Across the street from Citizens Bank Park, the Eagles are beginning their process of returning to work. Rookies have already been tested for COVID-19, and some are already in the building. Veterans are beginning to be tested, and by tomorrow, presumably every player on the roster will have been tested.
Speaking Monday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson — who is already in the NovaCare — said he has felt safe so far in his return to work.
“I feel extremely safe. Obviously coming into it there might have been some skepticism about the testing and the screening that goes on, but it is very thorough. When you are here, when you get tested in the morning, you have a screening process you have to go through to get into the building. Wearing masks in the building everywhere we go. I feel extremely safe,” Pederson said. “This is our bubble right here in the NovaCare. I can’t control everything, we can’t control everything. There are probably going to be some things that come up down the road. But right now I feel extremely safe and this is a great environment for our players to succeed in.”
The Eagles, and the rest of the NFL, will come back to football in phases. First, players will be tested. Then, there will be a ramp-up period, which will consist mostly of lifting, conditioning and walk throughs. The Eagles won’t hold their first real training camp practice until mid-August.
Pederson recognizes the football challenges that will come with the new circumstances.
“Once we get into the training camp, or padded, portion of camp I have to do what is best for the football team from a standpoint of putting the guys in position to succeed on the field,” Pederson said. “We have to have answers on a lot of our players, especially the young guys. We haven’t seen these players live and in person. It is my job as a head coach from a scheduling standpoint as we go throughout this training camp to put our guys in competitive situations to see what they can do, and then do the best we can at the end of training camp to come up with the 53.”
To do so, Pederson said he is already thinking of ways for his players to take part in more game-like scenarios in practice than in past years, considering there will be no preseason games. In the past, Pederson has had portions of practice where the entire team is on the sideline, except for the 11-on-11 taking part in the drill, which has created an extremely competitive environment. It sounds like once camp does begin, more of those are on the way.
The off-the-field challenges that will come with this season are, of course, numerous. Even things like traveling to games will be far more complicated than usual, as teams around the NFL prepare to have to travel to (at least) eight away games during a global pandemic.
While Pederson’s job right now is to focus on football and get the team ready, it sounds like the Eagles are paying close attention to what teams around the world they are already playing are doing.
“We are looking at all the leagues and what everybody is doing. But quite concerned right here with Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Eagles, our players and trying to get our team ready to go for the regular season,” Pederson said. “I know the guys that are higher up than me are watching that, our doctors and the medical team at the NFL, they are watching all that stuff, they are in constant conversation, constant meetings, and they will have a plan. They will be prepared. It is my job to get the team prepared, and their job to make sure we are all safe and doing the right thing.”
For Pederson, planning for what the COVID-19 virus could bring means preparing to have either players, members of his coaching staff sidelined or even the head coach himself sidelined with a positive COVID-19 test.
“We have to have a plan for everything. One of the things that we have been faced with, and I think we have done a really good job here, is we have overcome some of the injuries we have had the last few seasons. We coached that next guy. That next player has been able to go in and perform at a high level. Now that has to carry over the coaching staff,” Pederson said. “There has to be a plan in place for any coach, any staff member that might miss either a couple days or a couple weeks because of the virus. Those are all things that are running through my mind. We are in a different environment, and we all have to do our part to protect ourselves, protect our families and hopefully we minimize any setbacks.”
Ultimately, outside of following the protocols, Pederson can only control so much this season. That reality was clear listening to the head coach on Monday. He is following the protocols and taking all the steps needed to protect himself and his players, hoping to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak like the Miami Marlins are dealing with right now.
When he has made his way into the NovaCare, and passed all the necessary steps to get to his office, Pederson can only work on what he can control — and that is trying to get his team ready to play and make the best of the situation at hand.
“It is something we are going to embrace," Pederson said. "We are going to make it a positive. It is what it is and we are going to embrace it and move forward.”