How Eagles will try to sleep before biggest game of their lives

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How Eagles will try to sleep before biggest game of their lives

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — On Saturday night, after the Eagles' final team meeting wraps up around 9 p.m., Brandon Graham will retire to his room in the Radisson Blu and sit in front of a screen. 

He won't watch film. His preparation for the big game will be over. But he'll try to stick to his normal routine as best as he can, even with the biggest game of his life looming. 

Graham hopes to get around six or seven hours of sleep, but first thing's first. 

"I'm on Game of Thrones now," Graham said. "I just started it."

The night before Super Bowl LII is arriving rapidly. The night before the moment the Eagles have worked toward for months and some of them for their entire lives will be so close they can taste it. 

And they'll have to try to go to sleep. 

"No different than any other Saturday night that we've had," return man Kenjon Barner said. "Everybody wants to make a big deal of where we're at. Yeah, we know where we're at and what game we're playing in. ... You just don't let the moment get too big. You know where you're at, you know what you're playing for, but at the end of the day, it still 60 minutes of football."

Barner is a music lover with extremely eclectic taste. There's not any sort of specific music he listens to the night before a game; it's whatever mood he's in. He might listen to alternative, country, classics, latin, many different things. Before then, he'll hop in an epsom salt bath, relax and pray. On game day, he'll go back to listening to his music and will call his dad just before the game to pray with him. 

Tight end Zach Ertz said he hasn't thought too much about Saturday night. Like everyone else, he'll try to go through his normal routine. That means a massage before the team meeting and hanging with teammates after. He probably won't build in any family time; he says they know the drill. 

From there, he'll watch a little film, drink some Dream Water and try to crash. He said he doesn't normally get nervous before games. 

But how about this game? 

"We'll see," he said. "Obviously, I've never played in this. We'll see on Saturday, I'm sure. As we get there on Friday and Saturday and as we get closer to the game, it's going to feel more real, like we're actually playing in the Super Bowl."

That's the thing. For as much as many Eagles players will try to settle into their routines and act like the game the following day isn't the Super Bowl, it still is. And aside from a few guys who have played in it before, they have no idea what it's going to be like. 

As a young player, Lane Johnson learned the negative side of peaking too early and wasting energy. He's going to try to stay in his routine this weekend. That means listening to rap or country music before he trades in his dog mask for a sleep apnea mask. His sleep apnea sometimes wakes him during the night. 

"Your mind's racing, going everywhere," he said. "The thing you want to do is calm it down to where you don't think about anything. You've already put in the work. Now it's just put it on autopilot."

Defensive line coach Chris Wilson said he'll have no trouble falling asleep. His game day is really throughout the week as he prepares his players. When Saturday night rolls around, he turns into their biggest fan. At that point, the yelling and teaching is over. His job is to get his players mentally prepared. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said he hopes this Saturday night is like the night before the Vikings game. He was completely at peace and got a good night of sleep, confident his team was prepared. 

Rodney McLeod watches film the night before games. While some players would struggle to go to sleep right after film study, McLeod doesn't have any issues. He wants to spend as much time as he can on it. 

He was probably a little more honest when asked what the night will be like.  

"I think it's going to be very emotional for us, knowing once we wake up, it's here," he said. "The Super Bowl is finally here, man. Everything we've been preparing for has come. I know it's going to be a lot of nerves but more so just guys being anxious and excited to get out there. We've been preparing for two weeks, so we're just ready to get out there." 

This offseason, Eagles targeted players with something to prove

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This offseason, Eagles targeted players with something to prove

The Eagles rode the underdog theme to a Super Bowl last season, but it’s hard to be a team full of underdogs when everyone is wearing a gaudy Super Bowl ring. 

So this offseason has been about trying to recreate that mentality. 

Last week, Jason Kelce said on Good Morning Football he thinks the Eagles probably still aren’t getting the respect they deserve. And when Howie Roseman spoke at the Wharton People Analytics Conference earlier this spring, he spoke about the idea of people thinking the Super Bowl win was a “fluke.” 

Roseman was the subject of a half-hour interview that was posted by Penn on May 9. He talked about various topics, including the Super Bowl celebration, the use of analytics and sports science in the NFL and about the trade two years ago to get Carson Wentz.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Roseman said during that conference wasn’t about analytics at all. It was about trying to repeat as champions and avoiding the same fate as many teams before which haven’t been able to duplicate championship success. 

“From our perspective, we know we have to change the chemistry,” Roseman said. “We know we have to create competition, we have to make everyone feel the same kind of urgency we had. So how do you do that? You get more people who have that urge, who have that underdog kind of feeling that we had, who feel like they’ve been kicked to the side, who have this need to win. 

“And what we feel will happen is, you bring in a bunch of competitive people, with inherently competitive people who are maybe just kind of going through the motions a little bit for a while. And all of a sudden, they have a competitive moment and you bring out those competitive juices. Will it work? I have no idea. But we’re going to try.”

A quick look back at the players the Eagles brought in this offseason and it’s not hard to find that “underdog” quality about a lot of them. You can almost hear Kelce yelling about these guys next February. 

Michael Bennett: He’s getting old! He’s too socially active!

Corey Nelson: Nelson’s just a special teamer! 

Haloti Ngata: Ngata’s too old and injured!

Mike Wallace: Remember when Mike Wallace was good?!

Paul Worrilow: Paul Worrilow was undrafted!

Markus Wheaton: Wheaton can’t stay healthy!

Matt Jones: Matt Jones fumbles too much!

You get the idea. 

“We understand that it’s hard to repeat,” Roseman said at the owners' meetings in March. “You have to add some guys with the same chip on their shoulders that we brought in last year.”

Now, adding guys with chips on their shoulders coincided nicely with the Eagles' salary cap situation. The good thing about players with something to prove is that they’re cheap. And the Eagles needed that. 

All of their free agents this offseason signed either one- or two-year deals and it’s similar to the contracts the Eagles handed out last offseason when they brought in Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Long and Patrick Robinson. All those guys were hits and it helped with the championship. But these signings aren’t always hits; there are going to be misses too. 

When talking about moves, Roseman likened it to gambling, which is really what it is. The analytics play a role in making sure the odds are in their favor, but there are plenty of variables like injuries that still make every move a gamble. It’s all about maximizing the odds. 

If the Eagles did that again, they might be able to succeed where many other teams have failed. 

“I think it really goes through all organizations, not just sports,” Roseman said. “When you have success, how do you continue to have success? I think it’s easy when you think about these teams and some of the process because the season goes six weeks longer, and so I know all of us are a little bit more tired and everything comes on us quicker and the same thing for the players. … 

“How do you get that energy? How do you change the dynamic? For me, the resources that I’ve been exposed to not only in sports but outside of sports about people who have built great organizations, who have won championships and then gone back, talking to them about what you have to do.”  

Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

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Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

Greg Ward threw more touchdown passes in college than Carson Wentz and had a higher career passer rating than Nick Foles. 

These days, his job is catching passes, not throwing them. 

It’s quite a transition from big-time NCAA Division 1 quarterback to NFL wide receiver, but at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, the former Houston Cougar knows where his future is.

Ward spent all of last year on the Eagles’ practice squad, learning the nuances of a new position and figuring out how to think like a receiver instead of a quarterback. 

He looked surprisingly polished at wide out in training camp, caught nine passes for 63 yards in the preseason and then spent the season focusing on getting better.

“I still haven’t 100 percent gotten the position,” Ward said after a recent rookie camp practice. “I always feel like I can get better, always feel like I can learn something new, feel like there’ll always be something to improve on. 

“Last year was a big year for me. Just learning a new position, learning football period, learning from Alshon (Jeffery), Torrey (Smith) and Nelson (Agholor), it was a very important year for me.

“Just gathering every bit of information I could watching those guys practice and watching them in games and then learning how to apply what you’ve learned to your game.”

Ward never did get a chance to play, but he said he felt himself getting better as the year went along.

“Everybody wants to play,” said Ward, who led Houston to a Peach Bowl win over No. 9 Florida State in Atlanta at the end of his junior year. 

“You’re a competitor, that’s why we all do this. But I was humbled and thankful just to be on a Super Bowl team. Just to be in the NFL period. Some guys aren’t able to play football at all. I’m just grateful to be on a football team. 

“But this is not the end of my story. I am going to get out there and I am going to play.”

Ward was with the Eagles during their postseason run and he was there in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.

He used every moment, every day, as an opportunity to improve. Even if nobody could see it happening.

“The biggest thing I learned was just being patient, just being humble,” he said. “Our team last year, there was nobody that was selfish. Nobody who thought they were bigger than anybody else. I learned patience and the importance of doing extra. Getting extra work, studying more, watching more film. That’s what it takes to win a championship.”

The Eagles have quite a crowd at wide receiver, with Jeffery, Agholor and Mack Hollins back, Wallace and Markus Wheaton in the fold and guys like Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson and Rashard Davis all also in the mix.

But Ward doesn’t concern himself with the numbers.

“The next step for me is to separate myself,” he said. "As a competitor, especially coming from being undrafted, you have to separate yourself. You have to be different. 

“You have to catch whoever’s eye it is, head coach, position coach, catch everybody’s eyes. They have to see value in you. That’s where I am right now. Trying to separate myself.”

How long will it take?

“I’m leaving that up to God,” he said. “I know I’m putting in the hard work and I know one day it will pay off. I know that day will come.”