Eagles

Unselfish veterans key to Eagles' offensive success

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AP Images

Unselfish veterans key to Eagles' offensive success

When LeGarrette Blount was a rookie with the Buccaneers back in 2010, he wanted the ball. All the time. Every snap. Most rookies do.

Didn't happen. Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olsen — who was at the Linc last weekend with the Falcons — made sure former 1,000-yard rusher Cadillac Williams got his touches, as well.

Blount respected Williams but wasn't crazy about the arrangement.

"Obviously, I wanted the football," Blount said of his younger self. "I felt like I was the better back, but Cadillac Williams had been a top-5 pick a few years earlier, he had been Rookie of the Year, he had an amazing career before his knee injury (in 2007).

"And Earnest Graham was one of my teammates, and he would just be like, ‘Man, be patient, wait your turn, it’ll come full circle, I promise you.’ 

"And so I waited and I was patient and my turn did come, and from then on I figured, 'OK, patience is the big key.' Don’t worry about yourself. Keep on grinding and preparing, and when your chance comes just make the best of it."

Seven years later, Blount has essentially become Earnest Graham, the wise old veteran who preaches patience and unselfishness to his younger teammates.

The Eagles don't have a 1,000-yarder rusher, they don't have a 1,000-yard receiver, but they do have 13 regular-season wins, a playoff win over the Falcons and a spot Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

They're only the fifth team in the last 30 years to play in a conference title game without a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver. And they're the first in 11 years to get this far without anybody even reaching 900 yards.

And without veteran stars like Blount and Alshon Jeffery setting the tone with their unselfish approach, this sort of balanced approach to offense just doesn't work.

“We’ve had games where I didn’t have any carries, we’ve had games where Alshon didn’t have any catches, and we’re winning, and that’s the overall goal," Blount said.

"We couldn’t care less how many catches or how many carries or how many yards any one guy has. We all have one common goal in hand. We all have one thing that we all want more than anything."

We've all seen what happens when a star receiver or running back mouths off about his role or even complain quietly in the locker room to his teammates.

It creates hostility and jealousy. It puts coaches in a tricky position. It can sway a quarterback to target players to keep them happy instead of just running the offense. And worst of all, it can influence younger impressionable players to behave the same way.

These things can all crush a team.

But when guys like Blount, a two-time Super Bowl winner who led the NFL in touchdowns last year, and Jeffery, a Pro Bowler and two-time 1,000-yard receiver, are unselfish, team-first guys, it does the opposite. The young guys always want to be like the veterans, and when those veterans are setting an unselfish tone, it has a ripple effect throughout the roster.

"Me coming in as a young guy I already had that mindset when I got here that whatever the team needs that’s what I’m going to do," rookie receiver Mack Hollins said.

"But when you see your stars doing the same thing? That's huge. If you have guys who are demanding the ball or demanding touches, whatever they’re demanding, once you start demanding stuff, that’s when everything starts to fall apart. 

"You demand stuff, the ball ends up in places it’s not supposed to be and then you stop winning games. Having older guys, your so-called stars, that aren’t worried about what they get, they’re only worried about what we get, that’s critical to our success.”

The last team to reach a conference championship game without a 1,000-yard receiver or runner was the 2006 Patriots. The last to do it in the NFC was the 2003 Eagles and that was more a lack of talent than a real sense of unselfishness. The last NFC team to reach a Super Bowl without a 1,000-yard runner or receiver was the 1996 Packers.

Guess who was a backup quarterback on that team.

Doug Pederson.

It's Pederson who has set the tone for this team's steadfast unselfishness, but it wouldn't work if guys like Jeffery and Blount didn't totally buy in.

"I didn't have to sell it too much," Pederson said. "These guys are unselfish players. They are team players No. 1, and they are great additions to our football team and they have helped us get to this position in this conference championship.

"So it's not a big sell with them. Bottom line is both those guys just want to win the game."

The win last weekend against the Falcons was typical. Six guys had between three and five catches and between 24 and 61 yards.

During the regular season, three receivers had between 789 and 824 yards. Seven others had at least 120 receiving yards. And five running backs had at least 150 rushing yards but none had 800.

It's not going to get anybody to the Pro Bowl, but it sure makes the Eagles difficult to defend.

"It's not basketball, it's football," Jeffery said. "Football, you need everybody. If a lot of players or anyone got a lot of stats besides the quarterback, I mean, I don't think your team is doing too well. I'm just being honest."

Blount had the Eagles' only 100-yard rushing game — against the Chargers back on Oct. 1. Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz and Torrey Smith each had a 100-yard receiving game. 

Nobody had more than one.

"Sometimes you just have to put it all on the line, and you can’t be selfish when everybody has one common goal because you have to make sacrifices for the better of the team," Blount said. "We’ve done that and it’s gotten us this far."

"There’s a lot of things that you can do that could be (selfish) but we’re a family, man. We love each other. We have each others’ back. That’s what’s gotten us this far throughout the injuries of guys and everything else."

The Eagles are one win away from riding this unselfishness, this team-first mentality, to the Super Bowl.

They face the Vikings at 6:40 p.m. Sunday at the Linc in the NFC Championship Game.

If all goes to form, they won't have a 100-yard rusher or receiver, but they'll have something a lot more meaningful.

Another win.

"This is just a pretty unselfish team all in all," Blount said. "From the O-line to the receivers to the quarterback, we have a really unselfish team at every position and that’s what you need. 

"You have guys that go out there and will do anything for a win, and if that requires them not playing as much or playing less, whatever it may be, they’re all aboard. That's why we are where we are."

Zach Ertz is only other player to leave field with Jason Witten's jersey

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USA Today Images

Zach Ertz is only other player to leave field with Jason Witten's jersey

For a long time, Zach Ertz has always said that he’s emulated future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. Ertz loved the way he played and the way he handled himself on and off the field. 

Turns out it’s mutual. 

Because after Ertz went on social media to say goodbye to Witten after the longtime Dallas Cowboy retired recently, Witten returned the favor and praised Ertz. 

That’s pretty crazy. Witten played 15 years, a total of 247 games including the playoffs. And, according to him, the only other person to ever leave the field with his jersey is Ertz. It's become commonplace for players in the league to trade jerseys after games. During an NFL season, a peek into someone's locker will reveal a few jerseys of different colors. Witten's was probably be in demand, but Ertz is the only player to ever get one. 

It’s clear that Ertz gained Witten’s respect and Witten has probably heard the praise from Ertz before. He heard it again when Ertz tweeted earlier in May. 

“First off, I want to say congratulations to someone that had a profound impact on my career, by just being the man he is!” Ertz wrote. “At 17 years old when I was trying to figure out what a tight end meant and what they embodies I started following the tight end for the Cowboys. Everything he did on the field and off, I tried to emulate.” 

Oddly enough, this season Ertz made his first Pro Bowl, but couldn’t go because the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. Guess who took his place? Yup, Witten. 

Earlier this spring, Ertz said it’s strange to think that other tight ends are now growing up and trying to emulate him. He’s just trying to set as good an example as Witten did. 

Eagles' Brandon Brooks uses own story to inspire graduates

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Miami University

Eagles' Brandon Brooks uses own story to inspire graduates

Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks was back at his alma mater this weekend, delivering the commencement speech at Miami University (Ohio), when he began talking about his battle with anxiety. 

In front of thousands of people. 

“Truth be told, I’m feeing a little anxious today,” Brooks said, inciting laughter in front of the giant crowd staring back at him. “But I’ve learned through therapy, to not worry or care about making a mistake. Why? Because the best thing about life is that it goes on.”

Brooks, 28, talked to the crowd of graduates about love and honor, perseverance and unity, but perhaps it was telling his personal story about how he overcame his anxiety that made the most lasting impression. 

After identifying his issues with anxiety during the 2016 season, when he missed two games, Brooks began to seek help. In 2017, he played in all 16 games, became a Pro Bowler and helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl championship. 

As the Eagles were getting ready to play in the Super Bowl, Brooks reflected a little bit on his road thus far and chronicled how he was able to have fun playing football again (see story)

On Saturday, he told the graduates that even after becoming a Pro Bowler and winning the Super Bowl, he’s “especially proud” of overcoming his anxiety. 

For those in attendance who didn’t know his story, he gave them an overview: 

“I took being the best very seriously. Too seriously, in fact,” Brooks said. “I demanded excellence of myself. I demanded perfection. No mistakes, no screwups. I wanted to epitomize perfection. I did not want to make mistakes. And when that did happen, the world wasn’t a good place for me. I had a secret; I needed help. I grew up thinking, you had to man up. You had to suck it up, as they say. Boy, did I learn the hard way. 

“I don’t know how many of you know, but I have an anxiety disorder. I demanded perfection of myself and when I fail, when I’m not that superhuman I’m supposed to be, my body and my mind turn on me. I get tremendously ill for hours and can’t play the sport I love. I missed five NFL games over my career because I couldn’t handle being perfect. I came to a crossroads where I had to make a decision. I would either cave under the pressure or get help, persevere and rise to the occasion. I choose the latter because there are no diamonds without pressure. 

“Getting help by seeing a therapist was one of the best things for me. For those out there going through something you can’t handle yourself, never be afraid to ask for help and get the help you need.”

Brooks is one of three Eagles to make graduation speeches this spring after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Corey Clement was at Rowan University in his hometown of Glassboro, N.J., and Chris Long spoke at the University of Virginia. 

Brooks explained how important the law of averages has been to helping him overcome his anxiety and tried to pass along that knowledge. For a player who is an 8 out of 10, there will be days they’re 10/10, but also days where they’re 6/10. 

For Brooks, it’s all about striving to be perfect without letting life’s inevitable failures take over. 

That’s a lesson worth teaching. 

“We are all allowed to make mistakes, to be imperfect, to be human,” Brooks said. “Learn that now, listen to someone who knows. Learn from your mistakes, keep pushing, trust yourself and trust the process.”