Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles' newcomers not surprised 'special' team atop NFC

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Eagles' newcomers not surprised 'special' team atop NFC

Tim Jernigan didn't have any choice in the matter. 

While he might be the Eagles' most important offseason acquisition, Jernigan was brought to Philadelphia in early April in a trade with Baltimore. 

Things have worked out pretty well, though. In a contract year, Jernigan has been great playing in a system that's almost completely foreign to him and he's probably earning himself a ton of money. But aside from that, he's been a key to the Eagles' quick 5-1 start. 

The Eagles are sitting pretty at the top of the NFC East and the entire NFC. 

That's not a shock to Jernigan or the rest of the Eagles' newcomers. 

"I'm not surprised at all," Jernigan said. "I knew that we had talent coming into the season. And more than that, I knew the work we had put in on the field in the weight room and away from football. Guys really bought in. The biggest thing now is not getting complacent with 5-1. Things can change fast. You never know. We still have 10 games guaranteed left. We have to focus on that."

This is Jernigan's fourth NFL season and he has been on just one team with a winning record. That came in his rookie season in 2014, when the Ravens went 10-6. 

There seems to be a really good chance this season could be even better for the Eagles. 

"I think we have a pretty good team, man," Jernigan said, echoing Carson Wentz. "I think we're going to be special."

While Jernigan had no choice in coming to Philadelphia, plenty of big-name free agents did. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount and even Chris Long all chose to come and play for the Eagles, who were coming off a 7-9 season. 

Obviously, one of the big reasons, especially for the receivers, was the chance to play with Wentz. While Wentz didn't have a stellar rookie season, he showed flashes of what might make him a franchise quarterback. 

The Eagles also had some other key positions with talent. Their offensive line featured two Pro Bowl-caliber offensive tackles, a veteran center and a really solid guard. Their safety duo is one of the best in the league. Their middle linebacker is young and good. Their tight end has been productive. There were question marks, sure, but still talent. 

And then the team added those key free agents. 

"There's a reason I signed here," Jeffery said. "A lot of key additions, picking up Torrey, picking up LeGarrette, me and Timmy and some other guys. The front office staff did a great job putting us together. But just seeing how they were last year, just a few pieces here and there, it could be big." 

While Jernigan missed the really good years in Baltimore, Smith didn't. Jernigan's first year with the Ravens was Smith's last, which meant Smith was there for the 2011 season when the Ravens lost in the AFC championship game and the 2012 season when they won the Super Bowl. 

So Smith knows what a special team looks like. And he sees something special in the Eagles' locker room. That's why 5-1 is coming as no surprise. 

"I knew as soon as I came in here, it just looks right," he said. "That's from the top down. It has the right feel. I said that the first day I came here and I still feel that way and obviously, you're able to see that, the way guys have been working." 

On the short list of five guys in the Eagles' locker room who have won Super Bowls, three of them came this offseason: Smith, Long and Blount. 

On Tuesday, Blount preached the importance of not getting caught up in the hype (see story). He preached the importance of focusing on only the game in front of them. They haven't accomplished anything yet. 

While Blount is trying to make sure the team stays grounded, he's not surprised either. It seems like no one is. 

"I feel like we've been a confident team since we started, all the way back from OTAs, training camp, preseason," he said. "I feel like we've always been a confident group. That's one of the things that you need in order for you to be a winning team. You have to have confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself, as well as the guys that you're going to be playing with, the coaches, and it goes on from there. You have to have confidence."

If Eagles can avoid letdown Monday night, they can deliver a dagger

If Eagles can avoid letdown Monday night, they can deliver a dagger

They're the hottest team in the NFL. And Eagles head coach Doug Pederson wants to make sure they stay that way.

Pederson revealed Thursday he constantly preaches to his team the importance of staying focused and not letting the growing outside noise surrounding the team affect its preparation.

In other words, ignore everything swirling around you and keep doing the things that got you to 5-1 with a league-best four-game winning streak.

"Yeah, I do focus on it and I have to," he said. "And for me, it's about winning this week and nothing further. [There's] a lot of football left. Remember, we were 4-2 this time last year and we've got to be mindful of that.

"Those are the things that motivate us and keep us going. There can't be a letdown. It's my job not to have that letdown with the team, so I continue to address them and keep them focused that way."

The Eagles were 4-2 after six games last year before losing seven of their next eight games to tumble out of the playoff race. They haven't reached the playoffs since 2013 and haven't won a playoff game since 2008.

But this year's team is 3-1 on the road, has lost only to the 5-2 Chiefs at Arrowhead, is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in all the major NFL polls and plays its next three games at home, where it's 8-2 under Pederson.

"I talk a lot to the team about ownership, and this is that time of year we're getting in that stretch of games, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, where teams begin to separate themselves, and we can't have any letdowns, setbacks, and we've just got to be full steam ahead," Pederson said.

"It's about doing the little things now. Meaning rest, hydration, extra study, extra conditioning, things that sometimes you lose sight of in all the wins and success that the team has had. And again it falls back on my shoulders to make sure the guys are doing those things this time of the year."

With a win over the Redskins Monday night at the Linc, the Eagles would have a three-game lead in the NFC East with 10 games to go.
 
That means if they went 5-4 the rest of the season, the Redskins would have to go 9-1 to get ahead of them.
 
It's been 21 years since Pederson won a Super Bowl ring as the Packers' holder for placekicks and third-string quarterback behind Brett Favre and Jim McMahon.
 
But the lessons he learned that fall are ones he shares regularly with his team today.
 
"The biggest thing that I remember from that team is it was always just the next game," he said. "It was always focused on the next game.
 
"You could honestly throw the wins and losses away, it was winning that week, being 1-0 that week, and if you stack enough of those up, obviously you put yourself in a position to be in the postseason."

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

There's something special going on around here, and Carson Wentz isn't afraid to say it.

“We’re made different this year," Wentz said after practice Thursday. "We have a different character makeup in that locker room, and nobody’s going to ever settle for anything less than greatness. So we’re going to go out there every day and attack it.”

The Eagles, 5-1, go for their fifth straight win Monday night against the Redskins, who they beat on opening day at FedEx Field.

Wentz, in only his second season, has elbowed his way into the NFL MVP conversation (see story). His emergence as the unquestioned leader of this team has mirrored the team's emergence as one of the NFL's elite teams.

Wentz spoke Thursday about how he sensed something different, something special, as far back as spring workouts.

“You could just see it, even going back to OTAs," he said. "You could see the competitive nature, even in practice. You couldn’t wear pads. You couldn’t even press cover outside. You could just see the competitive nature.

"And then through training camp, it just kept getting elevated even more. You could just see it from the leadership on down. We’re just wired different this year.”

When Wentz tells his teammates to strive for greatness, they listen, because here's a kid who in just 22 career games has established himself as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. He has 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions this year and has posted a passer rating of 90 or higher in five of six games.

“It’s something that we always strive for," Wentz said. "And really, in everything we do in life, you strive for greatness.

"When we’re sitting where we’re at right now, we can just never let that slip. We can never let that slip from our preparation in the film room, the meeting room, the weight room, in practice, so that’s just something I feel like we have to always keep focusing on.

"Never settle, never settle, and just keep striving for that greatness.”

Wentz said he didn't feel anything lacking last year, when the Eagles went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

It's just that head coach Doug Pederson is in Year 2, coordinators Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz are in Year 2 and Wentz is in Year 2.

The whole program is in Year 2 and there's a confidence, an attitude, a swagger that was nowhere to be found last year or really the last few years.

“I think it was just a natural growth," Wentz said. "You go back and look at last season again. We were so close in so many of those ballgames but [it's] just the natural growth that’s taken place both from coach and just really all of us being in this together and having a year under our belt."