After an offseason shortened by an improbable Super Bowl run, and with so many players rehabbing injuries, Eagles coach Doug Pederson may decide to lighten the load on stars and veterans at OTAs.
The Eagles are scheduled to hold their first full-team practices of the offseason when phase three of OTAs begins next week, though the workouts will be “full-team” in name only. A number of players will be limited or held out entirely, many while working their way back from injuries, other possibly to limit fatigue.
During last Friday’s media availability, Pederson seemed to allude to a plan to ease certain players back into action on several occasions.
“It’s my job to protect them a little bit through this offseason,” said Pederson. “Obviously, we're not playing a game right now. So, it's my job to make sure that these guys are getting the work they need, but at the same time, getting them more prepared for training camp.”
It will be interesting to see who’s even ready to take the field for the Eagles once practices are underway. Carson Wentz, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks and Chris Maragos sustained season-ending injuries in 2017, while Alshon Jeffery, Derek Barnett and Tim Jernigan underwent offseason surgeries.
Naturally, there’s no need to rush anybody back in May, particularly established veterans. The Eagles also may have constructed their roster in preparation of some of these absences well.
For example, signed by the Eagles two weeks ago, Markus Wheaton can provide an experienced presence on the practice field at wide receiver while Jeffery rehabs from shoulder surgery.
“It goes back to me kind of protecting some of the starters a little bit,” said Pederson. “Some of the guys, as we know, Alshon and his situation currently, and so having depth at that position helps us down the road.”
The Eagles aren’t necessarily focused solely on bringing rehabbing players along slowly, however. Pederson explicitly stated Jay Ajayi might be somebody who stands to benefit from fewer reps at OTAs.
“Jay is a guy that, going forward, I want to make sure that he's 100 percent and he's ready for the regular season and all those types of things down the road,” said Pederson.
Ajayi does have a chronic knee condition the Eagles have monitored since acquiring the running back in a trade last season, yet is by some definition healthy. That is to say if the NFL schedule did begin in May, he would be in uniform.
Ajayi’s might be a special case. Then again, it might not. Pederson chose to rest players with nagging injuries early and often in ‘17. Both Jeffery and Nick Foles routinely sat out of practices during training camp, and were always available whenever the Eagles truly needed them.
Could Pederson use maintenance days with more frequency in 2018, perhaps even extend the practice to players who are generally be considered healthy? It's not out of the question, and might be wise.
“It was a short offseason, as you guys know, and short for all of players and coaches, but obviously I'll take that any day,” said Pederson.
Of course the Eagles will take rings over the extra five weeks of rest and relaxation the majority of the NFL gets. But in terms of the team’s upcoming bid to repeat, Pederson would do well to weigh the potential negative consequences of fatigue versus the benefits of an occasion rest day for an established player.
It also sounds as if Pederson has already given it some serious thought, and as is often the case these days, might be ahead of the curve.