The irony in Eagles' intense practices

The irony in Eagles' intense practices

Updated: 7:09 p.m.

For a couple hours, it was August again. It was training camp again. And the Eagles were getting back to basics.

The pads went on, the starters faced the starters, there was plenty of trash talking, and the Eagles on Wednesday began the process of trying to rediscover some lost magic with what the players said was a very physical, intense practice.

Rare or even unprecedented for this time of year.

"That was a very intense practice," Jason Kelce said. "We haven’t had one like that since training camp. On the verge of too intense.

"No fights, but whenever you go really, really hard, guys fall down, and you never want guys on the ground because you can get guys hurt, but I think we got a lot of really, really good work in."

The Eagles go into the playoffs having not played a complete game on both sides of the football in a month.

Since their nine-game winning streak, they lost by 14 to the Seahawks, won three games despite a bad day by either the offense or defense in all three, then lost, 6-0, to the Cowboys Sunday, when many of the starters either didn't play or were limited.

They still finished with 13 wins, the best record in football. But in an effort to get their mojo back, the Eagles got back to basics Wednesday and the players said they expect to again Thursday before taking three days off.

“It was intense, for sure," Zach Ertz said. "Most intense practice we’ve had probably in a long time. Full pads, 1’s against the 1’s. Since the season started, we’d only have a couple plays here and there during Wednesday and Thursday practices, 1’s against the 1’s whereas today the whole practice was.

"We did a lot of situation work, trying to get those situations with Nick (Foles), give him the opportunity to go through them with us. I thought it was a great practice. It was really intense. A lot of trash talking, as you would expect when the guys are heated like that."

Doug Pederson said Tuesday his so-called player's council — a group of veterans he meets with regularly — requested tougher practices this week.

There's an irony the Eagles worked all year to earn a bye week, and they're using it for some of their toughest practices of the year.

But they all believe this is what they need.

“We’ve had a little bit of time to rest," Lane Johnson said. "Even last week, we had a few walkthroughs compared to what we normally do in a regular week, and I think it was time to get a good practice in the bank, and that’s what we need, man.

"Get the physicality back so when the game comes, it’s not foreign to us.

"This is the second wave. This is what the whole season boils down to, so we want to be ready. We weren’t happy with our performances and, believe you me, we’re working hard to fix it. Just try to simulate a game and make it as hard as we can on ourselves."

It says a lot about this team that they preferred to work during the bye rather than go through a couple light workouts or even have days off.

But this is a team that hasn't been in the playoffs since 2013 and hasn't won a playoff game since 2008.

It embraces the work.

"We’re eager," Ertz said. "We haven’t tasted postseason success yet, and we’re just eager for that first postseason win since I’ve been here. We haven’t had postseason success really since Brent (Celek) started playing.

"The guys are hungry."

The Eagles open postseason play at the Linc at 4:30 p.m. a week from Saturday against either the Panthers, Falcons or Saints. If they win, they'll host the NFC Championship game Jan. 21.

And if they're still playing, they'll likely look back to this week as a turning point.

"I think it’ll help all of us," Johnson said. "It felt like training camp out there. It was good. That’s what we need. Not getting the performances that we wanted, so that’s what we needed to do."

The Eagles on Wednesday evening signed four players to reserve/futures contracts: P Cameron Johnston, TE Adam Zaruba, CB Elie Bouka and WR Marquess Wilson. These players don't count against the 53-man roster and aren't eligible to play in the playoffs, but they can be with the team in OTAs and next training camp. They will count against the next 90-man roster. 

Zaruba and Johnston were with the team last offseason. Zaruba is the former Canadian rugby star, who tried to make the Eagles as a tight end. At 6-5, 260, he's a pretty good athlete, but is still learning the game. He's a name to watch.

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Dave Zangaro contributed to this story.

Michael Bennett knows why Eagles can repeat as Super Bowl champions

Michael Bennett knows why Eagles can repeat as Super Bowl champions

Michael Bennett was with the Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl in 2013, and he was with the Seahawks the next three years when they were supposed to but never did again.

He knows how hard it is to win it twice. If the Seahawks, with Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Marshawn Lynch and company, couldn’t do it, who can?

Bennett thinks his new team is on the right track.

“They’re not complacent,” he said. “You look at most organizations. They win, they think that’s it, that year. But this team is pushing and moving pieces and finding our weaknesses and making them better, and I think that’s how you prepare to win [again]. 

“I think they’ve done a great job of it and me being an addition is something that I think is a great move.”

The Eagles, who won Super Bowl LII six weeks ago, acquired the 32-year-old Bennett, a Pro Bowl defensive end in each of the last three years, and a seventh-round pick from the Seahawks last week in exchange for receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick.

Bennett was there in 2014, when the Seahawks went 12-4 and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket before losing, 28-24, to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona.

The Seahawks were one yard from winning. But that final sequence shows just how hard it is to repeat. The last NFL team to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. The last NFC team was the Cowboys in 1992 and 1993.

“When you come to the NFL, you want to hold that Lombardi,” Bennett said. “A lot of people can get Pro Bowls, a lot of people can get a lot of different things in the NFL when it comes to contracts, but not a lot of people can hold that Lombardi, and when you hold it, it’s something that’s very dear. 

“It’s like you’re holding your child and being able to caress it and hold it and it’s yours and it’s something that you really value, and I think for me, that’s what it’s really about. 

“To come into an organization and you look around and everybody wants that. First thing I talked to Howie (Roseman) about was, the first thing he said is, 'I want to go back,' and when you hear somebody say something like that, you feel it, and I felt it through the phone and I felt the vibe, so for me, that’s what it’s really about.”

Bennett was asked what he learned from Seattle’s failure to repeat its 2013 success and how that might help the Eagles find their way to a second consecutive championship.

“I kind of go with the Nelson Mandela approach: ‘You never really lose, you either win or you grow from situations,’" Bennett said.

“And I think we were just growing as a team. We were a young team, we were having so much success, I was on a team full of superstars every single day. There were never enough cameras, every commercial was somebody on my team. So it was just us growing and I think we all just wanted to continue to grow. 

“As you know, in this league, it’s hard to get back to those moments and be able to win those games. Things happen, people get traded, new players come in, things change. I don’t think it took a toll on us, we just move on season to season and try to be the best players we could possibly be.”

Michael Bennett thinks Eagles' DL can be among 'greatest' ever

Michael Bennett thinks Eagles' DL can be among 'greatest' ever

As Michael Bennett watched the Eagles face the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, he couldn’t help but think about how he would fit with the Birds’ defensive line.

And how he could make an already impressive unit even better.

“Then a month later, it happens,” Bennett said at his introductory press conference in Philly on Monday afternoon. “Things always happen for a reason. This is just another great opportunity.”

Bennett is 32 now, but is coming off his third consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl. He clearly thinks he has plenty left in the tank and the Eagles obviously agree. They traded with the Seahawks to get him and then released a more expensive Vinny Curry.

The Birds then brought in Haloti Ngata and let Beau Allen walk in free agency. So the Eagles’ defensive line now includes Bennett, Ngata, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Derek Barnett. The group includes five former first-round picks and has a combined 11 Pro Bowls between them.

On Monday afternoon, Bennett put the quarterbacks of the NFC East on notice (see story) and then didn’t mince words about how great this defensive line can be in 2018.

“I think it can be one of the greatest,” he said. “I think we can have one of the greatest defensive lines to ever play the game if we approach the game every single way. Just go out there and just keep doing what they’re doing and just finding a way to add and just keep showing how many great players.

“I think a great defensive line is about the rotation. It’s kind of like Golden State. You want to be able to have those guys who can come in and shoot and shoot and score every time.”

This isn’t the first time an Eagles defensive lineman has compared the unit to the Golden State Warriors. In fact, it was Curry who said it last October after the Eagles tortured San Francisco's C.J. Beathard for an afternoon at the Linc (see story). Curry’s out and Bennett is in, but the rotation is still going strong.

Bennett played 934 defensive snaps for the Seahawks in 2017. That was the third most of any defensive lineman in the NFL. For comparison’s sake, Graham led the Eagles’ defensive linemen in snaps with 666 in the regular season; that ranked 43rd in the NFL among defensive linemen.

So maybe that means that the disruptive numbers Bennett put up in Seattle were because he played so much. Or, on the flip side, staying fresh might actually help increase his productivity and lead to more longevity. The Eagles are hoping for the latter.

“I’m comfortable with taking less plays, man,” Bennett said. “But, like I said, I came here to be an All-Star, just like I’ve been, to continuously play at a Pro Bowl level and I don’t think that’s no different. Just taking snaps off, being able to have a [longer] career, it’s something that every player wishes and dreams about. And this organization, when you think about play snaps and counts and keeping guys fresh for the moments that count.

“Because at the end of the day, it’s not about September or October or November; it’s about January and February. To be able to keep guys fresh and to have those opportunities where you have guys to be able to keep rushing the quarterback as savage as we can. You gotta go out there and play savage every single play and I think less snaps can give me the opportunity to do that.”