When it comes to the NFL, no one cares about the running game in the spring.
It’s not that the coaches aren’t keenly aware that the weather is going to turn at some point and if you’re lucky enough to be playing outdoors in January, the thought of a 225-pound running back rolling downhill is not a comforting one.
Especially when the vast majority of the practice time that led you to that particular point was spent trying to sharpen up the passing game from an offensive perspective and trying to slow it down on the other side of the football.
Even with that understanding, however, you really can’t practice physicality when you’re not allowed to do physical things per the collective bargaining agreement.
The key in many ways to modern coaching is who utilizes their preparation time the best, according to one former head coach.
“I think a lot of old-school guys, and I consider myself one of them, are too busy being nostalgic about how things were,” the ex-mentor told Eagles Today. “That’s not going to help you when the new [coaches] grew up with this [environment].”
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, who will turn 41 next month, is one of those modern coaches who doesn’t know any other way, so it’s about maximizing what he’s given, not only from a league perspective but also from an organizational one.
Phase 3 of Philadelphia’s OTAs, the final portion of offseason work, kicked off on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex.
The Eagles are one of two teams with no mandatory minicamp this season and have actually scheduled fewer on-field sessions that are allowed under the CBA.
It seems like a counterintuitive notion for most coaches but SIrianni bought into the format last year when his hand was forced by continued pandemic hurdles, along with his status as a rookie coach that was an unknown to many.
The coach worked out a compromise with his key veteran players, wiping out mandatory work in exchange for nearly 100% attendance at voluntary OTAs that focused more on teaching and conditioning than on-field work.
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Things worked out so well in Sirianni’s mind last spring that he’s scaling back even further in Year 2, eliminating traditional team drills (11-on-11s) in favor of more 7-on-7 work.
“We are transitioning away a little bit more from 11-on-11s this year. We are not going to see those this year,” the coach confirmed earlier this spring.
The plan makes some sense in that there are no pads or hitting this time of year so why have your offensive and defensive lines essentially cosplaying for effect?
Some hardcores might talk about landmarks or spacing, but Sirianni would rather have his big guys working on fundamentals and technique than getting their SAG cards as highly-paid stand-ins.
“[We] look forward to getting a lot of good work done with our individual [drills], get a lot of individual where we can work on our fundamentals,” Sirianni said. “Then we’ll be doing 7-on-7 because it helps our skill guys and quarterback in making the read and different looks he’s going to get.”
Only when the pads come on can you see the dominance of Jordan Mailata and Landon Dickerson pushing the pile or what impact that imposing Jordan Davis will have on the defensive line.
Similarly, the young running backs like Kenny Gainwell, Jason Huntley, and undrafted rookie Kennedy Brooks need to show how tough they can be at the point of attack before their roles can increase and that only happens when the pads are introduced.
In other words, you practice what you can when you can and the Eagles seem to be winning outside the margins by understanding that.
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-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com’s Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Sports. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talker Jody McDonald, every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube.com and JAKIBSports.com. You can reach John at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen