Rob Ellis

Preseason opener 1st chance to see how Eagles adjust to coaching changes

Preseason opener 1st chance to see how Eagles adjust to coaching changes

A first preseason game provides many opportunities.

For the fans (open practice aside), it’s the chance to see their team back on the field in a game setting for the first time in six months. Naturally when you're coming off a Super Bowl title, that anticipation is heightened.

For the players, it all depends. The starters who play will make a brief cameo and get a chance to reacclimate themselves with game speed and work on execution. For the long shots to make the roster, it’s their first shot to make an impression and a name for themselves.

The grouping we tend to forget about in this setting is the coaches.

The Eagles' coaching staff had a pretty significant shake-up this past offseason. These things tend to happen when you get a ring. Out are offensive coordinator Frank Reich (Colts head coach) and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo (Vikings offensive coordinator). Mike Groh is now offensive coordinator, elevated from wide receivers coach, and Press Taylor moves up the food chain from offensive quality control coach to quarterbacks coach. Duce Staley is also taking on a bigger role as the assistant head coach, while still coaching the running backs.  

While Pederson called the plays, Reich and DeFilippo played major roles in the construction of the high-octane Eagles' offense. Reich was an excellent game planner and sounding board for the head coach. DeFilippo was the quarterback whisperer and noted red-zone schemer.    

Fortunately, all three that were promoted are from within, so there is a level of continuity. But change nonetheless. So this first dress rehearsal against another team has an added importance. 

“Obviously you got used to those two guys the last couple of years, and you know for them to take big roles, with Press with the quarterbacks and how he’s worked with them and his involvement now on game day," Pederson said Tuesday. "Mike on the sidelines still being more of a voice in my ear like Frank was, sometimes being the voice of reason. It will be a great working environment. These are all reasons for these games, obviously, now with a couple new coaches in position to work these things out."

The role changes also impact the players.

“You’re really just getting to know each other every day," Nick Foles said. "You’ve heard me talk a lot about football is special because of the relationships, teammates and coaches alike. That’s where you see the bond. It’s not just players, you have to enjoy being around your coach and trust them and I think you got that from the mic’d up stuff from last year when we’re talking to coaches.

"I use the 'Philly Special' play as a great example. Doug and I have a lot of trust in each other, we’ve known each other for a long time, where that conversation if you don’t know each other probably didn’t go that well. But because we know each other, we’re like, 'Let’s do it.' And I use that conversation as an example because that is so important to be a winning team. It’s not just players, it’s everyone in this building getting along."

So maybe Thursday’s first tune-up versus the Steelers holds a little more significance than we thought?

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It's time to change the narrative about Philly sports fans

It's time to change the narrative about Philly sports fans

Old narratives often die hard in network television. Especially when it comes to sports broadcasting. 

Game in New York, you’re almost guaranteed to see an aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty or Times Square. Redskins play on a Thursday night, Lincoln Memorial. Chicago, Lake Michigan scenic shot. Philadelphia, cheesesteaks being fried on the grill at Pat’s and Geno’s or the Rocky statue. You can almost book it.

What you can also bank on is a producer in New York or L.A. (usually not from Philadelphia) pre-producing a package that week leading into a nationally televised game in which snowballs being thrown at Santa Claus or something of that ilk is referenced. If it’s not done in the package, the subject is injected or introduced to the lead broadcasters in the production meetings leading up to said game. The old Philadelphia-fans-are-knuckle-dragging-cretins angle. 

It’s tired. It’s lazy. It’s predictable. And it’s gone on for years. It’s the easiest way to push the buttons of a Philadelphia sports fan. But there may be an end in sight to the false narrative.

Take the last couple of years for example. Let’s go back to the 2017 NFL draft, held at the Ben Franklin Parkway. It was a game-changer for the league. The outdoor setting was perfect, the weather could not have been better, but it was the fans that stood out. They came out in droves. They lustily cheered on anything the Eagles did. They had fun with the commissioner, booing him upon first sight — and Roger Goodell played along beautifully. They jeered Drew Pearson, who attempted to give them the business. Brian Westbrook responded in kind the next day. Philly fans showed the world what passion was those three days. The NFL noticed. So did virtually every national broadcaster.  

Fast-forward to last season with the Eagles and the absolute domination by the fans at road games. This was nothing new but it was taken to a different level in 2017. Exhibit A, the Chargers' game in L.A. was an absolute takeover; it was an Eagles home game. Other cities do not travel that way. 

Then on to the Super Bowl championship parade. Broad Street and the Parkway covered in a sea of green with a jolly green giant dressed in a Mummers suit speaking for all those misrepresented fans who didn’t have that platform. It was epic. 

To the baseball team over the course of the last month. Chase Utley returned to a three-day love-fest. And this past weekend, a stirring, heart-wrenching speech from Brandy Halladay, the wife of the late Roy Halladay, about how this city has embraced her and her family through their most trying time. The weekend was capped off by nothing but cheers for prodigal son, Jayson Werth. Instances like Werth’s introduction — if it was anything but warm — would have been chum for the national narrative that Philadelphia fans are the worst.  

Lastly was Brian Dawkins' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, his devotees showed up in droves, outnumbering any other group. Dawkins closed his speech acknowledging and thanking them. It was a perfect ending to an emotionally draining oration. Oh, by the way, 40,000 people showed up for a practice Sunday evening at the Linc.

Who knows if any of the above evidence will end the false perception put forth by the Michael Wilbons, Colin Cowherds and Skip Baylesses of the world. Not to mention those network suits. 

Perhaps it was Union supporters, Sons of Ben, echoed by esteemed philosopher and poet, Jason Kelce, who put it best:

“We’re from Philly, f------ Philly, no one likes us, we don’t care.”

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The common bond between Brian Dawkins and Chase Utley

The common bond between Brian Dawkins and Chase Utley

On Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio, Brian Dawkins will receive the ultimate individual honor. He will be recognized on the grandest of stages as one of the greatest to ever play the game of football with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Eagles fans, of course, did not need the sight of Dawkins in a gold jacket to know what kind of player he was and the impact he had during his time in Philadelphia. 

Last week, Chase Utley was given a hero’s welcome back to the place he called home for the first 13 years of his career. The Phillies and Dodgers were two first-place teams doing battle, but the subplot was the city of Philadelphia’s three-day expression of gratitude to “The Man.”  

Two athletes whose playing careers crossed over during their time here. Two that finished and are finishing up elsewhere, yet are as beloved as any who have ever played in these parts. 

What’s the common bond? Heart. Both played the game as hard as it could be played. Both carried themselves with character off the field. One won a championship, the other came close. Most of all, Philadelphians saw themselves in both. All any fan of any team wants (in addition to winning) is for the players on their teams to care as much as they do. It’s easy to sniff out the ones who don’t. Dawkins and Utley personified the former. Hence the reason the duo pierced the hearts of the faithful.   

Bernie Parent and Julius Erving leap to mind when you think about others who have captured the collective souls and minds of this town. Bobby Clarke and Allen Iverson absolutely warrant consideration. Wilt Chamberlain, Tommy McDonald and Richie Ashburn back in the day. Despite not winning a championship, Dick Vermeil struck that chord from a coaching perspective. The category is not necessarily reserved for the greatest players who have come through the city, although all of the above would fit that distinction. But there is an intangible quality that bonds Dawkins and Utley in a unique way.            

With the exception of the “world f---ing champions” speech, Utley was a man of few words and flare. Dawkins' persona on the exterior was the polar opposite. From his tunnel introduction to Wolverine displays to his heartfelt speeches, Dawkins wore his heart on his sleeve.

Two different approaches, two very different men. But a common connection to the City of Brotherly Love.

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