Doug Pederson's ability to involve entire roster sets Eagles apart

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Doug Pederson's ability to involve entire roster sets Eagles apart

With the Doug Pederson Eagles, the 53 is more important than the 22.

We tend to naturally think of NFL rosters in terms of starters and backups, but one underrated and important aspect of Pederson’s three years as head coach has been a true focus on the roster as 53 contributors as opposed to 22 starters and 31 backups.

Every coach talks about “next man up,” but the personality of this team has really become that, and it’s been pivotal to the Eagles' success. 

It starts with Pederson’s culture, one where nobody makes excuses. Once you establish that, everything else falls into place.

Lose your quarterback a few weeks before the playoffs? Nobody hangs his head. Nobody whines about it. Nick Foles just pops off the bench and wins a Super Bowl.

Pederson’s whole program is geared toward getting 53 guys ready to play. Not just physically but mentally, too.

Talk to any non-starter in the Eagles’ locker room and he feels included, he feels prepared, he feels ready, he feels confident.

He doesn’t feel like a backup, he feels like a piece of the puzzle.

Think about Rasul Douglas coming in cold off the bench against the Falcons when Ronald Darby got dinged, playing two snaps, picking up a huge interception in the red zone, then heading back to the bench.

Think about Wendell Smallwood against the Colts. His last extended playing time was the Chargers game almost a year ago, but with two running backs down he comes out of mothballs for 91 yards from scrimmage on 13 touches. 

Think about Corey Graham, who wasn’t even going to play football this year. Rodney McLeod gets hurt during the Colts game and Graham plays a season-high 47 snaps — at a high level.
Think about Josh Perkins down in Tampa. The Eagles were down so many wide receivers they moved Perkins — a receiver in college — outside and he caught four passes for 57 yards, and he did have two drops but this is a guy who had three catches in his career before that game, and he made plays.

Think about Dallas Goedert, who had 34 snaps, three targets and one four-yard catch to show for his first two NFL games. The Eagles decided to spotlight him against the Colts and he responded by catching all seven targets for 73 yards and a TD.

Think about Jordan Matthews, who went from high-paid starter to minimum-wage emergency backup and goes out five days after re-signing here and catches a 14-yard first down on a scoring drive and a seven-yarder on the game-winning drive in his first game — regular season or preseason — since Dec. 3, three teams ago.

Think about Josh Adams, who goes from the practice squad to 6 for 30 rushing in his first NFL game.

They were ready. Every one of them.

This is the personality of the Philadelphia Eagles. This is the culture that Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and Doug Pederson have created.

It’s one thing to say, “Next man up,” but this team really believes it.

Pederson and his assistants make sure everybody gets reps during the week just in case they have to play, but it goes deeper than that.

There’s just a sense of inclusion that runs throughout the roster and really throughout the organization. Everybody is made to feel important, everybody is made to feel necessary.

You see it during training camp, where the assistant coaches spend as much time teaching the last guy on the roster as the All-Pros. You see it on game day, where every last guy asked to contribute seems to always be ready without hesitation.

The whole world saw it in the Super Bowl and we see it every Sunday, when the Eagles take whoever’s available and find a way to make it work.

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Greg Ward is the receiver Malcolm Jenkins wanted all along

Greg Ward is the receiver Malcolm Jenkins wanted all along

While the Eagles were busy trying to cobble together a wide receiver corps with Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews, Malcolm Jenkins was campaigning for somebody else to get a shot.

Greg Ward.

“I’ve been calling for him to get called up to the active roster since training camp,” Jenkins said Thursday.

Nobody listened.

Instead, Ward spent nine of the first 10 weeks of the season on the practice squad. The one week he was on the active roster, against the Lions, he only got two snaps on offense. 

Then it was back to the practice squad.

Once Ward finally landed on the 53-man roster for good and actually got a chance to play and the Eagles saw what he could do, the Eagles released both Hollins and Matthews in the span of nine days.

Hollins played 473 snaps and had 10 catches in 11 games. That's a catch every 47.3 snaps.

Matthews played 137 snaps and had four catches in two games. That's a catch every 34.3 snaps.

Ward has played 145 snaps in three games and already has 11 receptions. That's a catch every 13.2 snaps.

Ward's eight-yard catch in overtime Monday night got the Eagles down to the two-yard-line, setting up Carson Wentz's game-winning TD pass to Zach Ertz.

How did the Eagles not realize for 2 1/2 months that Ward was a better option than Hollins or Matthews?

It’s not like he’s new here. Ward was on the practice squad all year in 2017 and in training camp in 2018 as well before leading the ill-fated AAF in receiving.

Boston Scott, Josh Perkins and Ward, who were all on the practice squad for a good chunk of this season, had 15 catches for 140 yards (and 59 rushing yards and a TD) in the Eagles’ win over the Giants.

Hollins? Hasn't caught a pass since September. 

Matthews? He's back with the 49ers, who've already cut him twice this year (without a catch).

Scott, like Ward, was buried on the depth chart while the Eagles went out and got Jay Ajayi, who is averaging 3.0 yards on 10 carries. Not until Miles Sanders had to leave the game briefly Monday night did the Eagles finally let Scott play. And that was the last we saw of Ajayi.

On the one hand, it’s good that these practice squad guys are contributing because it shows that the Eagles at least liked them enough to sign them and keep them around.

But why they stuck with guys like Ajayi, Hollins and Matthews for so long before finally letting Scott, Perkins and Ward play remains a mystery.

How could they not tell they could play?

“Not necessarily surprised because we see it every day,” Jenkins said. “These are guys who make us better and challenge us. I’m just excited to see them, No. 1, have the opportunity but to take full advantage of it and really help us get a win. I don’t think we get the win without them. To see them get the opportunity, I’m definitely proud.

“It does create some energy when you see them make plays. When guys you expect to make plays make plays, it’s one thing. But all of a sudden you have Perkins and Boston and G. Ward making plays, it adds a little juice to the team.” 

You just have to wonder why it took so long for them to even get the opportunity to add a little juice to the team.

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Kamu Grugier-Hill admits to lying about concussion to stay in game

Kamu Grugier-Hill admits to lying about concussion to stay in game

Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill on Thursday admitted that when he suffered his concussion in Miami two weeks ago, he lied to medical personnel to stay in the game.

He told them he hurt his shoulder.

“I just basically lied to them,” Grugier-Hill said. “I thought it would just go away. Just didn’t really say anything about it. It got to the point where I really couldn’t lie to them anymore.”

The concussion happened on the first play from scrimmage in the game against the Dolphins, when the starting linebacker collided with receiver DeVante Parker. That means he played a total of 54 combined defensive and special teams snaps with a concussion that game.

Eventually, when the headaches didn’t subside, Grugier-Hill reported the concussion symptoms to trainers on Thursday, four days after the head shot. He was put in the NFL’s concussion protocol and missed the Giants game. He has since been cleared and will return to action in Washington this weekend.

Grugier-Hill, 25, said he had never had a concussion before and didn’t know exactly what it felt like. Last week, head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles encourage all their players to report concussion symptoms and self police.

Does Grugier-Hil regret his decision?

“No,” he said. “I mean, I wish we would have at least got a win.”

There’s no questioning Grugier-Hill’s loyalty but lying to medical staff about a brain injury is nothing to be praised; it’s dangerous. But at least Grugier-Hill was honest about his decision — plenty of players aren’t.

And this certainly wasn’t the first time — nor will it be the last — that a player decides to stay in a game even though they know they might be concussed.

Back in 2015, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins admitted he played through more than an entire half against the Cowboys with a concussion. After eventually getting through the protocol, Jenkins said he felt “foggy” for the entire second half.

That’s the hole in the NFL’s concussion policy. The league has concussion spotters in the press box at every game and has made strides to prevent and detect these head injuries earlier, but players are still willing to put their long-term health on the line to stay in games. And Eagles medical personnel can’t treat a concussion they don’t know exists. It’s a hard problem to fix.

As far as the league has come, concussions are still far too normalized in the sport.

“I think it’s just part of the game,” Grugier-Hill said. “You get rocked a little bit every once in a while.”

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