We’re talking about practice?!
Indeed we are.
Allen Iverson’s outrage at his indifference to preparation 15 years ago gave the sports community an evergreen catchphrase. Of course, for the Answer, less was always best. In this instance, however, the topic concerns the Eagles’ plan to give their least relevant players more relevant practice time.
Twelve minutes more, per day, to be exact.
Twelve measly minutes? Can you imagine Iverson’s disdain? Can 12 minutes possibly matter?
Think about it this way. Twelve minutes per day means 36 more minutes per week, or 576 minutes per season. That’s more than 9 hours of intensive instruction with either position coaches or their assistants (or, roughly, Iverson’s aggregate practice time). The Eagles will seek to polish the roughest edges off the rawest players; specifically, young players routinely inactive on game day and players on the practice squad.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson was just such a player more than 20 years ago. He spent 1992 and 1993 on the Dolphins’ practice squad as a forgotten quarterback uselessly running the opposition’s plays read off a 3 x 5 card.
“I’ve been on the practice squad, so I understand you’re constantly looking at a card, and it may not be what you do offensively or defensively,” Pederson said Monday. “But to get those 10, 12 minutes after a practice, repping plays that we do, or a route, or a drop by a defensive back or linebacker, I think it’s just valuable for that person’s growth and development the entire season.”
Remember Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews? He was irrelevant for most of 2014, a big, fast practice-squad body with poor technique. The team signed him off the practice squad in early December. He didn’t have a catch, but he recovered an onside kick that helped win the NFC Championship Game. He then caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. He would have won the Super Bowl XLIX MVP award if the Seahawks hadn’t been last-minute idiots at the goal line.
Maybe speedy receiver Bryce Treggs will be the Eagles’ Chris Matthews this year.
The Eagles claimed Treggs off waivers just before last season. Maybe with 9 hours of extra practice he would have developed further. Maybe he would have caught more than three passes. Maybe he would have become a more precise route-runner and would have nailed down a spot on the team this year. Maybe then the Eagles might not have drafted Shelton Gibson in the fifth round. Gibson now occupies a roster spot but has little chance to play. The Eagles cut Treggs last week. He now occupies one of the 10 spots on the Eagles’ practice squad. He’s in the same boat as fifth-round linebacker Nathan Gerry; undrafted tight end Billy Brown; and a pair of practice-squad holdovers, corner C.J. Smith and running back Byron Marshall. They might be gone off the 53-man roster, but, said general manager Howie Roseman, they’re not as forgotten as they once would have been.
“We are going to make a concerted effort to try to develop them and spend the time,” Roseman said Sunday. “Not just reading off cards on scout team, but really spending time with them and developing the person and the player and try to help them on some of the deficiencies that maybe they have.”
Perhaps Smith would have been better prepared last year, when the Eagles signed him off their practice squad after four games to add depth to their teetering defensive backfield. He will be better prepared this season after getting extra reps this week.
“At practice, I’m not seeing the Washington Redskins this week. I mean, I’m seeing them on film, but I’m not going out there and replicating,” Smith said. “It will definitely help to play through those reps. Nothing compares to actual, physical reps.”
Certainly, the starters need the most reps, but, with 63 players on the payroll, it just makes sense to prepare all of them as completely as possible. It also keeps the outsiders engaged.
“We don’t let those guys just sort of drift by the wayside, so to speak,” Pederson said.
“When you’re seeing all the ‘ones’ get the reps, and they’re telling you to get these mental reps in, it’s not the same,” said receiver Marcus Johnson.
The Eagles signed Johnson to the practice squad for Game 1 last season, then released him for the bulk of the season before re-signing him to the squad for the last five games.
“Say you get that extra practice all year, and then you come back for OTAs in the spring,” Johnson said. “It’s that much more quicker reaction, quicker recall.”
Quick recall is most crucial for players asked to do the most. Pederson’s offense demands instant, encyclopedic knowledge from its running backs. This year, if one or two of the five backs on the roster falters and Marshall is promoted, his tall task won’t be quite as daunting.
“You can’t be overprepared,” said Marshall, who languished on the practice squad for the first 13 games last season and got signed for the last three. “Running backs probably do the most in this offense, except for the quarterback. Mentally, we should be there. Me, I’m more of a Kinesthetic learner. It’s best for me to go out there and do it.”
Kinesthetic learner, huh?
Maybe that was Iverson’s issue, too.
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