Eagles’ Doug Pederson Promises ‘Grueling’ Practices, Previews WR Position Battle

Greg Ward

Getty Greg Ward caught a touchdown pass for the Eagles. He can also play some quarterback.

Doug Pederson is back at Eagles camp patrolling the field after a brief and healthy bout with COVID-19. He’s ready to hit the ground running.

The head coach told reporters he “stayed engaged virtually” with the team throughout his 10-day absence from the facility, including watching practices and joining Zoom meetings from his home office. Yes, the Eagles missed out on OTAs and rookie minicamps but don’t think for a second that they are behind the eight-ball.

Conversely, Pederson revealed the team had already installed their entire offensive and defensive playbooks as they plunge into “situational football.” It matched what Zach Ertz mentioned on Friday, about working on things like “third down, red zone and two-minute” drills.

“I guess the thing is, for you to understand where we’ve been for the last two weeks, we’ve put in our entire offense and defense,” Pederson told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s already installed. We’re working through situational football now. We’re working through all the different scenarios even though we’re doing walk-throughs and we’re doing classroom. We’ve had time with these players, even on the grass. We’ve had time with our rookies this past week. So, we’re really not playing catch-up.”

The Eagles will continue to treat this abbreviated training camp like a normal one. Offensive and defensive players were allowed to assemble together on Wednesday and line up against each other for the first time. Helmets were on but no pads. The “live period” — the phase where tackling to the ground is permitted — will begin on Aug. 17 and Pederson anticipates eight or nine padded practices over the next two and a half weeks, including at least two “controlled live” scrimmages.

“We have to be able to get answers on these players,” Pederson said. “It’s a matter of putting these players in practice situations to be successful to show us what they can do. Once the pads come on, you really start seeing, again, the physicality of guys, and how well they’re going to suit what we need as an offense, defense and obviously special teams.”

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Greg Ward Remains ‘In Starting Mix’ for Eagles

Greg Ward Jr. was the breakout star last season after leaping off the practice squad for good in Week 12. He proved to be a reliable safety blanket for Carson Wentz and finished with 28 catches for 254 yards and one timely touchdown against Washington. There has been speculation about his role in 2020 — is he the future slot receiver in Philly? — and Pederson provided a telling update on his status.

“I’ve always liked Greg,” Pederson said. “The one thing now as he goes into this season, he’s in that rotation, in that starting mix for us. It’s just a matter of him embracing every day, getting better. He and Carson have a really good feel for one another.”

The head coach also placed Ward in hallowed company, on a shortlist of leaders in the receivers room including DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery.

“We expect some really big things from Greg. He can also be a leader,” Pederson said. “He can be a leader of that group. Him and DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, these guys, they can be leaders now and mentors to these young players.”

Young Players Getting First-Team Reps at Practice

Pederson always likes to rotate his rookies and first-year players in with the first-team offense. It’s the best way for him to evaluate their progress, something that is even more important due to the shortened COVID-19 timeline.

With no preseason games on the horizon, those practice snaps will be the closest thing to a “game rep” they’ll get prior to Week 1. Pederson wants guys like Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins and John Hightower to build chemistry with Wentz.

“I can remember back when I was a young player getting reps with those starters,” Pederson said. “I mean, it gets your juices going a little bit. It’s exciting for that player, but at the same time, that’s a game rep for them. That’s a true feeling on what game day is like.”

These steamy, humid August days on the practice field will look a bit different, too. Coaches will be required to wear masks or protective shields on the field, while players will be testing out their league-approved Oakley Mouth Shields for the first time. Everything else will be business as usual.

“Other than that, really you’re not going to see a lot of wholesale changes,” Pederson said.

Wait, Pederson had one more comment — no reporters at practice could be extremely beneficial to the team.

“You guys won’t be out there, which will be kind of nice,” Pederson joked. “I’m just kidding.”

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