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August 17, 2022

What I learned covering my first Eagles training camp

My first Eagles training camp as a media member is in the books! I've attended some Eagles practices over the years as a freelancer and intern, but this was my introduction to the grind of being a consistent presence down at the NovaCare Complex. As someone whose brand was primarily self-deprecating or irreverent when writing and podcasting about the team as a full-time content creator, this was a hell of switch up, working as a "Big J" journalist among the big name writers in the city. 

Here are some observations from what I learned about the gig and the Eagles team in South Philly this summer:

Nick Sirianni: The vibe guy. I can't speak to what the atmosphere was like at training camp in 2021 since, obviously, I wasn't there, but there's an energy in the building that feels palpable. The team clearly has aspirations of contending, ones that the fan base is doubling down on, but I would not call this a "cocky" team or anything in that realm. Miles Sanders, in a big no-no, called the Birds an "All-Star team," but this isn't a Dream Team 2.0 situation. Sirianni has the team collected even if the goal posts continue to move and people are expecting a two- or three-win jump for the Eagles in 2022. 

• Building off that, there's a clear likability with this team and that goes beyond fans latching onto new players in the aftermath of the Doug Pederson-Carson Wentz era. This offensive line gels together. Jordan Mailata and Landon Dickerson are bro-ing out while I anticipate them holding down the left side of the Eagles' line for the next half-dozen years. Players are drawn to Jalen Hurts. Brandon Graham is back in full force after his Week 2 season-ending injury last year and is bringing that infectious personality to the squad once again. It's rather easy to say, "Everything's great!" in August before a team gets punched in the mouth for the first time in September, but things feel different than they have the previous two offseasons. 

• Speaking of Hurts, my whole goal at camp was to track his team drill performances and write a play-by-play breakdown whenever I was at practice. Hurts didn't consistently string together strong performance after performance, but the highs were high and it's reasonable to assume, at minimum, an incremental improvement from him as a passer. The faults are still there. Hurts tucking the ball and running in 7-on-7 work every other practice was the antithesis of what a 7-on-7 drill is supposed to be. He underthrew some deep balls. He is not the world's most accurate QB. He is, however, attacking the middle of the field, when he rarely did so in 2021, with a lot of success targeting Dallas Goedert and A.J. Brown. He's willingly throwing to his left more (though that success is still mixed). There's a self-awareness of what he needs to improve on and he's hitting receivers in stride more than I expected to see. 

• I'm predicting that I'll see at least two touchdowns of 40-plus yards for Quez Watkins this fall. He's a burner and, despite Hurts' deep ball being inconsistent, QB1 did connect with him on those routes in camp. The fact that he's only the team's third-best receiver illustrates how diverse this offense can be. 

• The Athletic's beat writer Zach Berman reads almost every single thing that Eagles writers put out. I've increasingly consumed less Eagles content as I've gone further in my career, wanting to neither actively nor passively have other writers' ideas cloud my own judgment. Not that other writers are wrong, but I want to stand strong with my own takeaways and thoughts. He's the complete opposite. The dude is a beast. 

• One day I didn't really check the weather and it was raining out when I got to the NovaCare. Rookie mistake. When I got home, I bought a packable L.L. Bean rain jacket to leave in my work bag at all times. I'm definitely not the "outdoorsman" type, but it's in there in case of emergency. After going to a Phillies game and freezing back in April, I also bought a Carhartt knit hat to leave in there at all times. Yes, I have a lot of stuff in backpack. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. 

Free Rita's Water Ice after practice during the recent heat wave was huge. I'm more of a Pop's guy (1337 Oregon Avenue) as a South Philly native, but the Rita's mango still hits when we're inching toward 100-degree temperatures. 

• Brown is one of the best examples of, "If you saw this player step off a team's bus, you can just tell he's incredible." Even in something as simple as warm-up drills with the other wideouts, there's a special quality that radiates from Brown, one I truly believe hasn't been on the Eagles since Terrell Owens in 2004. 

• Another guy in that category is Jordan Davis. I'm not confident Davis will ever have a bunch of big-stat, high-sack seasons in his career, but he's going to be a great player (not good, great) in the NFL for a long, long time. Yes, everyone knows how physically imposing and athletic Davis is. It's a lot different to see him towering over other excellent players alongside the Eagles' offensive and defensive lines while continuously collapsing pockets. It's hard to evaluate run defense in a watered-down training camp practice, but I have zero doubt Davis will be among the best interior run-stuffers in the league from Day 1 while he develops into a disruptive force as a pass rusher. He has a star-ready "it" factor too that is so apparent in his post-game press conferences. 

Going to the Penrose Diner right as they open at 8:00 a.m. and then taking a short walk over to the NovaCare Complex is an elite training camp reporter move. Some classic diner coffee, a slice of scrapple and reading some NFL articles is an ideal morning to get me in that football mode. 

• I'll never see J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in person in an Eagles jersey again. It might be time to re-evaluate my whole career. 

• Wearing a Dan Flashes-esque button-down shirt and bypassing the lines and lines of eager fans to enter into the Eagles' media building was a real "Welcome to the Show" moment on the first day of camp. The Eagles' general manager took notice too: 

• The reporters that fans get angry about on Twitter constantly are generally good people! Captain Obvious Alert, but it's a different perspective when you're the writer taking in practice in-person rather than following along online. Everything is just more... real.

Deon Cain, who may end up on the Eagles' practice squad for the second-consecutive season, is the perfect practice player. I don't mean this as a slight to his game. Yes, he'll likely never play in a regular season matchup for the Birds, but he gives all these young defensive backs great reps, making them better in the process. It's one of the little things that I'd only pick up on being around the team. 

• No one cares as much about punting as our Eagles beat writer Jimmy Kempski

• Here are the players, in order, who had the five best training camps: James Bradberry, T.J. Edwards, A.J. Brown, Jordan Davis and Dallas Goedert. 

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