The game through the eyes of Blake Countess is a simple one, particularly as an NFL rookie trying to win a roster spot, and hoping to make a contribution more meaningful than just that.
"Keep showing the coaches they can trust me out there," Countess said. "That's the biggest thing coming in, the coaches being able to trust you. So you keep grinding, and you get better every day."
Countess, a sixth-round pick in the April draft, is a versatile defensive back who played both safety and cornerback in college, often on the inside in nickel coverage. Those positions are also often overlapping in the philosophy of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and combo players like Countess and Eric Rowe, a second-round pick in 2015, will get their opportunities to earn playing time.
"I went home and got into the playbook," Countess said. "I know all the positions."
The coaches got their own look at the game through the eyes of Countess on Wednesday. His helmet was outfitted with a small camera that was affixed on the right side, where the wing begins to feather. The coaching and video departments are beginning to experiment with filming noncontact practices from the perspective of the players in order to see exactly what they are looking at, and whether they are looking at things in the right order, and how quickly.
Countess was the first lab rat to run through the maze. They told him on Tuesday it was going to happen, and then on Wednesday his helmet had grown a camera.
"I'm not sure why me. I wish I knew," Countess said. "It started beeping halfway through practice, and I didn't know what that was. It's all about your eye progressions and being more disciplined with your eyes. If your eyes are bad, you'll probably get beat, especially a DB."
The experiment is supposed to be expanded to include other players and is used by other teams, more than anything, to see whether quarterbacks are making the proper read progressions. Doug Pederson said the cameras are tools that might prove useful, although he admitted the video has a tendency to jump around and can be "nauseating."
Whatever, Countess buckled on the helmet and did what he was told. Rookies are well advised in that regard, and Countess, whose college career began at Michigan and ended at Auburn, is smart enough to look out for himself.
Through his eyes, staying at Michigan for a final season wasn't in his best interest. He started half the games as a freshman in 2011, endured a redshirt season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, then felt pigeonholed as just a nickel player upon his return in the next two seasons.
"Me and the coaches at Michigan were not seeing eye-to-eye, and I thought it was best for me to move elsewhere," Countess said. "It ended up working out for everyone. Michigan had a good season last year, and I played at a high level in the SEC and got to play different positions. I got a lot of good film on the inside and a lot of good film at safety. It helped me a lot."
Countess earned a bachelor's degree in sports management before leaving Michigan and began postgraduate studies in adult education at Auburn. He left behind close friends and teammates in Ann Arbor, including his regular Thursday night bowling group, but thought his best chance to get noticed for the next level was elsewhere. So far, he was right.
The Eagles could use depth at safety, where Countess is listed. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are the starters, with Jaylen Watkins, Ed Reynolds, and Chris Maragos also in the mix behind them. The cornerbacks, once you get past Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, and Rowe, are a little thin, too. There is opportunity there, and Countess can see it through his face mask. Maybe it even shows up on the videos.
"I see myself helping the team in every aspect I can, both defense and special teams," Countess said. "I definitely think I'll be a factor in both."
It's all about getting the coaches to trust that what you see is what they want you to see, and that takes more than a camera on the side of the helmet. It takes time.
That time really begins on Thursday, when the full squad gets on the field, and the new guys are measured against more than just other new guys. It gets louder, literally and physically, on Saturday when the Eagles have their first padded practice and the hitting begins to sort things out.
Blake Countess says he's ready for that. Turn on the video, open the playbook, let him go. He's gotten good film before, and, through his eyes, through the bars of his mask, he can only see that happening again.