EAGLES ROOKIES and select vets don't report to NovaCare until July 25, but 14 Birds convened last week in San Diego, under the auspices of trainer Todd Durkin. Durkin is the fulltime offseason fitness guide for a number of NFL players, including Eagles running back Darren Sproles, who still looks quite spry at age 33.
All three Eagles quarterbacks - Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz and Chase Daniel - attended the daily workouts, which began on July 4 and went heaviest through the 5th and 6th, with some players leaving the 7th, before the rest of the group finished up the next day. Durkin, speaking via phone minutes after the last Eagle left his Fitness Quest 10 facility, said that despite the scenic locale, it was a hard-work week.
"They were all extremely disciplined in getting their work done," said Durkin, who hosted a similar but smaller Eagles group last July, organized by then-Eagles QB Mark Sanchez. "They were here early and they stayed late."
Durkin said his approach to training is "putting hungry guys in a room that's not the biggest weight room . . . I challenge 'em to be their best. These workouts are not easy; the tempo is high-paced, it's hard. I'm trying to pick apart things that they're weak in, that they're not good at . . . trying to get in their heads as much as their bodies."
In addition to lifting, stretching and recovery work at Durkin's gym, the players ran pass patterns at a nearby high school turf field, directed by the QBs. All told, they worked 4 to 6 hours a day, Durkin said.
"I really like Todd, because he's the type of trainer that doesn't care about pro athletes being comfortable every day," wideout Jordan Matthews said after returning to the Philly area. "So every day is going to be a grind, and you have to bring high energy to every workout. The other thing I love about him is that he's going to bring high energy, too.
"He's great at challenging his guys to go against what they think is conventional offseason training - a workout here and there, vacations in between, only working out in the areas that the guys enjoy. He pushes the limits, so the guys understand really quickly that he doesn't care who you are, all he cares about is attacking the day with unbelievable effort and a positive attitude."
Matthews said there were benefits to the gathering that went beyond conditioning or timing.
"When you're with your brothers working in that environment, you can't help but get close," he said.
Durkin works all offseason with Sproles, Daniel and tight end Zach Ertz. The Eagles were comfortable with Sproles missing optional OTA work this spring to stay in San Diego at Fitness Quest 10.
No trainer could have a better example to cite to prospective clients than Sproles, who earned his first conference special teams player of the week award in 2007, in the AFC, with San Diego, and won his fourth eight years later, last September in the NFC with the Eagles. Sproles' 16,207 all-purpose yards are No. 1 in the NFL since 2007.
"He does what no one else does," Durkin said of Sproles, who came to Durkin through then-Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson, a two-time NFL rushing leader. "He does all the little things extremely well . . . he doesn't take days off . . . He takes really, really good care of his body. We spend as much time on the recovery side of things as we do anything else . . . We do a lot of fast-twitch work, work on speed. His nutrition is impeccable, his mindset is strong. He believes he's got another two years in him, if he wants to keep going. He has not lost a step, and I've seen guys lose steps."
Durkin was eager to meet and work with Wentz, the player the Eagles traded up to draft second overall this spring. Durkin has worked with Drew Brees for many years.
"He's hungry to get better . . . he certainly has the grit of what it takes to be a great quarterback," Durkin said of Wentz. "Obviously, I'm in an environment here where he's not under center, getting rushed, but from the intangibles that I see, the things I look for as a leader from a quarterback and from the physical presence, from the strength and the footwork, I certainly think he has a lot of the characteristics and makings of what could be a very good quarterback . . . I like the energy he carried himself with, and his presence.
"I think Philadelphia has three really good quarterbacks right now. It's going to be an interesting situation, to see how they get through that . . . They're definitely loaded at that position."
The Eagles aren't loaded with widely heralded targets for those QBs, but Durkin has a suggestion there.
"Ertz, by the way, talk about an old-school grinder - he's a Philly kind of guy. He's always asking me, 'What do I need to do to be great?' And whatever you tell him, he does . . . He eats, breathes, lives and sleeps football," Durkin said.
Ertz's catches and yards have increased each of his three NFL seasons, but he hasn't quite had that breakthrough to Pro Bowl-level stardom some observers think is possible.
"Zach's a special breed, a throwback kind of guy . . . As long as the quarterback throws him the ball, I think he's going to do great things," Durkin said.