McMullen: Even the Flat-Earthers are Coming Around When it Comes to Preseason Football
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — If you listened to Doug Pederson earlier this week it sure seems like the important work for the Eagles and Baltimore Ravens has already been taken care of during two grueling joint practices in the oppressive South Philadelphia heat.
That despite the fact that the two teams will play dress up for the television cameras a stone's throw away on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The sea change all across the NFL has continued this summer and the toothpaste is so far out of the tube that even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has admitted four -- and in the case of the Hall of Fame Game participants, five -- preseason games are overkill and simply not needed.
Just this week Frank Reich, Pederson's former offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy and Sean McVay were among a group of coaches putting a stake in the traditional dress-rehearsal game by admitting their key contributors will get little if any work.
“To be honest, it’s a little bit hard for me to let that go,” Reich told reporters. “I’ve got a lot of years of Week 3 being the dress rehearsal and your ones playing a significant amount of time. Now, I have been leaning away from that as far as the amount of time."
Nagy didn't even romanticize the old sentiment.
“I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody,” Nagy said of sitting his starters against the Colts. “But, you know, for the most part, we’re making sure our guys are staying in shape, they’re conditioned and that sort of thing.”
McVay, the poster boy for modern NFL coaches, straddled the fence a bit.
"Not to say there’s not an appreciation for what the preseason entails and playing real football,” McVay said. “I think there is a lot of merit to that. But when you look at some of the continuity now that we have on both sides of the ball coming back, and you say, If something were to happen, is it really worth that risk in our mind? We just felt like that answer is no.
"That’s the approach that we’re taking, I totally understand if people don’t agree with that, but we always make decisions that are in the best interests of our team."
Pederson, himself, has been a little coyer when it comes to Carson Wentz but all the tea leaves point to the Eagles' star quarterback showing up for Week 1 without any preseason action at all. A few Philadelphia stars like defenders Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Graham have talked themselves on the field and probably will again Thursday night against the Ravens.
When it comes to reps, though, controlled is the buzzword now, not live.
"I like it," Pederson said when discussing the joint-practice setup earlier this week. "I think the players like it. … Really joint practice, as coaches, we get to set the situations. We get to control the environment."
From a common-sense standpoint that's valuable for a coach. If Pederson wants to work on red-zone schemes or see how his offense handles being backed up against its own goal line, you're at the mercy of the personality of the game. Maybe plenty of those situations crop up, maybe they don't.
Pederson was able to hash out the details of the practices with the Ravens with his good friend John Harbaugh, the Baltimore coach and former long-time Andy Reid assistant. Each team got plenty of work in the situational football they desired.
"[If] you don’t get that situation in a game, and this way, we can control that, and work on specific things and get some really good work done with our starters," Pederson explained. "... I think that’s the trend. I think that’s where we’re going. I think that’s the way the league is heading."
Wentz has consistently said this summer that he "doesn't need" live reps to be ready for Week 1 against the Washington Redskins.
“That’s Coach’s call," Wentz defaulted. "I feel good either way. With the Ravens here, it’s really good work. Whether I’m out there in a live situation or not, I feel I’m ready for Week 1.”
Perhaps veteran left tackle Jason Peters explained why.
“We played a game pretty much," the 37-year-old said about practice Monday. "We got after it."
Some still caught up in the old-school way of thinking refuse to acknowledge the shifting tide, which can also reflect on where a team is in its development. Perhaps an organization that is not as proven as Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Chicago or the Rams would have to handle things a bit differently.
Giants coach Pat Shurmur, another old-school soul and a former Eagles offensive coordinator and interim head coach, is in a different stage of team building and paid lip service to the old model.
"You can't fake football," Shurmur told SNY. "And it's something that you've got to play together. I do think there's benefit to all the players playing - or most all of the players playing -- in preseason."
Shurmur caught himself and offered the caveat because he hasn't played his most important player, Saquon Barkley.
His true feelings were then expressed:
“At one point, we all thought the world was flat,” Shurmur joked.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen