IT LOOKED like a gaggle of third-base coaches relaying signs to a batter.
Three Eagles' staffers, along with wideout Ifeanyi Momah, who had the day off from practice after going hard all weekend in rookie camp, waggled fingers behind their heads, tapped their arms, and carved designs in the air. As the offensive players on the field regrouped from the play they'd just run, every head turned to the sideline. Everyone seemed to be getting his assignment this way; no one huddled, and the players lined up within 10 seconds or less to snap the ball again.
This was Day 1 of reporters being able to watch Chip Kelly's Eagles practice, and the sign language was only one of the many fascinating, dizzying innovations. The organized team activity lasted about an hour and 40 minutes, and was divided into 21 periods, each announced like an airport departure by a recorded, disembodied voice, which interrupted pulsing music.
"Honestly, we did the [predraft] minicamp, and it took a day or two," quarterback Nick Foles said, when asked about adapting to a totally new way of practicing. "At the same time, it's still football, and I like the pace."
DeSean Jackson said the adjustment took him more like a week.
"The relay [for receivers] is from two coaches," Jackson said. "At any given time, regardless of whether you're the X receiver or the Z receiver, if you're on the right or left side, it might be a different play call; you have to know what other receivers are doing . . . It's definitely tough. Myself, I never had to learn everybody's position. I really only had to know one position, which was the Z wide receiver. Now I'm learning the X, the A, the Y, really just knowing the concepts of the offense."
Jackson likes that he has options on routes, depending on what the defense does. There is no alternative to learning the signals, because the pace is too fast to ask questions and the music is too loud for a lot of discussion.
Michael Vick was asked if he gets his signals through the helmet receiver from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, or from the signal corps.
"I hear Pat, but I want to make sure I know the signals as well, just in case the headset ever goes out," Vick said.
Wideout Jeremy Maclin agreed that the first few days of sideline semaphore were "a little different, but I picked it up pretty fast . . . I can see why it's challenging for some people, but it's all about staying in your playbook and understanding, and if you do [have] problems, getting with the signal guys and going over it."
Running back LeSean McCoy said for the non-QBs, the signals provide "everything - from alignments, to personnel, the plays, the formations."
McCoy said coaches go over mistakes during the "teach" periods the recorded voice announces at regular intervals.
"You know what I like about [Kelly]? He wants the game played a certain way," McCoy said. "A [player] can be successful in any way previously, whatever the offense was, but he wants it done his way. You've got to respect that. I like a guy that demands respect."
DeSean Jackson is back in the punt-return business, he confirmed yesterday. The author of the only walkoff punt return in NFL history - Dec. 19, 2010, at the Giants - caught just one punt last season, losing 3 yards. In 2011 he returned 17 punts for a 6.7-yard average, down from an 11.6 yard average the year before, which was a decline from 15.2 in 2009.