Doug Pederson

Eagles learn about Kobe Bryant's 'Mamba mentality'

Eagles learn about Kobe Bryant's 'Mamba mentality'

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rodney McLeod broke into a huge grin as he passed along the explanation from Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, an Eagles fan who grew up in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, spoke to the entire Eagles team Friday morning at their hotel in Costa Mesa, California.

How did Kobe explain his "Mamba mentality?" 

"A killer mentality," McLeod said. "He said literally every time he stepped on that court, he wanted to be the best. He wanted to go out there and kill the guy lining up across from them and make him feel like he didn't deserve to be on the court. Like literally, those were his words. 

"He wanted to make them feel like they shouldn't be a basketball player, they should be an accountant. That's what he said. And you see it when you watch him play. When you have that mindset, it's hard to beat a guy like that."

It takes someone truly great to leave a group of 63 professional athletes and their coaches in awe. Bryant is one of them. McLeod also said Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Derek Jeter would make the list. 

McLeod brought in a pen and pad of paper to take notes, but he ended up recording Bryant's talk and Q&A session in his brain. He didn't get an autograph, but he did get a photo with Bryant, which was good enough for him. 

"It's a dream come true, really," McLeod said. "Electric feeling for me. You just feel the energy and his presence as soon as he came in and talked to us." 

In the Eagles' media guide, McLeod lists Bryant as his favorite childhood athlete. Even though McLeod grew up in Maryland, Bryant's play and mentality won him over at a young age. McLeod considers Bryant to be the greatest basketball player of all time. 

A few thousand miles away from McLeod's childhood home, Kenjon Barner and Joe Walker grew up near Los Angeles, where Bryant was one of the best and most famous players in the NBA with the Lakers.

"It was really cool to see him walk in," said Walker, who, like Barner and McLeod, has Bryant listed as his favorite childhood athlete in the Eagles' media guide. "Growing up a little kid in L.A., I mean, he pretty much built this city."

Friday was the first time Walker had ever been around his childhood hero. But it wasn't the first time for Barner, who had actually met Bryant a few times before. 

Because Barner's cousin is former NBA player Andre Miller, he has been around NBA players for a long time. He doesn't really get starstruck, but the first time he met Bryant, it was something special: "It just makes you say, 'damn!'"

Upon overhearing Barner talk about all the times he had met Bryant before, fellow running back Wendell Smallwood gave him some grief in the overflow locker room at Angel Stadium. 

"He's so cool, Kobe isn't cool to him," Smallwood said. 

Barner stepped in. 

"It's still cool, man," he said. "It doesn't change."

Head coach Doug Pederson said there wasn't really an interesting story about how the Eagles got Bryant to their team hotel. The Eagles simply checked in with him to see if he was available. Bryant was, so he showed up. 

Pederson said a lot of Bryant's message was about focusing and paying attention to details.

That was the part of Bryant's talk that really seemed to stand out to Nelson Agholor, who is recognized as one of the hardest-working members on the team. 

"He's also a guy that has that dog in him when it's time to step on somebody's throat, he'll do that," Agholor said. "I think that was something I'll never forget." 

Doug Pederson at his best when facing challenges — on and off field

Doug Pederson at his best when facing challenges — on and off field

When I think about how the Eagles will respond to Sunday's loss and the abrupt loss of their status as consensus GREATEST TEAM ON EARTH, I think back to last year and everything the Eagles dealt with.
Legal issues for Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Nigel Bradham. Sam Bradford going AWOL for two weeks of minicamp. The Bradford trade and Carson Wentz's sudden ascent from third-stringer to the starting lineup eight days before the opener. Lane Johnson's suspension. A mid-season five-game losing streak. Brandon Brooks missing a couple games with what he later revealed was extreme stress.
It was a lot for an NFL rookie head coach to deal with, and the one thing you kept noticing was that Doug Pederson always found ways to keep the thing on the rails and navigate his team through every challenge it faced.
Whatever chaos was swirling around the Eagles last year, you never saw things snowball. You never saw things get out of control. Pederson continually demonstrated a knack for dealing with whatever issues arose around the football team, and by the end of the season, they were playing pretty good football.
That's a unique skill and just as important for a head football coach as calling plays, making substitutions or challenging bad calls.
All those little mini-dramas can take a toll on a football team, but it seemed like with each one, the bond in the Eagles' locker room grew stronger, as did the respect the players have for Pederson.
All of which is why I'm not all too worried right now.
What this team went through last year has a lot to do with the success it's experiencing this year, and I don't think that's going to change.
The Eagles lost a football game Sunday for the first time since Week 2, and we've got to keep this in perspective.
They lost. Sometimes teams lose.
The Seahawks have the best home record in the NFL over the last six years. They've lost eight home games with Russell Wilson at quarterback since 2012. Yes, two of them were in November, but it's not the end of the world losing to an elite football team and Hall of Fame QB in a really tough stadium after nine straight wins.
Big picture?
Nobody in the NFL has a better record than the Eagles. And for a franchise that's been around for 84 years, they've had a better record after 12 games only three times.
No, they no longer control their own playoff destiny. They could conceivably win out and still have to travel to Minneapolis for the NFC Championship Game. (And if that happens, Case Keenum is not beating this team … but that's another story.)
But when you step back and take stock, this football team is sitting here 10-2 with four games left. Last time they lost? They won their next nine.
There are worse places to be than first place in the NFC East sharing the best record in football with one loss since Phillies season ended.
And if the Eagles haven't demonstrated over the past two seasons their ability to respond positively when faced with a little adversity, I don't know what else they have to do.
Teams lose games. Teams bounce back. This one is really good at it.
I don't think any of us had any idea what the Eagles were getting when they hired Pederson, but he's definitely got his finger on the pulse of the team in a very powerful way.
He gives the players leeway but trusts them to do the right thing, and they respect him for it. If they tell him practice is too hard, he adjusts. He leans on his assistants. He involves everybody in the organization. He listens.
This is as strong a locker room as I've seen, and Pederson is a big reason for it. It's a bunch of guys with a chip on their shoulder. Late-round picks. Undrafted dudes. Guys released by other teams.
They're hungry and they are unselfish and they are determined and want to win. They love to work hard, they love playing for Doug, and one loss isn't going to change any of them.
If anything, it will motivate them even more.
That loss Sunday night in Seattle doesn't change the fact that the Eagles are still one of the NFL's best teams.  
It does put into focus a few things they need to work on.
They have to protect the ball at the goal-line. They have to find their offensive rhythm earlier. They have to avoid the defensive breakdowns that led to the Seahawks' big plays. They have to adjust when they realize an opposing quarterback recognizes a zero-blitz is coming. Big V needs to play better. Doug has to stay aggressive.
The Rams are very good, and playing back-to-back games on the West Coast isn't easy. Nobody is going to hand home-field advantage to the Eagles.
There are a lot of challenges facing this team right now, but facing challenges is something they've proven to be very good at.

Week 13 a well-timed wake-up call for Eagles

Week 13 a well-timed wake-up call for Eagles

When you win nine games in a row in the NFL, there’s bound to be a sense of invincibility. Not from the coaches mind you, but from the players and especially the fan base, there becomes an expectation each week.

The Eagles' last loss was Sept. 17. That’s a long time ago. The pre-Gabe Kapler era Phillies lost at home that day to Oakland. The Flyers were still 18 days away from their season opener. The Sixers would begin their training camp nine days later.  And many high-profile Hollywood and media types, now disgraced, were still employed.

It’s remarkable really that in such a week-to-week league that any team, let alone one that lost nine of its last 13 a season ago, could put together such an impressive streak. So naturally, when said team loses in a game in which it was favored, there’s going to be an overreaction. The Eagles were not going 15-1.

Seattle is arguably the toughest place in the NFL to play. The Seahawks entered the game 7-4, on the outside looking in for a wild-card berth. They had already lost two home games. Despite major injuries to their secondary, this was going to be a tough game. This was a desperate, perennial playoff team at home that had to have this game. Factor in the Eagles now admitting they did not practice in the ensuing weeks the way they should have to be prepared for such a game and this is far from a panic-time loss.

Yes, the way the game played out was painful. But I view this as a wake-up call at the perfect time. Let it be Week 13 rather than a first-round playoff game. You can commit a ton of penalties against the Bears and win. Do it against a team like the Seahawks and it’s tough to overcome. You may get lucky and recover your own fumble in the end zone against the same hapless team but most times, especially in the red zone, it’s a killer. If Carson Wentz scores on that run to start the second half, it is a completely different game.

As much as fans hate to hear this, there are times you tip your hat and give props to the other guy. Russell Wilson was brilliant. He outplayed Wentz, plain and simple. The Eagles' secondary had its problems and things that must be cleaned up for the Rams, but when the opposing quarterback buys an extra four seconds on multiple plays, no defensive backs will be able to hold up.

Wentz did not play well in the first half. He showed you in the second half the combination of heart and skill that makes him an MVP candidate.

Doug Pederson has pushed every right button since the loss to the Chiefs. He’s been aggressive all season. That’s his team’s identity. His approach was tentative, perhaps because he knew his team wasn’t ready. Perhaps not. Jim Schwartz has been masterful all year dialing up the right defensive calls. He guessed wrong on several occasions. Whoever you want to blame, it didn’t work. It happens. Plays are missed and in-game mistakes are made. Learn from it and don’t let it happen again.

The Eagles ripped off nine straight wins after their last loss. But the 9-3 Rams this week will be a much sterner test than the dumpster-fire Giants in Week 3. My confidence in this team was not swayed by the loss to the Seahawks. Despite all the self-sabotage, the officiating, etc., the Eagles were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, playing their C-game.

With the scorching hot Vikings having an identical 10-2 record and several other teams on the Birds’ tail in the NFC, this is a huge game this week. But it goes beyond standings. We’ll find a lot out about this team’s makeup this week in SoCal. 

Based on what we’ve seen for a large majority of the season, the Seattle game will be the anomaly. Everything’s going to be alright.