Doug Pederson's rise to leader of Super Bowl champion Eagles still hard to believe

Doug Pederson's rise to leader of Super Bowl champion Eagles still hard to believe

It would have been easy to hire Tom Coughlin. Good guy. Familiar face. Won two Super Bowls with Eli Manning. Hall of Famer.

It would have been easy to hire Pat Shurmur. Loyal company man. Good offensive mind. Would give the franchise continuity after three years under Chip Kelly.

It would have been easy to snap up Adam Gase … at least before the Dolphins hired him. Gase was the hot name floating around after the 2015 season.

Also would have been easy to hire Ben McAdoo, and the Eagles were definitely interested at one point but not enough to finish the deal. The Giants did finish the deal, and he didn't make it through Year 2.

There were plenty of hot candidates available when Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski sat down, rolled up their sleeves 29 months ago and set about to hire a head coach to replace Kelly and restore order to the franchise.

Doug Pederson was not a hot candidate. In fact, he was barely a candidate at all.

There were seven NFL head coaching openings going into the 2016 season, and none of the other teams even interviewed Pederson. 

And, sure, you can understand why.

He never called plays while coaching under Andy Reid, except in two-minute drills, where the Chiefs were generally atrocious.

His only head coaching experience came at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana.

He hardly had a fiery personality, and there was a lot of speculation whether he’d be able to get through to his players.

One very popular national football website ranked Pederson as the fifth-best head coaching hire that 2016 offseason, behind Hue Jackson, Kelly, Dirk Koetter and Gase. Those four guys won a combined 11 games last year.

Pederson? His team won 16, including a few kind-of-important ones in January and February.

Pederson delivered a Super Bowl championship to a city that had never won one, that was starving for one. This unknown, unheralded, unspectacular gentleman who arrived with a fraction of the hype of Kelly turned out to be one of the greatest things that ever happened to this team, to this city.

Pederson's ability to lead the franchise with style and class and grace, to be fearless and innovative, to develop a culture in which ego and selfishness don’t exist truly speaks volumes about what went on in January 2016 on the second floor of the NovaCare Complex.

Lurie, Roseman and Smolenski, the brain trust that ran the Eagles’ coaching search, looked at a guy who won three games in 14 seasons as a backup quarterback, who was coaching high school football eight years earlier, who had no real NFL play-calling experience, and decided, “He’s our guy.”

This is such an inexact science. Kelly arrived here with this reputation as an offensive genius and innovator, but it turned out all he really had was the bluster and attitude without much substance behind it.

Three years later, Pederson comes here with no reputation at all and evolves into everything Kelly was supposed to be.   

Pederson was the eighth head coach to win a Super Bowl within his first two seasons.

Five of the first seven replaced Hall of Fame coaches whose teams were already championship contenders: Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy in Tampa, Don McCafferty and Don Shula in Baltimore, Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson in Dallas, George Seifert and Bill Walsh in San Francisco, Tom Flores and John Madden in Oakland.

Pederson took over a train wreck and two years later rode on a float up Broad Street. This was legitimately one of the greatest coaching jobs in NFL history.

And there's more to come. This team, this roster, this franchise is set up for sustained success. Honestly, I would be more surprised if the Eagles don't win another Super Bowl under Pederson than if they do.

And none of this happens without Lurie, Roseman and Smolenski making the call.

Without that decision, that remarkable decision that was greeted by most Eagles fans with a resounding … “Ummm, OK” … there is no "Philly Special." There are no underdog masks. There is no Nick Foles signing 15,000 books and donating all the proceeds to charity. There is no Jason Kelce in Mummer’s garb making the speech of the century. 

Without Doug Pederson, there is no 2017 season. And without Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski seeing something that nobody else on Earth saw, there is no Doug Pederson.

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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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