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PHILADELPHIA – The decision on whether to hold a final Philadelphia Eagles training session in the spring was apparently dependent on wide receiver coach Aaron Moorehead catching a point.
Coach Nick Sirianni likes to incorporate friendly competition where he can, so at the end of Wednesday’s OTA session, he got Moorehead, former Indianapolis Colts wideout and linebacker coach Nick Rallis to score points to decide if a light phase II-style training on Thursday would be canceled.
“I dropped the first one,” Sirianni said. “Nick Rallis dropped the next one, and then Aaron came back and caught the third one that one would expect from a guy who played with Peyton Manning and played in a Super Bowl.”
Thus, the players were sent on summer vacation even earlier than expected. And the decision to cancel the last training session probably had more to do with team philosophy.
The Eagles have scaled the on-field portion of their offseason training program far back. The teams are allowed to hold 10 OTA drills as well as a three-day mandatory minicamp during phase III, the part of the low season where 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills are allowed. Philadelphia joined the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals as the only teams that refused to plan a minicamp while holding a league-low six out of 13 possible Phase III drills. Sirianni chose not to perform 11-on-11 exercises during these six exercises, preferring to focus more time on the basics of individual exercises in order to lay a proper foundation for the training camp.
The Eagles represent a group of teams that choose to ease the players’ workloads out of season. Earlier this week, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson announced that most veterans would be exempt from attending the minicamp. The New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants are among the teams that shortened their minicamps.
“The guys are in good places,” said Pederson, the former Eagles coach who was able to hold an extra minicamp in April as it is his first year at the helm in Jacksonville. “So I felt it was the right time to give them a little extra rest before we get ready to get started in July.”
The primary driving force for the Eagles is health. They finished in 12th place in the Football Outsiders’ adjusted lost goal for games in 2021 (76), a sharp improvement from their ranking in 30th place in 2020 (128.1). The Eagles have been looking for answers to their players’ health issues since 2017 – a search that has included several shakeups for their medical and training staff in recent years. They changed their offseason schedule last year after consulting with veteran players, and did away with minicamp and team drills during OTAs, in part in response to the expansion of regular season matches from 16 to 17. Sirianni said in April that the team believes that change in approach was a factor in remaining relatively healthy in 2021.
There are several arms of the operation that inform the decision to retire, including the medical staff, the strength staff and the sports science department.
“I listen to their input in it,” Sirianni said. “But just like when the attack goes out there and takes the field, or the defense goes out there and takes the field, or the special teams go out there and take the field, my name is on it, and win or loss, my name is on it. So it’s the same here .
“I’re listening to them, but I also have a sense of what the team needs, so far, hey, we need five games more on 7-on-7 here, we need 10 minutes less individually here. “
The Eagles barely played their starters during the preseason last year, as they believed the joint training sessions with the Patriots and New York Jets before the games gave them plenty of good work in a more controlled environment. Expect a similar strategy this summer, with the Eagles holding joint training sessions with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.
While these lighter offseasons can benefit overall health, it is also possible that they affect performance. The Eagles started 2-5 last season before hitting their pace late and snatching the final NFC wildcard spot with a record of 9-8. It’s hard to know how much the lack of reps in the low season meant their slow start. This season may shed further light as Sirianni, now in year 2 as Eagles head coach, leads a list of currently 30 players who are 23 years old or younger.
Whatever price they pay for the lightened workload, the Eagles believe the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
“We’re comfortable with … where we are, with the amount of time we spend this offseason,” Sirianni said.