Early Birds: Eagles' captains; zone vs. man; nagging injuries
1) The Eagles do not have designated captains. They send out a combination of three different players each week. Those three are "squad leaders," as coach Chip Kelly termed them, and players pick squad leaders to rotate as the representatives for the coin toss.
From the offensive line, Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce are the squad leaders. Nick Foles is the quarterback squad lead, Darren Sproles is the running back squad leader, Brent Celek is the tight end squad leader, and Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper represented the wide receivers.
On the defensive line, Cedric Thornton and Brandon Bair are the squad leaders. DeMeco Ryans represented inside linebackers, with Connor Barwin for outside linebackers. Cary Williams and Malcolm Jenkins were the squad leaders from the secondary. So there's usually a combination of those players, with others mixed in.
With other teams, there are specific reasons why the captains are selected. When the Rams played Washington, Rams coach Jeff Fisher sent out six players acquired with draft picks acquired from the Robert Griffin III trade. When Washington played the Eagles, Redskins coach Jay Gruden sent DeSean Jackson against his former team.
Sometimes, there seems to be design to the Eagles' captain is on a given week. Ryans was the captain against his former team. Kelly chose sarcasm when asked if the Eagles pick captains this way.
"We actually have studied who does a better job of staring down, because then we get what their captains are going to be like. We try to match up heights, like who can stare them down better," Kelly said. "I don't even pick them, so I'm not that deep."
2) During the offseason, Kelly emphasized how much man-to-man coverage the Eagles saw in 2013. He estimated it was the most in the league. The Eagles are seeing more zone coverage this season. Based on the numbers that the Eagles' coaching staff uses, it's 18 percent more than last season.
"Last year we saw 60-percent man, 40-percent zone," Kelly said. "Right now we see 58 percent zone, 42 percent man. So you've got to be able to defeat both."
Teams are mostly playing with a single-high safety against the Eagles. Kelly said the Eagles saw that look 79 percent of the time last season and 78 percent of the time this season. He said he expected more zone this season after the way the offense thrived in 2013.
"Last year we set an NFL record for explosive plays," Kelly said. "So I didn't think anybody thought they would play us the same way. So usually if the ball is getting thrown over your head, I think people are going to back up more."
3) The Eagles did not place a single player on injured reserve during the regular season last year. They have placed five on IR since Week 1 this season. Most of the injuries have been the freak injuries that cannot be prevented. Despite the Eagles' sports science program, they were lucky to have such a long run last season without major injuries. Sports science can help prevent a hamstring strain – not a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Kelly said the Eagles are "very healthy" overall this season, and he has individual meetings every day to find out the status of his players. It's the nagging injuries that the Eagles want to avoid. They had 52 of 53 players practicing on Wednesday.
"I think our players are really good at that, and really they deserve the credit because they do such a great job in their own maintenance of themselves," Kelly said. "They understand that we give them the tools to do it, but they still have to do it themselves and it takes a lot of work to recover from a National Football League game and prepare yourself to play the next week. But we've got a bunch of guys that understand the importance of that and really do that very well."