Jason Peters and Darren Sproles may be out for the season, yet Eagles coaches say the injured vets are continuing to find ways to make an impact.
The Eagles have been unlucky to lose not only star players, but also tremendous leaders to injuries this season. At the same time, the Eagles are incredibly fortunate to have guys like Peters, Sproles, Jordan Hicks and Chris Maragos who aren’t content to simply fade into the background until next year.
Take Peters, for example. Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland revealed the nine-time Pro Bowl selection has been instrumental in preparing second-year player Halapoulivaati Vaitai to take over at left tackle.
“I lean on Jason Peters a little bit too with that,” Stoutland said Tuesday. “I’d send him some video and he would look at it, and we’d be on a Skype or whatever and he would say, ‘Hey, make sure you tell him this.’”
Even a fifth-year NFL veteran like Lane Johnson at right tackle can benefit from Peters’ pointers from afar.
“He’s got a great eye for that stuff,” Stoutland said. “It keeps him involved and he’s good at it. He’s a master at it for so many years, so I think he also has helped Lane and V with some of that stuff.”
Peters is home rehabbing from torn ACL and MCL tendons in his right knee but consults with Stoutland regularly. Not surprisingly, the future Hall of Famer identifies something on a “weekly” basis that will help his teammates.
“It’s good for those guys, too, to hear another voice other than mine,” Stoutland said.
Some of the Eagles’ wounded are taking a more hands-on approach. Hicks may be sidelined by a ruptured Achilles, but it sounds as though he’s preparing as if he were going to line up at middle linebacker in any given week.
“Jordan comes into our meeting room,” Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “He’s there, and if you saw him, he takes notes like he’s going to play.
“He studies a lot of the tape when we’re in a meeting, and I think he sees things. Then I’m sure when he gets back in the locker room, he passes on little tips to people, says, ‘Hey, this is what I saw in this formation, and maybe we can cheat our alignment here.’”
Hicks is somebody the Eagles literally couldn’t keep out of the building if they tried.
“He wants to be a part of it,” Flajole said. “I kidded around with him a little bit. I said, ‘Are you driving your wife nuts now,’ and he says, ‘Yeah, kind of, coach. I need to get out of the house. She wants me here, and I want to be here.’”
Watch closely during any Eagles game, and you’ll see Maragos actively taking part in any way he can.
Maragos’ season was ended by a ton PCL. That hasn’t prevented the special teams captain and ace from walking out to the middle of the field for the coin toss before games or pumping up his teammates on the sideline.
“Chris Maragos is in half our meetings if he’s not rehabbing, and then he’ll be on the field on game day,” special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. “He’s breaking the huddle half the time before kickoffs.”
Fipp works closely with both Maragos and Sproles, the latter of whom reaches out to replacement return specialist Kenjon Barner on a regular basis.
“Those guys love being around it, and they do a great job helping the younger guys out,” Fipp said. “That’s why Chris is a captain. Same with Darren Sproles. They have the respect of all their teammates, and part of getting that respect is probably because, along the way, they’ve helped all those guys out at some point.”
Nursing a torn ACL and a broken forearm, Sproles isn’t always in the building or around his teammates. Even in that situation, the 13-year veteran commands so much respect, he’s still able to lead by example.
“He was our leader, and every now and then if he’s here he’ll come and stick his head in,” Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley said. “A lot of those guys follow those footsteps, which is awesome. You couldn’t pick a better guy to lead your group than him.
“Some of those guys, they look at him, they look up to him, all the things he’s been through, how long he’s lasted. Ideally, a lot of those guys want to be him, so they talk to him, they study Sproles, they study his eating habits. Eating, sleeping, everything.
“When you have a leader like that in the room, and he’s able to rub off on some of the other guys, they take ownership and they try to lead the younger guys that way.”
Sproles is 34. Peters turns 36 in January. There is some question as to whether either player will return from their injuries to play in 2018.
If either man plans on or would consider walking away, they’re certainly not ready to call it quits quite. In fact, whatever success this Eagles team enjoys in 2017 — be that a trip to the Super Bowl, or anything else — Peters, Sproles, Hicks and Maragos all seem determined to play a role in that.