Brandon Graham is the longest-tenured Eagles player, entering the NFL in 2010 when practices were actually practices, with the sound of pads clacking daily and gallons of sweat and ounces of blood being spilled under a broiling sun.
“I tell these boys, ya’ll don’t know what a training camp really is,” Graham said as the Eagles’ abbreviated OTA practices were wrapping up in early June. “Old school training camp where we were running two-, three-hour practices then the OTAs used to be let’s get as many plays as we can get so we can get as much experience as we can to get used to just playing at a fast pace.”
Ah, the good, old days.
They were just 12 years ago, but much has changed and is still changing.
It seems to be more about quality than quantity for most teams, particularly the Eagles and head coach Nick Sirianni, who, on the brink of turning 41, isn’t afraid to listen to new-age information.
Sirianni had just five OTA practices, none more than an hour, and no mandatory minicamp.
‘I am hearing the trainers, I’m hearing the strength staff and our sports science department, I’m hearing the doctors,” he said. “They’re the experts in the yardage of how much guys have run, the timing of this day is a longer day, then this day is a shorter day, then this day is a longer day. I didn’t go to school for that.
“I went to school to be an education major, but I was really preparing to be a football coach. That’s what my coach was preparing me to do.”
Sirianni talked about short, quick workouts in order for things not to potentially become “stale” and there were extra plays run for rookies.
“We had a 7-on-7 period and it was 24 plays of 7-on-7,” he said. “(Reporters) left and we had a rookie development period after that, so we ended up getting 34 plays of 7-on-7, so it really was two periods.”
He added, “we’ve had these long periods of individual where we’re perfecting our fundamentals …we had a ton of fundamentals work, which is going to put us in a position to have more team periods when we get into training camp.
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“…What I noticed the most is which was prior to the on-field OTA work, went longer by a week which allowed the team to get an extra week of weight lifting in, and there’s no doubt that helped when you look at how physically stacked players such as Graham looked.
Still, 30 other organizations had mandatory minicamps. Only the Eagles and Bengals did not.
Five OTA practices were likely the fewest of any other team.
Like it or not, this spring was about connecting between players and players and players and coaches, and it’s not a wrong approach.
Bringing 90 players together from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences and expecting them all to be able to get along isn’t easy, but Sirianni wants his players to cultivate relationships that will last after their playing days.
In addition to connecting, this short time on the field was about going over fundamentals and techniques until you see them in your sleep until they become muscle memory.
“Now, I think it’s just much smarter,’ said Graham. “It’s all about learning and trying to get better with the fundamentals. You have to get bored with going over the fundamentals because that’s what’s going to carry us throughout the year, the techniques, being in position.
“We’re always getting quizzed on a lot of things. You’re always getting called out. I feel with him calling people out – he even had me in my notes making sure I’m on point.
“You always resort back to the level of your training. I feel he’s training us tough now to know the mental part of the game.”
It just looks a lot different than a dozen years ago.
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Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Fan Nation Eagles Today and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglesmaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.