The first time practice ended after 75 minutes I figured, “OK, first practice. Start easy. They'll gradually get longer. Makes sense.”
The second time practice ended after 75 minutes I figured, “Well, once the weather cools off, the practices will get longer.”
The third time practice ended after 75 minutes I figured, “Nick has lost his mind.”
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wondered how a football team could prepare to play football when it doesn’t tackle to the ground, doesn't run live goal-line or short yardage drills in practice, rarely works in full pads, and then packs it in for the day after a little over an hour.
Then the Eagles played football Thursday night, and it all made sense.
They looked fresh and fast, which you’d expect from a team that holds short practices, but they also played tough and physical, which was somewhat surprising.
Conventional football wisdom has always said that you can’t play football unless you practice playing football. You can’t block or tackle with pads unless you practice blocking and tackling with pads.
The NFL over the years has gradually moved from endless, physical, two-a-days that beat players down to a single, less physical practice with a growing emphasis on classroom learning and film study.
But Sirianni’s practices have taken that to extremes.
The Eagles’ training camp practices have averaged less than 90 minutes, and their practice on Saturday – following a day off Friday and preceding a walkthrough Sunday – lasted 70 minutes, which has to be some sort of NFL record.
This is no country club. Players arrive at the facility just after sunrise and don’t leave until after dinner. It’s a long, intense, structured day loaded with film study, meetings and conditioning work. But for the most part, players are off their feet, and when you’re off your feet you can’t get hurt.
And that’s the philosophy behind Sirianni’s unconventional training camp. Keep guys healthy. Get them to Sept. 12 in one piece. Avoid unnecessary physical risks in August. And when you are on the field, get in as much work as briskly as possible and then get back inside.
So far, it’s working.
The Eagles have some guys banged up, which is inevitable. But nobody is out for the season and at least so far it looks like everybody who's currently banged up will be available by opening day or soon after. And the Eagles’ post-game injury report Thursday night was blank. Nobody got hurt. That might not ever happen again, but it shows you that the team was physically prepared to play despite a training camp with a heavy emphasis on the cerebral side of the game.
This is all validation for Sirianni’s style of training camp, which is a direct response to the unprecedented rash of injuries that's ravaged the Eagles’ roster the last few years.
But it also requires the players to approach all the indoor stuff – studying, learning, conditioning – with the same intensity as they approach their work on the grass.
“It’s all about getting to the game,” Brandon Graham said. “You want to make sure you’re the freshest you can be for the game, and you’ve got to pay him back by making sure you take every rep serious and stay focused, because you do get a lot of extra time, so it’s all about using that extra time wisely, and take care of what you need to.
“I don’t think anybody’s trying to make him look bad, so we’re just going to keep working.”
It’s still early in the preseason, and Sirianni seems flexible enough to tweak the practice schedule if he feels like the players need more time on the field. Or less. If that's possible.
But so far, Sirianni’s approach is working.
We saw a team Thursday night that was ready to play football. The 1’s and 2’s played a smart, disciplined, physical brand of ball despite the shortest practices we’ve ever seen.
And if you’re truly able to get your football team prepared while minimizing the injury risk, you really might be onto something special.
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