For Doug Pederson, one of the most incredible coaching seasons ever

For Doug Pederson, one of the most incredible coaching seasons ever

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — There was a funny little moment on Monday morning, borne out of exhaustion and delirium. 

A bleary-eyed Doug Pederson greeted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as Pederson walked on stage for a quick photo op before a press conference, Pederson's last obligation of an obligation-filled week. 

The lectern on the stage was between Nick Foles' Pete Rozelle (MVP) trophy and the Lombardi Trophy. The photographer suggested Pederson pick up the Lombardi Trophy for the shot, but Pederson didn't move at first. 

"It's that one, Doug," a bunch of smart-asses said, pointing to the legendary prize. 

"You can pick it up if you want," Goodell said. "It's yours." 

Damn right it is. 

And Doug Pederson earned it. 

The same Pederson who wasn't the Eagles' first choice. The same Pederson who people said was one of the worst possible hires at the time. The same Pederson who was the least qualified coach ever, according to one blowhard. 

That guy just pulled off one of the most incredible coaching seasons in NFL history. 

This year, Pederson really seemed to come into his own as a play-caller. He pushed the right buttons all year, especially in the Super Bowl, and his aggressive attitude rubbed off on his entire team. 

And that's not even the most impressive thing he did. He won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles! And not just Foles. He won a Super Bowl with backups everywhere. He won a Super Bowl in the same season that the Eagles lost Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis. 

"It's tough," Pederson said on Monday morning, the shock of winning the Super Bowl still in full effect. "It's something that you spend a lot of time thinking about how you want to talk to the team, how you want to present your messaging to the team. 

"How's the team going to buy into losing as many starters as we did this season? Again, it was part of just entrusting the players a little bit. Great leadership with some of the veteran players. Just allowing them to sort of embrace it and [the] next-man-up mentality." 

Pederson, 50, was incredibly calculated in every trying situation that presented itself this season. He knew that any weakness he showed to his team could be disastrous. He put on a brave face, believed in his players and trusted they wouldn't give up on him or the season. They didn't. 

Of course, when Wentz went down, that was slightly different. The team lost the MVP of the league on Dec. 10 in Los Angeles and there were some understandably mopey faces slumping through the NovaCare Complex. Pederson finally admitted recently that there was a brief moment of self-pity in all of that (see story)

But he couldn't let it show. Not publicly and definitely not to his players. 

He had to get Nick Foles ready to play quarterback the same way he got Big V ready to play left tackle, the same way they transferred middle linebacker responsibilities to Nigel Bradham, the same way they figured out a way to get by on third downs without Sproles and rolled right along with a rookie kicker. 

With confidence that absolutely nothing was going to wreck their season. 

"As coaches, hats off to my coaching staff for preparing our guys, for getting our guys ready each week," Pederson said. "It didn't matter who was in there; we were going to coach them up and get them ready to play." 

Everyone laughed when Jeff Lurie said he wanted his next coach to have emotional intelligence. He brought it up again after the Eagles won the NFC Championship Game, when he finally had proof he was right. 

Do you really think Chip Kelly would have been able to coach the Eagles through losing that many key players? There's no way. 

But things are different with Doug. His players refused to give up on the season because they would never think of giving up on him. Sure, you can credit the players for that, but make sure to give credit to Pederson for creating that type of atmosphere. 

When most teams would have given up, the Eagles got tougher. When most teams will be spread across the country on family vacations and golfing on Thursday, the Eagles will be parading down Broad Street. 

When most coaches simply get fired and forgotten, Pederson is already a legend. Not quite Lombardi yet, but give him time. This was just Year 2. 

Eagles' DBs built in Malcolm Jenkins' image, but ready for ‘Old Head’ to return

Eagles' DBs built in Malcolm Jenkins' image, but ready for ‘Old Head’ to return

It was strange seeing the Eagles take the field for practice and not see a No. 27 flying around on defense. One would think it would be even stranger for a young group of defensive backs that at times leans on Malcolm Jenkins for guidance.

But while Andrew Sendejo and Tre Sullivan may have been the first-team safeties on Tuesday, it was business as usual for the remaining members of the Eagles’ secondary at OTAs – even if it’s not business as usual for Jenkins right now.

“I would say no,” said Sullivan, responding to whether the defensive backs room is any different without Jenkins. “The only reason I say that is because Malcolm, he does a great job being a leader, really just making us focus on every task at hand.

“It’s the same thing without him being in the locker room.”

Jenkins is a no-show at voluntary workouts so far, purportedly in pursuit of a pay raise. The three-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game in his five seasons with the Eagles. Prior to April, he had barely taken so much as a snap off during that span, much less skipped or been held out of a practice or meeting.

As much time as Jenkins has spent making plays that bring Lincoln Financial Field to a roar, he’s spent more setting an example for players in the locker room. He’s tutored young defensive backs, demonstrated how to handle success and failure in the NFL, been an outstanding citizen away from the field.

The 31-year-old safety has been the definition of a pro, and his actions appear to have rubbed off on teammates.

“Everybody holds each other accountable in that room no matter if we’re young or older,” said Avonte Maddox, reciting the line about accountability Jenkins has used often. “It doesn’t really matter.”

The DBs were putting in extra work after Tuesday’s practice and weren’t easy to track down in the locker room. Those who did speak didn’t sound your typical 25-year-old athletes with three-and-a-half seasons in the league – the average age and experience level of the group sans Jenkins.

Just another day at the office. They sounded like leaders themselves.

“It’s been kind of the same,” said Cre’Von LeBlanc. “We just have to keep focusing on what we can focus on today, the plays, we tell everybody who’s here. I wouldn’t say that it’s any different. The guys are the guys once the day is over.”

The room is not completely devoid of veterans, either. Sendejo, though he just arrived in free agency, is 31 with eight years NFL experience. And Rodney McLeod, who will likely start alongside Jenkins at safety, is rehabbing from injury and not practicing but is in the building.

Still, you can see Jenkins’ fingerprints all over this secondary. You could see it when a struggling, injury-depleted unit with Jenkins as its sole survivor turned its season around and became a strength of the team in 2018. You can hear it while speaking to younger players who sound wise beyond their years.

Without a doubt, Jenkins is far more valuable than what he brings to the Eagles defense as a multi-dimensional weapon that lines up at safety, cornerback, linebacker, wherever is asked – and he’s pretty good at all those things, too.

“When he is back, he makes his presence known,” Sullivan said. “Malcolm is a very vocal guy and outstanding leader. He’s a great guy to lean on.”

Right now, there’s no talk Jenkins might not return, or the Eagles might not reward him. Everybody seems to expect him back eventually, probably a little richer.

Then again, Jenkins has his troops trained so well and on such an even keel, it would be difficult to tell if there was a pang of concern.

“The room’s still the same,” said Maddox. “Still have energy, still holding each other accountable.

“Guys are still working together, laughing, playing around, so when it comes down to it, it will be great when he gets back in there and we’ll be able to have ‘Old Head’ in there.”

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Eagles' Lane Johnson donating $500K to Kilgore College

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Eagles' Lane Johnson donating $500K to Kilgore College

Lane Johnson is investing in future generations of underdogs. 

The Eagles’ starting right tackle has donated $500,000 to Kilgore College in Texas to create a new 3,800-square foot athletic performance center called “The Lane.” 

“I wanted to give back to one of the places that was pivotal for helping with my success,” Johnson said in an official release from the college.

Johnson, 29, played just one season at Kilgore College (in 2008) as a quarterback and tight end before moving on to Oklahoma and eventually becoming a first-round pick. But it’s clear his time in Kilgore, Texas, had a big impact on his success. 

Johnson grew up in Groveton, Texas, about a two-hour drive from Kilgore. 

I’m finally in a place where I can make these things a reality and inspire the next generation to chase their dreams. It truly is an underdog story – coming from small town East Texas to a JUCO to making it in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl. My whole purpose is to show them that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. The only ones who are going to stop them are themselves and people who are trying to diminish their confidence. I am excited for the future of Kilgore College athletics and look forward to watching this program compete for championships.

Five years after leaving Kilgore, Johnson was taken with the No. 4 pick of the draft. Nine years after leaving Kilgore, he was a Super Bowl champion and has grown into one of the best offensive tackles in the league. 

According to OverTheCap, Johnson has made over $58 million since entering the NFL in 2013. But that doesn’t make his $500,000 donation to a place where he spent just one year any less impressive. "The Lane" is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2020. 

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