Phil Sheridan: Eagles' decision to close practices invites speculation

Posted: September 15, 2012

We'll start with this assumption: You don't care about the impact on a handful of media types when Andy Reid decides to close Eagles practices after 228 regular-season and playoff games. And that's fine. Even if the information gathered by reporters is meant for and thirstily consumed by Eagles fans, we get to skip over the knee-jerk reaction that goes, "Nobody cares about you guys in the media."

The reason to examine Reid's decision - which came down suddenly and without warning a half-hour before Thursday's scheduled-to-be-open practice - is what it tells us about Reid and about the state of the team.

This is a coach who thrives on consistency, on year-in and year-out sameness. It's also a coach who, in response to strong signals from owner Jeffrey Lurie, had made much ballyhooed efforts to be more open and more forthcoming in this, his 14th season.

So now that coach, in that environment, is closing practices that have been open since the previous millennium? Sorry, but there's something more than Twitter going on here.

That was Reid's primary explanation, that the immediacy of social media had created a competitive disadvantage for the Eagles. If 25 other teams close their practices, as the Eagles said, then how is it helping the team to be one of the few that keep them open?

On the surface, that makes sense. But the Eagles kept their practices open from 2000 through 2004, five years when Reid's teams were winning playoff games every year. There was no Twitter then - Google it, kids - but that really isn't the big change. After all, how would it matter if John Harbaugh's staff picked up a tidbit from a tweet or a blog post or the next day's paper? If anything being reported really helped the opponent, it would help them regardless of the medium.

No, the big change is that the Eagles were really good back then, too good to worry about whether the outside world knew Jamar Chaney was getting some reps in the nickel defense. Now things aren't so swell, and suddenly practices must be closed for competitive reasons.

Put it this way: The last Eagles coach to close practices was Rich Kotite. It is not a move made from strength and self-assuredness.

The timing of the decision also raises some intriguing possibilities. All week, Eagles defensive players have been hinting at some high-level, innovative plan to handle the Ravens' no-huddle offense.

"We have our way to answer that," defensive end Trent Cole said Wednesday. When fellow end Jason Babin was asked about coping with the no-huddle on Thursday, he alluded to some company secret that he couldn't reveal.

But it's hard to imagine Reid changing his own long-standing policy so reporters can't watch his players practice running off and on the field.

How about this? Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that Reid and his staff had watched tape of Sunday's game in Cleveland and reached the same conclusion a lot of you reached - that Michael Vick is just not going to be the quarterback that leads this team to greatness.

What would the coaches do? They would start preparing rookie Nick Foles to take over the position. There is a precedent for this. Back in 1999, a rookie named Donovan McNabb gradually took more and more of the first-team practice reps as he was groomed to assume the starting job.

There was no problem with reporters seeing that, because it was Reid's stated and obvious plan. The starter, Doug Pederson, had been signed specifically to hold the job until McNabb was ready. This would be different. Not only would it be a big story if Foles began taking some of Vick's snaps, there would be a natural tendency to compare the two QBs' performances. That would drive Reid nuts.

If this idea has even begun to bloom as a possibility in Reid's mind, then closing practices to the media would be very appealing. Whether a proud and image-conscious guy like Vick would quietly be usurped without saying anything is another matter, but it might buy Reid a week or two.

It took until Week 10 for McNabb to make his first start, but that's not necessarily relevant. Part of the process in Reid's first year was getting the rest of the offense up to speed in a new system. That's not the case here. Foles would be stepping into an established, experienced offensive unit.

That may sound far-fetched, but remember: Reid has changed quarterbacks more often than he has closed practices. As the pressure mounts in this must-win season, Reid has to be open to every contingency.

Ultimately, what happens on the practice field isn't going to mean much, whether it's tweeted or blogged or conducted in secrecy. It's what happens in games that matters. There's no way for Reid or anyone to keep that hidden.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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