Philadelphia Eagles  

 

Hope springs for Eagles with Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz

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PHILADELPHIA -- The heckler behind the goal post Sunday had a particular problem with Josh Huff.

"I hate you," he screamed at the Philadelphia Eagles' third-year receiver. "Get off the field. This isn't Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks anymore."

It's not Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles anymore, either, and the first week of the team's training camp under Doug Pederson has made that clear. Practices are slower, because of the frequent stops in the action so coaches can make corrections on the spot, which Pederson believes is the best way for players to learn. They involve many more plays and are longer -- Saturday's practice lasted three hours -- to get players ready for three-hour games. So many vestiges of Kelly's three-year era in Philadelphia have disappeared -- from Kiko Alonso and DeMarco Murray to a sign leading to the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field that read "Habits Reflect the Mission" -- that the overhaul reads as an indictment of Kelly and an attempt to wipe him from the franchise's memory.

"It's really, really different," Pro Bowl DT Fletcher Cox said. "Everything is different except we're not at Lehigh. It's the same as from 2012."

That, of course, is the last year that the Eagles were coached by Andy Reid, Pederson's mentor and the man whose fingerprints are on so much of how Pederson is shaping the Eagles. There is more similarity than just the practices, too. When Howie Roseman reassumed control of the roster after he survived a brutal power struggle with Kelly, he resumed an Eagles philosophy of signing their own players to new contracts before their old ones expire, among them Cox, Zach Ertz, Malcolm Jenkins and Brent Celek. That is what Roseman, who had been exiled to the other side of the building when Kelly had control, chooses to think of when he remembers this offseason. The sell-off of many of Kelly's most high-profile acquisitions was to get value from them -- draft picks -- which helped accomplish other goals, most particularly moving up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz. From the outside, it looked as if the Eagles were settling all family business after Kelly was fired late last season and harkening back to a much sunnier time in Philadelphia. Roseman admits that talking team-building philosophy with Pederson is easier because they were both schooled by Reid. But Roseman insists that the Kelly era was not all bad.

"We have a lot of players on our roster acquired over the last two years," Roseman said, when he was asked if anything good came of the Kelly era. "A lot of people in the building are here from the last couple of years. At the same time, there is so much to learn from every experience you have. You take all the good out of it you can."

And what did Roseman learn from last season, when he went on his own personal listening tour to glean wisdom from others?

"The importance of just how you build your team and keeping your priorities in mind," Roseman said.

The priority for the Eagles was to have a quarterback of the present and the future, and the hope is that Wentz represents the good that comes from the haul of draft picks Roseman traded to Cleveland to move up to the second overall pick. It is lost on no one around Philadelphia that the last time the Eagles selected that high -- in 1999 -- they took Donovan McNabb, the quarterback who joined with Reid for a mostly-successful decade.

McNabb did not start immediately as a rookie and the Eagles are adamant that they would prefer Wentz have the chance to develop slowly while Sam Bradford, the biggest holdover from Kelly's reign, holds down the starting job. Pederson said he expects Wentz to be inactive -- the third quarterback -- for the season opener. And unless Bradford gets hurt, or the Eagles suffer a meltdown, it is fair to wonder how much Wentz will see the field in any capacity this season. Roseman cites the usual lineup of quarterbacks who did not start immediately -- Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Tom Brady -- as evidence that this is preferable. It certainly can be, but huge investments usually demand immediate payoffs. You need only look at the NFL's recent history of highly drafted quarterbacks -- from, among others, Matthew Stafford to Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota -- to know the NFL trend is now firmly to throw rookies into the fire.

In the meantime, Pederson is working on Wentz's mechanics. He said Sunday that Wentz can get "a little jumpy, a little hoppy" and that the rookie sometimes stands too upright rather than bending, both affecting his accuracy.

"It's the process of thinking about the play, and the last thing you're worried about is the throw," Pederson said. "You're more worried about the progression of the play, and sometimes that affects the throw."

In short, it's a rookie mistake.

"We're maybe the only profession in the world where people expect you to come out of college and perform at the highest level," Roseman said. "For him to be able to sit back and have people in his room to help him grow is going to serve all of us."

Still, the excitement surrounding Wentz was difficult to miss at the open practice at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. When Wentz moved under center for 11-on-11 drills, the crowd roared. When he rolled out on a quarterback keeper or threaded a pass to Nelson Agholor in traffic, they swooned. When it was over, a clutch of fans chanted for him to sign autographs. Hope springs eternal and if the freneticism that accompanied so much of Kelly's time here is missing, so too is the tension that seemed to permeate the Eagles then, replaced by the warm memories of what now look like happier days with Reid -- in truth, fans complained plenty of those days, too -- and the wish that they can be recreated by Pederson.

At the wall behind the goal post, not far from where that heckler had stood, Bradford made his way down a row of proffered helmets, jerseys, programs and selfie-snappers. Some of those people were, almost surely, among those who blasted Bradford when he briefly went AWOL and asked for a trade after the Eagles made the deal to put them in position to draft Wentz. But the Eagles have been firm all along that Bradford is the starter this season and while this is almost certainly it for him in Philadelphia, April's snit now seems like a long time ago.

"We have been through some things here in Philadelphia since I've been here," Roseman said later, laughing. "Time is a great healer."

Maybe so. By the end of the practice, even the heckler was shouting compliments.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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