Doug Pederson wants the Eagles to 'rip off the dog masks and no longer be the underdog' | Early Birds

Good morning, Eagles fans. The Eagles started their mandatory minicamp this week. The first practice was Tuesday and they have two more sessions to come. Doug Pederson will speak to reporters at 10:30 a.m. the next two days. The Eagles practice at 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday and 11:10 a.m. on Thursday. Follow Philly.com for all the updates.

This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come Wednesday and Friday this week before shifting to a once-a-week format during the league’s quiet period. If your friends haven’t subscribed to Early Birds, it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Camera icon DAVID SWANSON
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson speaks about the new season at minicamp at the NovaCare Center Tuesday June 12, 2018. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

No longer underdogs

The Eagles’ underdog story captured the hearts of fans during their Super Bowl run, but coach Doug Pederson is ready for his team to take on a different identity in 2018. They’re defending champions, and no one is going to view them as underdogs anymore.

“Great motivating factor for us to sort of rip off the dog masks and no longer be the underdog, but now be the hunted,” Pederson said. “Have the target on our back.…We have to embrace it and use it as sort of motivation to get back to that game and to do it for the guys that didn’t have an opportunity to play in that game last year.”

The Eagles will receive their Super Bowl rings on Thursday night. After the clock strikes midnight, coach Doug Pederson wants his players to turn the page, as Les Bowen writes.

Of course, the excitement is not going away anytime soon. Pederson had two events this week. Some players were on stage with Pederson and Jeffrey Lurie at the Kenny Chesney concert last weekend. Nick Foles has a book tour this month.

One of the fascinating storylines entering the 2018 season will be how the Super Bowl affects the Eagles. Does it make them hungrier or does it make them content? Does it stimulate ego or motivation? These are all questions that Pederson is thinking about, especially when training camp arrives next month.

Relive the Eagles’ Super Bowl championship season with our limited edition commemorative book

Day 1 of mandatory minicamp

The mandatory minicamp began with Michael Bennett and Darren Sproles joining the team after missing OTAs. (Jeff McLane has more on Bennett and  Bowen has more on Sproles.)

Sproles did not do much at practice, although he said that’s because the coaches limited him while he recovers from a torn ACL. He thought he could have participated and is not worried about training camp.

Bennett played with the second-team defensive line. Pederson said Bennett will get some work with the first-team defense this week. Because Bennett is a a veteran, the Eagles don’t expect a long transition process.

Pederson emphasized that the main objective of minicamp is to avoid injuries. Most of the players out this spring had injuries suffered before the offseason program started, although linebacker Paul Worrilow tore his ACL during OTAs. But otherwise, this week is just about getting ready for training camp.

“It’s a chance to get the whole team together for the first time, and really, it sort of springboards us right into training camp,” Pederson said. “So get some good work in these next couple of days, some situational things that I’ve put together in practice. And then, really on Thursday, just wrap it up and keep the guys focused and motivated for July 25th when they get back. But I think the goal this week is to make sure we don’t have any further injury.”

Beating Carolina and making Dallas ‘quit’

Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin was asked for his Super Bowl memories, and it was interesting listening to him look back at the season. Every coach and player (and fan, likely, too) has a specific memory of the season. Undlin zeroed in on two regular-season games.

“You get asked questions like that anywhere you are in this city, obviously, and you come up with some stuff,” Undlin said. “When we went to Carolina and played Carolina on that Thursday night, as far as the games go, when we got on the plane and went home,  short week, they were a good team, and the way that we were playing in that game, as fast as we were playing, we got back on the plane and I was like, ‘OK. Alright.’…And then when we went to Dallas on Sunday night and made them quit, that was probably No. 2, as far as in my mind. And then I could go for two hours here about different things that happened.”

It stood out that he mentioned the Panthers game, because I had the  same recollection of the season. I remember sitting in a Charlotte hotel room writing Early Birds after that Panthers game in Week 6 and thinking, “this team is legit.” They were 4-1 going into that game, but they didn’t have a signature win. The Panthers looked like one of the best teams in the NFC. The Eagles were missing some key players that night – Lane Johnson was absent with a concussion – and they were three-point underdogs. When they won that game, it was clear that the Eagles were going to be contenders.

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Injured Eagles running back Darren Sproles watches pregame warm-ups before the Eagles played the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, December 10, 2017. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

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This is a position I’ve been watching closely, and frankly, it’s too soon to say. Jordan Hicks isn’t out there in team drills yet, and it’s hard to evaluate the group without Hicks. He’s such a key part of their plans at linebacker. Corey Nelson and Nate Gerry are two players fighting for that weak-side linebacker spot. Gerry has taken a noticeable amount of first-team snaps this spring and he’s a player to watch closely in the summer — he’s definitely improved since last season. Kamu Grugier-Hill is also getting some time.

As I’ve written in this space before, the Eagles play two linebackers most of the time. Worrying about their third linebacker is similar to worrying about their third safety when you look at the roles on the team. (In fact, the third safety played much more in the playoffs.) It will all come down to Hicks. If he’s healthy, the Eagles will be fine. If he’s not, that’s when those question marks require an answer.

The in-house front-runner for the third safety spot is Tre Sullivan, who was on practice squad last year. He’s impressed this offseason. However, I still think the Eagles could add a veteran in that group. Pay attention to Corey Graham, who is still available and knows the defense.

At punter, the Eagles are giving Cameron Johnston a chance to win the job. They’ll also be watching the other punters in the NFL this summer. As special teams coordinator Dave Fipp explains it, Johnston might not have in-house competition, but he’s competing every day against anyone else who could join the team. There will only be 32 punters on rosters this season. If the Eagles think there’s a better one available than Johnston, they’ll take a look. But they’ve liked what Johnston has shown so far, and he’s also improved as a holder.

The Eagles are rotating different players into that spot, but one player whose name keeps coming up is De’Vante Bausby. He was there again on Tuesday. (For more on Bausby, check out Paul Domowitch‘s story.) The Eagles are intrigued by Bausby, who was on the practice squad last year and has captured the attention of anyone watching this spring.

One thing to keep in mind: This spot is a long way from being settled. The Eagles didn’t move Patrick Robinson to the slot until the middle of training camp last year. They’ll continue to experiment. They have options, and every day in meetings, Cory Undlin asks who’s going to become the slot.