By Kimberley A. Martin
Pro Football Writers of America
MINNEAPOLIS — Bass blared from the speakers as the Philadelphia Eagles began their week of practice Wednesday afternoon inside the Gibson-Nagurski Complex at the University of Minnesota.
Doug Pederson’s team looked relaxed, but focused as players returned to work for the first time during Super Bowl week. Quarterback Nick Foles delivered quick, crisp passes to Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith to start the session, and from there, the offense rolled. Everything was humming for the first half of practice, even the Eagles’ D.J., who managed to seamlessly transition from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into James Brown’s “Living in America.” Then, right at 3 p.m., the music died down, the scissor lift used to record practice lowered to the ground, and players and coaches began filing out of the facility.
For 30 minutes, the room fell almost silent as the Eagles simulated a halftime break, save for the intermittent sounds of footballs being tossed around by a few staffers, injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz and executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman. All that was missing was the boy-band falsetto of Justin Timberlake, the Super Bowl LII halftime performer.
“I think it’s important that the guys get it in their minds how much time that is,” Pederson explained after practice, which ended later than expected due to the midway break. “We’re normally working on 13-, 14-minute halftime and now it’s twice as long and guys’ bodies cool down. So I want to make sure they understand that we have to go in, we’ve got to stay focused, but at the same time we can refuel and kind of recharge. Coaches can coach and then get our guys warmed back up to come back out. So on Sunday they know exactly what they can do.”
The halftime simulation was a one-time thing reserved for the first practice of the week. And it served its purpose. The second half of practice was anything but smooth. “I thought it was a little sloppy, which is good, because this is something that I can address in our meetings tonight,” Pederson said. “Again, it’s another teachable moment so we’re not doing it on Sunday.”
The Eagles conducted practice as though it was a regular Wednesday at their NovaCare Complex, focusing on first- and second-down situations primarily. “This is just like we were back in Philly,” the coach said.
Pederson’s squad is all but healthy, with running back Jay Ajayi (ankle), defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) all full participants. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, however, missed their morning media availability and practice due to an illness, Pederson said, adding that the team doesn’t believe Jernigan has the flu but rather “a 24-hour deal.”
Jernigan did not practice on Friday in Philly before making the trip to Minnesota and it’s unclear if he’ll be healthy enough to practice Thursday.
The Eagles will return on Thursday to the Gibson-Nagurski Complex where they’ll hold their second practice. Pederson, who turned 50 on Wednesday, said players won’t be in pads at all this week.
“We’re in the last week of the season,” he said, flashing a smile. “And if they don’t know how to hit by now, you know?”
With only four more days to go until Super Bowl LII, it’s business as usual for the Eagles. But players and coaches took time to sing “Happy Birthday” to Pederson before they broke down the huddle at the end of practice.
Asked if he has any plans for his special day, Pederson said: “I am a big ice cream guy. But no, we’re going to be stuck in meetings tonight, so there’s no rest for the weary. We’re going to keep grinding and cranking as coaches tonight.”