarterback. He thinks the pillars of his offensive line, which have not played together for 22 months, will anticipate each other’s actions as if they had not missed 25 combined games in 2020.
Ah, the folly of youth.
First-time head coach Nick Sirianni, a coach’s kid for whom football always has been religion, seems blind to the fact that, in order to play competent football, you must play ... football. You must not only practice football. You must play it. The NFL preseason always existed, foremost, to prepare a team’s best players to play. Sirianni, 40 — encouraged by bosses Howie Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie, according to league sources — is ignoring this truism, which was always embraced by the NFL’s Lombardis and Browns and Belichicks and Reids.
Jalen Hurts and the first-team offense should play at least four series Friday at the Jets in their preseason finale. Hurts didn’t play in Game 2 because of a bad belly. If he doesn’t get lots of playing time in Game 3, Eagles fans are going to be sick to their stomachs come Sept. 12.
If the players get hurt, so be it. They’d probably get hurt when the real games begin Sept. 12 anyway. If they can’t make it through 30 minutes against the worst team in football, only God can help them.
Sirianni is saying, We don’t need to play to polish our game.
This reeks of Roseman and his slavery to sports science. Of course, neither Roseman nor sports science have kept the Eagles healthy since Roseman and Lurie joined the Cult of Football Nerdery after they fired Andy Reid following the 2012 season.
The arrogance is incredible. The assumption of competence without competition is insane. Sirianni has installed a new offense. He’s brought a new coaching staff. He’s never even called plays before. Everybody wearing any shade of Eagle green needs maximum reps this summer.
Mount Rushmore coaches always have figured that if they spend the preseason protecting players from injury, then those players weren’t going to help them much, anyway. There is, in football, a requisite toughness that demands ... toughening. You don’t get calluses on massage tables. Treadmills can’t replace laps. And Hurts isn’t going to get any better throwing passes half-speed against Avonte Maddox and Alex Singleton. Sirianni’s practices are already shorter than a typical Donald Trump rally, and they’re far less effective. The Eagles are averaging two points per preseason quarter.
Soft training camps produce soft players. Soft players make for soft teams. Soft teams lose.
Right now, the Birds are looking Stay Puft soft.
Don’t fear the trainer
The Eagles drafted Hurts in the second round last year but planned to use him only as a gadget-play weapon. Before he replaced collapsed starter Carson Wentz for the last four games, he’d thrown just 15 passes.
This means Hurts hasn’t played with right guard Brandon Brooks, who missed all of 2020, or with right tackle Lane Johnson, who missed the last six games. He hasn’t played with a healthy Zach Ertz or Dallas Goedert, whose ankle injuries early last season limited them late in the year. And, of course, he hasn’t played since his Alabama days with first-round rookie receiver DeVonta Smith, who missed the preseason opener, in which Hurts played two unremarkable two series.
If the Eagles are worried about injuries, then they should start a debate team. Injuries are part of the calculus every general manager computes when he builds a team. If Roseman thinks his team lacks the depth to risk injury in preseason games, then Roseman has made yet another blunder.
Besides, there’s plenty of time. If someone tweaks a hamstring or twists an ankle, since there are only three preseason games now, he’ll have 15 days to recover.
You simply cannot run your football team like it’s an AARP colony with fragile hips. Either you’re playing football or you’re not. If you can’t get players ready for the rigors of 30 minutes of a preseason game, playing mostly against a bunch of veterans on the other side who also don’t want to get hurt, then what chance do they have in 17 regular-season games?
If you’re going to shorten practice time, and if you’re going to truncate the preseason, you’re going to put a poor product on the field with no chance to function efficiently. This is doubly true, perhaps exponentially true, of a team with no experience at quarterback, a rookie head coach, a rookie defensive coordinator, a second-year offensive coordinator, and virtually no top-tier experience in the coaches’ offices.
Back in my day ...
This call to action does not universally apply.
I don’t give a rodent’s rear end if Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Ryan Kerrigan don’t break a sweat until Sept. 12 in Atlanta. Combined, they’ve prepared for 30 openers and collected 209 sacks. They know how to get ready.
But their jobs on the defensive line don’t demand the violent choreography of their offensive cohorts, and that included the veterans. Brooks, Johnson and center Jason Kelce need to reacquaint themselves at full speed. Even The Temptations had to practice.
At the risk of sounding excessively get-off-my-lawnish, remember that Reid, who is 63, always has run notoriously demanding training camps. Reid also has been to three Super Bowls, including the past two, one of which he won, and he’s expected to return this season.
In the Chiefs’ second preseason game last Friday, Reid played Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s best player, 33 snaps.
Hurts should play at least as many this Friday, because Reid’s reasoning is universal.
“I think it’s good for Pat, but I also think it’s good for the offensive line and Pat to see how that’s going to work and get a feel for them, and for them to get a feel for him, likewise,” Reid said.
This is why Reid one day will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Further, in Mahomes, and with supreme expectations, Reid has a lot more to lose than Sirianni and Roseman. Reid’s not worried about the falloff from Mahomes to backup QB Chad Henne, the Pride of Berks County, but of very little else. Reid is worried about winning football games in 2021.
Reid realizes that in order to win, even with a team that has been the NFL’s best over the past two seasons, and a team that he has continuously coached for eight years, he must let the players who are expected to play together in the regular season actually play together now.
Don’t make it chess.