BETHLEHEM - Football coaches come in all sizes and demeanors. What they say to the cameras is one thing, and what they say in private is another. Eagles coach Andy Reid acknowledged that he has known all kinds, the relentless optimists and the chronic worriers. The task on Tuesday was to try to pin him down on where he fell on that continuum, and especially at this time last year.
One of the narratives of 2012 has been about how last summer was so unsettled, both because of the owners' lockout and because of the late free-agent shopping the Eagles did, and how they dealt badly with the changes in routine and personnel that followed, and how their 1-4 start was a direct result.
That experience seems to have influenced everything since for Reid, from the offseason re-signing of key veterans rather than wholesale shopping for newcomers, to the return of as physically tough a training camp as the new rules allow. Tuesday was the last day of the Lehigh University phase of that training camp, and Reid says he has a good feel for this group as a result.
But what about last year? Was there quiet panic when the Eagles' coaches went about their nightly meetings, evaluating practice video and moving names up and down on their depth chart? Was there significant optimism that things would come together quickly? After so many years of doing things a certain way, was there palpable worry that they just weren't ready?
"I thought we had a lot of moving parts that had to come together as a football team," Reid said. It is a phrase he has used before, and he knows it.
"You ask that question, and I almost started laughing, because I'm not sure you ever feel as a coach or as a player, that everything is just perfect," he said. "That's just not how it works. You're always having to deal with issues, with injuries, whatever it is, just all of the human elements.
"But I knew it was going to take time. I guess I didn't know how long. I just didn't know how long, and I did have a concern for that."
So, he is a worrier?
"I try to be a realist," he said.
It was raining like hell as Reid spoke. The morning walkthrough had taken place indoors as a result. It was the last day of camp, and the forecast for the afternoon was iffy, and Reid could have scored himself a few points with the fellas if he had given them the rest of the day off.
Me: "You should have sent them home."
Him: "You sound like them."
This summer's return to football normalcy was anything but normal for this coach, as we all know. The death of his 29-year-old son, Garrett, in a Lehigh dorm room, will forever mark this time and this place as different. Little more than a week later, though, Reid's public demeanor is identical to what it was earlier this summer. People who haven't seen him come up and offer quick condolences, and Reid talks to them 1 second and answers questions about the defensive line roster battle the next. It is outwardly seamless.
For whatever it is worth, he really does seem to be happy with the progress of this year's team.
"I try to be real," Reid said. "I don't know where that fits in with the worriers. Maybe I'm matter of fact: This is kind of what it is, these are our challenges, and let's go. I try not to fear anything and I try to attack everything. I teach that and I believe in that.
"It's never perfect. But I do feel like I have a better feel for it this year. They came in here running this year. Last year, they were walking. You didn't know what kind of shape they were in, and you were afraid to push them too hard, because you wanted to get them in the right shape . . .
"It was just a little different dynamic."
As is this, for many reasons - some about being a football coach, some about being a grieving father. Anyway, the rain stopped and the Eagles held one final practice Tuesday afternoon at Lehigh. It was Fan Appreciation Day and, when it was over, Reid led the players, as he does every year, walking along the barriers between the grandstands and the fields and greeting the people.
It seemed normal. Reid seems to find comfort in normal, and in a football team that seems much more predictable than it was a year ago.
Contact Rich Hofmann at email@example.com.
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