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The Eagles fight complacency as they look to repeat

The rest of the league will be gunning for them this season, but at the end of the day, the Eagles' greatest opponent this year could be complacency.

Eagles' head coach Doug Pederson talks with reporters after the first session of Philadelphia Eagles training camp at the Novacare Complex on July 26, 2018 in Philadelphia, PA. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Eagles' head coach Doug Pederson talks with reporters after the first session of Philadelphia Eagles training camp at the Novacare Complex on July 26, 2018 in Philadelphia, PA. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff PhotographerRead moreDAVID MAIALETTI

There are many reminders of the Eagles' first Super Bowl victory inside the NovaCare Complex.

On a player's walk to the practice fields alone he can glance up in the locker room at a giant "Super Bowl LII champions" emblem, walk through a corridor and see coach Doug Pederson's catchphrase, "The New Norm," emblazoned across a wall, and just before stepping out into the air, pass a collage of newspaper clippings and magazine covers celebrating the franchise's greatest achievement.

But the memories, save for a banner recently added alongside the franchise's other accomplishments, end there.

The Eagles opened training camp at their South Philadelphia practice facility on Thursday, and while it's not quite a season opener "for real," their first practice after a six-week break does place the 2018 version of the team one milestone closer to Sept. 6 and defending its title.

"Obviously, the ultimate goal is to try to win again," Pederson said after a relatively tame 90 minutes of work. "We know how hard that is in this league. A lot of good football teams in this league. We've got our work cut out for us."

For the first time in the Super Bowl era, the Eagles are the hunted. When the players reported to camp Wednesday, each had a shirt in his locker stall with the expression, "Embrace The Target," and a reticle over the team logo.

The NFL's 31 other teams will be gunning for the champs and the Eagles need to look no further than their divisional rivals in the NFC East – the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins – for those looking to knock them off their perch. The rest of the conference is deep from the Minnesota Vikings to the Los Angeles Rams to the New Orleans Saints. And in the AFC, the New England Patriots are still the Patriots as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are together and looking to add one more ring to their collection of five.

But the Eagles' greatest opponent may be complacency. Only eight teams have ever won back-to-back Super Bowls, the last being those Brady-Belichick Patriots 14 years ago. If the Eagles are to repeat, they must fight off self-satisfaction, and more than anywhere, they must defeat it on the practice field.

"I can't let things slide out here," Pederson said.

During Thursday's workout, for instance, there were multiple pre-snap penalties, something Pederson noted during his post-practice news conference. It will be incumbent upon the third-year coach, first and foremost, to keep his charges from resting on their laurels.

But it's difficult to see the Eagles being satisfied with quarterback Carson Wentz hell-bent on returning from the December season-ending knee injury that robbed him of playing in the Super Bowl,  not to mention other injured leaders returning like tackle Jason Peters, linebacker Jordan Hicks, and running back Darren Sproles equally committed to getting that opportunity.

"There's just a culmination of guys that are hungry to do it again," Wentz said. "Complacency is something guys sometimes fear, but I haven't felt that, haven't sensed that."

Wentz took another positive step in his rehabilitation, participating in more of practice than he had been during spring workouts. But he still has other obstacles to clear if he can reach his goal of being ready for the Sept. 6 opener against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field.

Until he has been cleared for a full return, backup and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will continue to take snaps with the first team offense. On most teams, the Wentz-Foles dynamic would be awkward. Here's Foles, the quarterback who led the Eagles to the NFL's peak, practicing with the starters, but as soon as Wentz is healthy, it's back to sideline for Foles.

"No one knows my label," Foles said. "It's sort of been that way for a long time, and I've said it before, 'I don't really care.' I know that I love my teammates, I love this city, and I love playing for these coaches. And whatever they need of me I'm going to give them everything I got.

"That's how I play the game. You don't need to come out and say, 'Hey, you're the starter, you're the backup, whatever.' You're going to get me. That's it. It's not going to affect me. If that affects me, I probably got some issues to deal with."

Foles and Wentz are close. But what if Wentz isn't ready by the opener and Foles picks up where he left off in February. Or what if Wentz does play on Day 1, but struggles as he regains his strength and confidence? There might not be a quarterback controversy inside the NovaCare Complex, but outside the building there will be a growing chorus for change.

It is possibly the greatest distraction the Eagles could face, and considering how well Wentz played last season, one that doesn't seem likely. But it's up to Pederson to keep the ship from steering into choppy waters should there be strife.

For the first time in his three years as coach, Pederson canceled the three early camp practices designed for rookies and selected veterans. He said that he wanted to give his players, coming off the Super Bowl, some rest. But of the returning roster players, only the quarterbacks would have been required to attend.

But Pederson said that the rest of camp will be as strenuous as his first two. There were will plenty of hitting in pads and periods of tackling.

Asked for his pre-camp message to the team, Pederson said that he told them to "embrace winning, embrace the success … and learn from it." But Pederson also preached against the evils of complacency, per Wentz and Foles.

"It's a different football team," Pederson said. "It's a little bit of a different team from the standpoint we've added some new faces through the draft and free agency."

Longtime Eagles like tight end Brent Celek, defensive end Vinny Curry and linebacker Mychal Kendricks are gone. In their place are new faces like rookie tight end Dallas Goedert, veteran defensive end Michael Bennett, and linebacker Corey Nelson.

Bennett is one of the few players on the roster who knows what it's like to win a Super Bowl and try to repeat. The former Seahawks player was a Russell Wilson interception away from doing so in 2014. He said complacency shouldn't be an issue.

"The players block it out easy," Bennett said. "It's like the fans and the media and everybody's trying to make money off that. They bring that up a lot. So it's like you're fighting against seeing it everywhere you go [because] people want to talk about it."

It's up to the Eagles to block it out.

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