BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Saturday’s walkthrough at U.S. Bank Stadium, site of Sunday’s Super Bowl LII, is the last on-field work before the Eagles’ encounter with the New England Patriots, which they seem to be entering in good shape.
All 53 Eagles practiced fully Friday, including defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who had missed Wednesday and Thursday workouts with an illness that coaches didn’t want him to spread. Corner Ronald Darby has also been ill, but he practiced fully Thursday and Friday.
There have been reports of illness working through the team since last week, but a team source said Friday this was “no big deal.”
Asked by a pool reporter how he knew his team was ready to face the Patriots, who are seeking their sixth Super Bowl title, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said: “I’ve been around these guys all year and I can tell by the way they practice – the speed, the tempo, [whether they are] assignment-sound, the energy level. Things like that lead me to believe, because I’ve seen it all season.
“Now, that doesn’t tell you how they’re going to play. But it tells you that they’re prepared and ready to go into this game.”
Pederson spoke at length to the team on the field after the final full practice. He said afterward he told his players to “play loose, have fun, enjoy the moment,” remaining mindful that these chances are rare. “Also, make sure to just reflect on the season, reflect on the journey that got us here. But just play for one another, have fun, and enjoy it.”
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia – soon to become the Detroit Lions’ head coach – and Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland know each other pretty well, through common friends made when they coached at Syracuse, though they weren’t there at the same time.
The first time Patricia was approached this week about his pending job change, he proclaimed that he faced way too tough a challenge from the Eagles’ offense, and from Stoutland specifically, to spend time discussing anything else.
“I would say their offensive line coach does a great job,” Patricia said, when asked about the Eagles’ run game. He then brought up the Syracuse connection, and said: “Jeff does an unbelievable job. They’re very well-coached. We had an opportunity to practice against them [during the 2013 and 2014 training camps, when Chip Kelly coached the Eagles], you see [Stoutland’s] coaching style and his techniques, the way he handles those guys, you can definitely tell there’s a huge amount of respect for what he teaches them. You can see it on film.”
“Once you’re there, you’re always there, and I was there twice,” Stoutland said, of having worked at Syracuse as a grad assistant in 1986-87 and then as the offensive line coach from 1997-99. Patricia was an offensive grad assistant there from 2001-03, then he joined the Patriots. “When I would go back, I would talk to him … then over the course of our careers, there’s an alumni group that gets together every year.”
Asked if he thinks Patricia will do well in Detroit, Stoutland said: “Absolutely … He’s been around some of the best. That’s how you learn to be a good coach.”
“He mixes things up from a personnel standpoint. Multiple, multiple, multiple personnel groupings. Different looks, disguising different presentations.”
NBC commentator Rodney Harrison, a former safety who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, endorsed two former Eagles – wide receiver Terrell Owens and safety Brian Dawkins – as deserving Hall of Famers earlier this week. This year’s class will be selected and announced on Saturday.
“I played against Jerry Rice and I played against Randy Moss and you talk about maybe the third-best wide receiver I ever faced, I would say it’s T.O.,” Harrison said. “He was such a threat. My disappointment with the Hall of Fame is this: Was he jerk sometimes? Of course, he was. But it doesn’t take away his impact on the field. He had defensive backs literally shaking in their boots because he was such a great player.”
As a fellow safety, Harrison said he had great admiration for Dawkins.
“Brian Dawkins is a bad dude,” Harrison said. “That is one of my favorite players of all time. He definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Turning off the noise
After finding out the Eagles would be New England’s Super Bowl opponent, Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge went into shutdown mode.
“I have been smart enough to go radio silent,” said Judge, 36, a graduate of Lansdale Catholic. “I talked to one friend, and my mother is kind of filling me in with what is going on [with fan reaction], but I have stayed focused on the game.”
Judge knows the passion of Eagles fans. He used to be one of them.
“I was there long enough to know what the reaction from Philadelphia is, and it is an appropriate reaction,” said Judge, who said his best memory at Lansdale Catholic was playing for coach Jim Algeo. “The fans are supposed to be behind the team, and that is why they are some of the best fans out there.”
Judge, whose father, Joseph, played at Temple and with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, is in his sixth season with the Patriots, first as assistant special teams coach, then for the last three years in his current job.
The Eagles have a controversy that likely won’t be resolved for some time. Running back LeGarrette Blount claims he is the best basketball player on the team.
“One-on-one, nobody on this team can beat me,” he said.
Blount weighs 250 and stands 6-foot, but he reportedly has great hops.
“I can shoot threes, I can dunk. Ask Kenjon,” Blount said, referring to fellow running back Kenjon Barner.
Barner, who like Blount attended the University of Oregon, had a different take.
“I am absolutely the best,” said Barner, who is listed at 5-foot-9, 195. “I can win one-on-one with anybody.”
Barner acknowledged that Blount has improved, but just not enough to call himself best on the team.