The most noticeable figure on the NovaCare practice fields these past few weeks of Eagles organized team activities has not been a flashy rookie like Jeremy Maclin, or a heralded veteran acquisition like Jason Peters, or even a sharp-performing returning player, like Donovan McNabb.
No, the one man you notice every day is Ted Daisher. Hard not to. He's the clenched-jaw guy with the white hair, running up and down the field during special-teams drills, barking instructions.
"Stay with him! Stay with him! Go ahead and make a play, Marcus!"
That was yesterday's advice to wideout Marcus Thigpen.
Daisher, 54, is the new special-teams coordinator, brought in to fine tune a unit that last year had its ups (going from 28th in 2007, in the authoritative special-teams evaluation compiled by Rick Gosselin, of the Dallas Morning News, to a tie for 12th in 2008) and its downs (getting four kicks blocked, including a pair of field goals that were run back for touchdowns on the final play of the first half).
Daisher, once a John Harbaugh assistant with the Eagles who left to run special teams for the Raiders and then the Browns, has a way of making his opinions known. Some days, when Daisher is in fine voice, you wonder if there might be a truck driver chugging past the fields, back there on Pattison Avenue, who just sat straight up in his seat, adjusted his mirrors and resolved to indeed pull his head out of his bleep, as that voice from the sky just demanded.
"He knows what it takes to have a great special-teams unit, so that's what he demands out of us," said special-teams veteran Tank Daniels. "Everything's full of energy, not lackadaisical. As soon as I met him, he had a demeanor about himself; he demands your attention, he demands your respect, he demands greatness from you."
Long snapper Jon Dorenbos put it this way: "A sense of urgency is good. It keeps us on our toes."
Daisher obviously wants to set a tone in these early weeks; he might not be quite as much the drill sergeant come November.
"We want to set a mentality of how we play and how we practice, that we practice hard, with tempo. We demand that of our guys, and they're doing a great job of doing just that," Daisher said yesterday. "Everybody's working hard, getting better. I'm really pleased."
Of course, another factor during minicamps that affects volume is that a lot of the guys Daisher is working with are rookies. Even the guys from smaller colleges were stars there - they didn't play special teams. He is the only coach on the field trying to teach players things they might never have done before, or perhaps haven't done since they were high school freshmen. Doesn't this get frustrating?
"I'm never frustrated with anybody who's giving effort," Daisher said. "Anybody that's trying hard . . . you're never frustrated with a guy like that. It's all a process. They have to learn the techniques and fundamentals that we're teaching. Our older guys are doing a great job of setting a good example. For the most part, I think the young guys are doing a good job."
Daisher said he tries to make sure players don't misinterpret his manner.
"The first meeting I have, every time I'm new in a place, I explain: This is how we're going to do things. This is how we go about business. I have a tendency to talk loud just because I want to be heard and I prefer not to repeat myself. They understand that. They know that everything I'm doing is trying to make them a better player. The guys have been terrific. I'm very, very pleased with the effort, the attitude, the progress we're making on fundamentals and technique."
Sometimes you don't entirely get that impression, when Daisher is sprinting downfield with his coverage guys, urgently offering advice. Daisher said that when he runs alongside his players, he isn't berating or admonishing.
"What I'm doing when I'm running down the field next to a guy, I'm reminding him what his eyes should be doing - 'You should be seeing the guard, you should be seeing the tackle, you should be seeing this. This is what's taking place, you have to know how to react.' I can reaffirm the things I'm talking about in the meetings," Daisher said. "As I run down next to them, I see what they see . . . It's just another way to teach . . . when I say, 'Hey, look at the tackle,' he sees what I see. I want them all to see what I see."
When the Eagles reconvene at Lehigh on July 26 (the OTAs end today), Daisher will have some interesting decisions to make in his return game. He has said incumbents DeSean Jackson (punts) and Quintin Demps (kickoffs) will have first crack at the jobs. But if Jackson and Demps end up starting at wideout and free safety, as now seems likely, they probably will not end up doing a lot of returning, especially since the Eagles seem to be deeper in potential candidates there than at any time in recent memory.
"They're still first on our list," Daisher said. "All of that will be relative to their role on our team. Jeremy Maclin's done a nice job on punt and kick return. Ellis Hobbs has done a terrific job as a kick returner. We're pleased with all those guys."
Kicker David Akers, an Eagle since 1999, said the return talent is what you can really get excited about now - the rest of it, you need to see guys in pads, maybe even in preseason games, to have any idea how they'll stack up.
"We have some possibilities on returns that are just phenomenal, more so than we've had in the past," Akers said. "It's exciting to sit back and watch and see how it'll all evolve." *