The sweat dripped — no, it poured — off the brows and down the backs of Eagles as the hot August sun brutally beat them year after year at Lehigh University.
For over a decade under Andy Reid, the Eagles spent the warmest days of the year finishing up two-a-days with just enough time to strip off their sweat-soaked pads, slide some food down their gullets and squeeze their oversized bodies into undersized dormitory room beds to get some sleep before waking up and doing it all over again.
Those were character-building days. They were tough. And thanks to the 2011 CBA, they’re history.
So Doug Pederson’s first training camp — which kicks off next week (see schedule) — won’t be nearly as tough as his mentor Reid’s were. But Pederson’s camp also won’t be anything like those of his predecessor Chip Kelly, who prioritized speed and health over toughness.
Pederson’s camp will likely fall somewhere in between. That means the return of hitting during training camp this August in Philadelphia.
“It’s real, live football,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “The past couple of years, we’ve kind of limited the tackling. I mean, you can approach it one of two ways, whether you’re keeping guys healthy or getting guys tougher. There’s definitely a fine line and I’m really excited about training camp. And I know all the guys are.”
It should be no surprise Pederson will bring a tougher training camp — in terms of hitting — than the ones Kelly had the last three years. Reid, his mentor, was known for his brutal training camps in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In fact, Pederson was a part of Reid’s first training camp in 1999 at Lehigh.
Pederson said his training camp will be pretty similar, structure-wise, to the training camps Reid runs because they’re “successful” and “time-proven.”
That includes hitting.
“Why do I believe in hitting? I’m a quarterback — a former quarterback,” Pederson said. “It’s a physical game. It’s football. It’s tackle football. I think the only way you can properly fit offensively and defensively is you have to put the pads on and you have to hit.”
Just because the Eagles will have a physical camp, it doesn’t mean they’ll go live (tackling to the ground) every day, or even wear full pads every day. Pederson, as of late spring, said the team would likely go three days in pads before taking them off for the day to break up the schedule and give his players a break.
The majority of practices this summer will be “thud” practices, which means in pads but not tackling to the ground. There will be a few live periods mixed in. This setup will allow the coaches to see some hitting, while also limiting the potential injuries that tackling can sometimes bring. Pederson also said some players who are slightly injured can practice thud but not live.
“Training camp, boy, it’s going to be fun because it’s a lot of live periods, we back to 9-on-7,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “Just a lot of stuff that gets you physical before the actual game.”
Physical practices can help coaches evaluate players on the offensive and defensive lines as well as other physical positions such as fullback. During the spring, the Eagles used tight ends Chris Pantale and Trey Burton at fullback, but training camp will give the team a better opportunity to see if either can be an effective lead blocker.
“I want to see him run downfield and hit a MIKE linebacker,” Pederson said of the fullback position. “I want to see him strike a defensive end. I want to see if he can hold up. Does he collapse, does he stay up, can he power through the block? I want to see if guards can pull. I want to see if linebackers can tackle. I want to see receivers and DBs contest each other. The only way you can do that is in pads.”
Hitting isn’t the only similarity Pederson’s first camp will have with Reid’s. Early morning practices are back as well. Under Pederson, they’ll kick off at 8:15 a.m. during camp, which is when Reid’s camp practices used to start. That’s a significant change from Kelly, whose earliest practice last year was at 11:30 a.m.
There were some mixed reviews from various players in the locker room about the early start times. Some players were OK with getting it out of the way, while some weren’t too happy about the early wakeup calls.
Pederson said he looked at several schedules and decided it was best to get an early start.
“Get it done. Get it out of the way,” he said. “Get it while the weather is cool. Get it out of the way. Do your meetings at night, when they can rest and hydrate and get ready to go for the next day.”
The one way Pederson’s camp will differ from Reid’s is location. Reid took his teams to Lehigh every year as a part of growing team camaraderie. Kelly stopped that in 2013 and Pederson has opted to keep camp at the NovaCare Complex.
“Why pack up your office and move?” Pederson said.
He did admit he enjoyed going to the Lehigh Valley in 1999 and expressed some disappointment that fans have fewer chances to watch practice now than they did for years under Reid.
But times have changed, and now the team is staying home to get its hitting in.