Eagles show why they're perfect for Super Bowl mania

Eagles show why they're perfect for Super Bowl mania

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Officially, it's called Super Bowl Opening Night. Monday night, it seemed more like a joyous Eagles office party.

They laughed together at some of the more absurd interview requests. They videotaped each other with their phones. They cracked each other up watching their teammates answer questions in other languages.

This Eagles team is so close, and it seems determined to enjoy every last second it has together as much as possible.

“What we have? It’s rare, man," Nigel Bradham said. "Honestly. And it really comes from … you know what? Honestly? It’s tough to say. I really don't know where it does come from. I wish I knew. If I knew, every team would have it. 

"But it’s a bond like no other, man. It's a bond like no other."

The entire franchise gathered Monday night at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. Everybody on the active roster, the practice squad and the rather large contingent on injured reserve.

For the Patriots, it was just another media day. For the Eagles, it was incredibly special. A celebration of exactly what is possible if a bunch of people work together for a common goal.

And the fact that a couple thousand Vikings fans who paid a few bucks to watch booed every time an Eagles player was introduced wasn't going to ruin this party.

"This is my first year here, and it shocked me when I came here how close this team was," Corey Graham said. "Right from the beginning I saw how nice and how cool all the guys were. From Day 1.

"The day I got here, I'm walking down the hallway (at the NovaCare Complex) and you can't walk past someone without them introducing themselves and talking to you. From Carson (Wentz) to everyone else. 

"Little things like that mean a lot when you're with a new team. We do everything together. We hang out, go out to eat together, we go to our kids’ birthday parties together. 

"It’s crazy. It’s like a brotherhood here. It makes all of this sweeter because when all is said and done, that’s who we’re playing for. That’s who we’re fighting for. When you're closer, it means more because you don’t want to let your brothers down, so you really persevere to make sure you’re held accountable."

It really is crazy. The Eagles are one win away from their first NFL championship in 57 years. And they got there without half a dozen of their best players.

It really does show just how powerful togetherness can be in sports. It takes a lot more than a bunch of injuries to break this bond.

“I just think it comes from the caliber of person that’s in the locker room," vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. 

"When you get guys that fight so hard for each other and fight so hard for the city and guys who just love football, this is what you get. 

"I think the best teams every year have this kind of close-knit mentality. It’s something that Howie (Roseman) and I and Doug (Pederson) and Jeffrey (Lurie) talked about, just bringing in a certain type of person, guys with a lot of character."

This is Donnie Jones' 14th NFL season with five different teams (see story), and he said he's never experienced anything like he's experienced this year.

"From way back at the beginning of the year, we heard our coach was no good, our team, who knew if we were any good?" Jones said. 

"Even throughout the year, I don’t know about the respect factor for our team. I think the resilience of this team is really amazing. When I think about all the people we lost, all starters, all great players, and we lost them all and to have guys step in and fill their roles and be here now?"

He paused and gazed around the floor of the Xcel Energy Center and saw several of his teammates goofing around with the international media, all of them with big smiles on their faces.

"It’s just special, and that’s what a team’s all about," he said. "I’ve been on a lot of teams, played a lot of years, and this is a special group. The most special I’ve been around. I’m just blessed I was here this year to experience this with these guys and play one more game.”

And that's Super Bowl LII. Eagles-Patriots. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"It’s really family to us and I think that’s the real reason this is so special," Bradham said. "Roomful of brothers. Imagine all your brothers in the Super Bowl? That’s what it is." 

Young guys. Old guys. First-round draft picks. Undrafted players. Guys from all over the country. East Coast. West Coast. Small schools. Big schools. 

Somehow, it all works perfectly.

"It’s just a great group," Graham said. "I can honestly tell you there’s not one bad apple on this team, and that’s rare when you have a locker room. That’s rare. 

"There’s not one person I can honestly say, 'Oh he’s a jerk.’ Special group. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Jones has been in the NFL longer than any of his teammates. He had been a part of only one postseason win before this year, and he seemed to be enjoying media night as much as anybody.

“When I first signed here, Mr. Lurie said he saw this as an extension of his family and I truly feel that way," Jones said. "It’s not like this everywhere.

"That’s why football really is so great. So many guys, from different places, different upbringings, different parts of the country, and you work together to achieve that one goal, which is to win games on Sundays. 

"Everybody has meshed and gelled better than any of us could have imagined. We’ve accomplished a lot so far but we still have one more game to go to finish this thing off.”

Eagles Mailbag: Sidney Jones, rookies, ice cream

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Eagles Mailbag: Sidney Jones, rookies, ice cream

We answered half of your questions in yesterday’s mailbag (see story), but there were plenty more. 

So in between scarfing down hot dogs and burgers, take some time to check out these answers. 

To give some background on this question, cornerback Sidney Jones has been working in the slot during OTAs. Last year’s second-round pick, who missed most of his rookie season with that Achilles injury, looks good and is ready to be a real player in this league. 

It seems like the Eagles really want to give Jones a chance to learn the nickel corner position and take control of it. It’s a new spot for him, but he should be talented enough to handle it. If he doesn’t look good in the slot, they could always move him outside on those downs and slide Jalen Mills inside. 

As far as Jones simply being a starter … it seems unlikely now, just because Mills and Ronald Darby are still ahead of him. As long as they’re both there, Jones is the third guy in. Either way, he’s going to play a ton this year and I’m on the record predicting a big year for Jones. 

Nah. Gotta trust the doctors and trainers. As I understand it, the stuff Carson Wentz is doing right now is just a part of his rehab. He hasn’t done any work outside of individual drills and has to start throwing and working on footwork at some point. It seems like he’s doing a lot, but he really isn’t yet. Although what we’ve seen is a good sign. 

The Eagles aren’t rushing Wentz. They’re making sure he doesn’t rush himself. If anything, they’re going to end up being too cautious.  

I have seen just one practice, so I don’t have a ton to work off of. I like the look of defensive end Josh Sweat. He’s long and slender and could get on the field in pass rush situations this year. It’s way too early, but if Sweat ever lives up to his potential, we might look back at him as a steal. 

As far as guys under the radar, I don’t think anyone is making a big enough deal about Mike Wallace. Most people know he’s an upgrade, but he should be a significant upgrade over Torrey Smith and it should really help the Eagles’ offense be more dynamic. 

If I had to guess now — and, again, I’ve seen one practice — I’d say, Jones. Doug Pederson talked about Jones like he actually has some plans for him this season. We’ve already seen him have success in the NFL and he’s not that far removed from it. 

Adams had a good college career, but there are some clear flaws in his game, which is why he went undrafted. I know everyone looks at Corey Clement from last year, but that’s rare. Adams might be a better fit on the practice squad this year, if they can sneak him there. 

I’ll revisit this in the summer once the pads go on. 

Well, those smoothies are still around. Pederson kept a lot of that stuff but made it more voluntary. Players still get personalized drinks. 

The easy answer here is ice cream. Doug likes his ice cream. Plain vanilla. Can’t believe Häagen-Dazs hasn’t found a way to get Pederson in some ads. 

Aside from that, I know wings in the cafeteria have been a big hit on Fridays. The cooks — who are great, by the way — make non-fried wings with plenty of different sauces to choose from. A couple years ago, a player from Rochester, New York, introduced Boss Sauce and it became a hit among the players. I think the wings are still around. 

Eagles Mailbag: Lead back, Mack Hollins, the LB position

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Eagles Mailbag: Lead back, Mack Hollins, the LB position

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday weekend. The Eagles are probably enjoying it too — because Tuesday, they’re back to work. 

That’s when the team’s second round of OTAs begin. The Eagles will have a few more weeks of the voluntary offseason program before the mandatory minicamp June 12-14. 

Let’s take a dip into the mailbag: 

Yeah, I’d consider Jay Ajayi the lead back for this coming season. I really think the Eagles are going to ride him a little more than they did last year now that he’s had plenty of time in the offense. But I still don’t see Doug Pederson or Duce Staley abandoning the running back-by-committee approach. So while I think Ajayi will get the bulk of the carries, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles will still play plenty. 

Ajayi will be the feature back, but Pederson will want to keep him fresh for the playoffs too. Sure, the Eagles want to use him up on the final year of his deal, but they shouldn’t do it before they really need him. 

The Eagles really like Mack Hollins and it’s not hard to figure out why. He’s a nice, humble kid who works extremely hard. As a rookie, Hollins played in all 16 games and had just 16 receptions for 226 yards and one touchdown. He was even less productive in the postseason, when he caught one pass for nine yards. 

To answer your question, yes, I think Hollins will be more involved. It also can’t hurt that the Eagles brought in his college position coach, Gunter Brewer. The problem is that as long as everyone’s healthy, he’s still behind Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor. He’ll get snaps, but they’ll be limited. He’ll have to make the most of them. 

Quick Hollins story: Late in the season, I asked him about his lack of offensive production and he looked me dead in the eyes and said his job isn’t to catch passes. I probably looked confused. “My job is to help us win,” he said. “And I’ve been doing that.” 

Got a few questions about bringing in a linebacker and I understand why. On the first day of OTAs, the Eagles cut Mychal Kendricks and lost Paul Worrilow for the season. Earlier this week, I looked at the depth the Eagles have. I still wouldn’t worry about the position. 

I think it’s very possible the Eagles bring in another veteran linebacker, but I’m not sure there’s a huge rush. What might have been lost this week is that to cut Kendricks, the Eagles must feel really good about Jordan Hicks’ recovery. And remember, the Eagles are in two-linebacker sets most of the time. Corey Nelson will have a chance to be the weakside guy with Kendricks gone. And there's still decent depth. 

Maybe the Eagles add a player this summer, but it’s also possible they wait a bit to see what they have. For what it’s worth, I’d at least take a look at Bowman to see if there’s anything left.  

Corey Graham is still available and Pederson seemed more than open to bringing him back, so that’s very possible. Graham was a really important addition last offseason because, like you said, it allowed Jenkins to move closer to the line.

A lot of Jenkins playing that hybrid LB position was out of necessity with Hicks gone. According to ProFootballFocus, he played 42 percent of his snaps at LB, so it’s hard to imagine him doing it more in 2018. Still, Jenkins' versatility and his importance to the team can’t be overstated.