Eagles brace for summer in the city

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is in favor of training at the NovaCare facility. "Everything's here," Kelly said. "The only thing they're going to do at the hotel is sleep."
Eagles coach Chip Kelly is in favor of training at the NovaCare facility. "Everything's here," Kelly said. "The only thing they're going to do at the hotel is sleep." (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 22, 2013

The first training camp under Chip Kelly begins Monday when rookies and selected veterans report to the NovaCare Complex. The site is not the only difference between Camp Kelly and what Philadelphia has previously witnessed, but it's the most pronounced.

The rest of the team reports Thursday, starting six months of uninterrupted work at the team's South Philadelphia training facility. Gone are uncomfortable dormitory beds, replaced - at least initially - by luxury hotel mattresses. The dining hall at Lehigh University's student union gives way to the team's year-round cafeteria. Instead of working out in a college weight room, the Eagles can now use their expansive training facility that's recently infused by $1 million in improvements. And if the weather forces the Eagles indoors, they can train on the turf in the team's indoor facility instead of the harder surface at Lehigh's field house.

This is the modern NFL, where the quaint feeling of a remote training camp on a college campus is now overtaken by multimillion dollar practice facilities with the ease and comfort of the latest technology and enhancements.

"I just think we have everything here, so the fact

that we would pack everything up and move, I think that didn't make sense to me," Kelly said.

"All our video stuff is here, so . . . all our [Internet] servers are here, so you're dealing with portable laptops and hoping to get practice on them. You have issues when it rains, where do you go? Our training facility in terms of how we want to lift . . . why would you move everything and go somewhere else?"

Camp for the players

At Lehigh, where the Eagles trained for 17 seasons, the players shuttled between two parts of campus: the Goodman Campus, where the practice fields, locker rooms, weight rooms, and training facilities were located; and the Asa Packer campus about two miles away, where the lodging, dining, and meeting facilities were located. It created a collegial atmosphere, although not necessarily a convenient one.

This season, they'll arrive at the facility in the morning and spend the entire day there. During the first week, the team will stay two to a room at the airport Marriott. After that, the veterans will have the option of returning to their homes.

They will practice, meet, eat, and relax at the team's facility. The only time they'll need to get into a car is on their way to work in the morning and to home at night.

"Everything's here," Kelly said. "The only thing they're going to do at the hotel is sleep."

Once the full team arrives, practice will start at 12:30 p.m. Kelly picked that time because most of the Eagles' games are at 1 p.m. There are three new parallel fields at the facility and an area for individual training. Practice will last roughly two hours, with music that could be heard on Broad Street and a pace that might exhaust even onlookers.

Practice is broken up between individual work, group work, and full-team work. So a receiver will first work on the technique, then work on the route, then work with a quarterback, then work 7-on-7 against a defense, and then 11-on-11. Practices are not stopped for instruction - that comes during "teach periods," after 12-minute, full-speed intervals.

"You can't go full speed for 25 minutes and practice the way we want to practice," Kelly said. "So we just have to break up those 11-on-11 periods. So you're going 12-minute, full-speed 11-on-11, and then there's a 5-minute teach period. People are learning. They're actively learning, but we're not running them. We can't ask them to practice as hard as we want them to practice, but then there's never a break in there. The teach period's a physical period, but it's not a mental break."

The practices will include contact on some days, but not as often as Kelly used at Oregon, where there were no preseason games. But there will still be scrimmage situations at practice.

"We still have to do a certain amount of [contact]," Kelly said. "And that's the biggest thing we haven't been able to do in this offseason, because we don't have shoulder pads on, so trying to make evaluations of who players are and what their abilities are, if you can't be physical and hit people, then it's an entirely different game. So the offseason is an entirely different game than the preseason, just for that fact."

The contact days will be interspersed with noncontact days. Kelly said he must remain cognizant of the fact that they're preparing for a full season, and he cannot go full-go every day. The numbers are also different in the NFL than in college, especially when the roster is trimmed - from 90 to 75 to 53.

"That's the big Catch-22 for all coaches, is how much work do you need to get done, but also you don't want to injure your own players in practice," Kelly said. "But that's kind of a fine line. It's the toughest one I think coaches have to handle. How physical can your practices be, because the game is certainly going to be physical? But you always kind of keep your fingers crossed that you're not going to get anybody hurt in practice."

Camp for the fans

The annual summer excursion for Eagles fans to the Northeast Extension is gone, and various departments in the organization have been working for months to try to figure out how to satisfy the requirements of the football operations while providing the accessibility for the fans.

"As we started to get into a lot of the logistics, some of it was the field layout, where we wanted to position tents, how we wanted the fans that will come here, what their experience will be, where they'll park, how they'll walk into the field," team president Don Smolenski said. "At the stadium, it's really been keeping an eye on the attendance and sort of being flexible and adjusting as the numbers continue to grow, and put all those pieces together. There's been a lot of moving parts."

More fans will theoretically watch practice this season than in past seasons. There will be 300-400 invited guests at 11 practices at the NovaCare Complex. There are also five open practices at Lincoln Financial Field, for which 200,000 tickets have already been reserved. Almost 49,000 tickets were reserved for the first open practice on July 28.

At Lehigh, the Eagles averaged 6,000 fans per day. They drew around 75,000 to 115,000 fans annually. So there could be two times the amount of fans this season, if all the fans that reserved tickets attend. The Eagles will not reschedule practices that get moved because of rain.

Practices at the stadium will not compare to Flight Night in past seasons, where it was more of a festival than a practice. These will almost entirely replicate what's happening at the NovaCare Complex, albeit on fewer fields. No alcohol will be served to fans.

The team even contemplated holding one of the three joint practices with the Patriots at the stadium for fans, but the logistics did not work. With 180 players, two coaching staffs, two training staffs, and two equipment staffs, there was not enough space.

Two of those practices will be seen by the invited fans at the NovaCare Complex, most coming as part of corporate partnership obligations. There will be about 50 season ticket holders at each practice, including one representative from every section at the stadium throughout training camp. They were selected at random.

Some fans reached out to the Eagles from different parts of the city happy that they can watch camp because of public transit. This year's location is more convenient for fans in Philadelphia who don't have cars, although it's less convenient for fans in the Lehigh Valley and some of the far western suburbs.

Smolenski said the team has tried to take the fan experience into consideration with each decision. The team still doesn't know entirely what to expect, and they're eager to find out.

"I think [fans will] like the energy," Smolenski said. "I'm interested to see that myself, because I've seen it now through all the OTAs and minicamp. From the music and enthusiasm to the pace of it, I think that will be intriguing to them in terms of what they see, how quickly it moves and how it moves from session to session."

Complete coverage of theĀ 2013 Philadelphia Eagles training camp


>Inquirer.com

See daily video, blog reports throughout each day, and tweets from Inquirer beat reporters Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) and Zach Berman (@zberm) at the only place you need to be for all the Eagles training camp action: inquirer.com/eagles.

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Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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