The idea that a football team would be getting physically stronger as the season goes along seems counter-intuitive. The Eagles are 13 games into their campaign. Add training camp into the equation, and the grind has been going on for more than four months now. You would think the body would start wearing down right about now. Yet some players believe the opposite is happening in Year One under Chip Kelly.
“You can tell just from the reps that we do. I’m not saying that I’m just jumping up crazy, but what used to be hard to me is starting to become a lot easier towards the end,” said Brandon Graham. “Like the other day I put 405 on the bench [and did three sets of three] and it was pretty easy, and I feel like next week I want to go up a little more because that’s how good I feel right now.”
The commitment to sports science and speeding up recovery time has been well-covered in this space and elsewhere. One byproduct of the players’ bodies feeling fresher is that they can be more active in the weight room in-season. The 31-year-old Jason Peters, as an example, is lifting four times a week.
“Usually I’d be so tired, but now I get it in whether I’m tired or not,” he said. “Just make it happen.”
It is part of a training regiment that players say is paying off in a big way.
"I feel way better than I did last year. Around this time, I was hurting. boy," said Mychal Kendricks, who was also smack against the rookie wall by this point last season. "They have all the measurables recorded and that's how we know that information: the amount we can lift, the speed we can lift it at, the amount of reps, the amount of recovery, all that. I'm getting stronger. By this time last year I was tired, I was hurting. You couldn't tell me to squat 475 five times without me looking at you like you're crazy. But that was asked of me on Tuesday and I did it with ease. I'm not hurting, feel good, and I know a lot of the other guys feel the same way."
So everyone is feeling stronger. But who's the strongest?
"Evan [Mathis] is the one I'm trying to catch up to," said Graham. "He's just crazy, man. I don't what he can do. He can probably lift 600. I'm trying to tell you that boy is crazy strong."
"It might equate to something like that, close to that," said Mathis, who claims he's routinely been the top man in the weight room dating back to the 11th grade. "I don't max out any more. I'll put on 455 and throw it up eight times. I usually peak around there."
Mathis explained that going heavy in the weight room is something he's always done. It's psychological for him; if he doesn't hit his numbers, he doesn't feel right on the field, so he pushes himself and regularly feels like he is getting stronger as the season wears on. Most of his teammates seem to be feeling the exact same way.
"I would have to guess that everyone on the team at this point is feeling better than any other year," he said.
Reese on Fog Bowl vs. Snow Bowl
The scene at the Linc Sunday conjured up memories of the Fog Bowl played between the Eagles and Bears at Soldier Field in 1988. Merrill Reese, now in his 37th year as play-by-play voice of the Eagles, was on the call for both games.
"It's not even close," Reese said, "because the Fog Bowl you saw nothing. I mean it was like putting a tablecloth or a sheet in front of you, you saw nothing. Here you could see figures, so I was just looking at the players coming out, where they were lining up and what position they were in, what slot, the receivers and ball carriers. Once we did that, we just had fun. It was just so much fun to be a part of this."
Reese started the broadcast by telling the listeners: "This is the kind of game you may remember for the rest of your lives." Looks like he was right. For broadcasters, it was the kind of game that required total concentration. The snow was so heavy in the first half that Reese couldn't even see the scoreboard on the other side of the stadium that indicated down and distance. So he had to count the plowed line-markers (five, ten, fifteen, twenty) to gauge where the line of scrimmage was. He knew who the players were based on where they lined up on the field, and estimated the best he could on yards gained.
"When you look from the press box down, you couldn't tell if they were wearing black jerseys or green jerseys becasuse there was no light reflecting off the jerseys. That's how bleak the whole thing looked. It looked like a black and white film, even to the way the players were kind of slowed down. It was amazing," he said.
As for the Fog Bowl...
"I saw nothing. I started to say things like, 'I can tell the Eagles are having trouble because Randall Cunningham is coming out the huddle led by a German Shepard," Reese cracked.
During the second half, a public address announcer was sent down to field level with a wireless mic. He would relay the play through the stadium. Pass to Quick, 14 yards to the 32. Reese had to rely on that information, then added color the best he could "to make it sound like a game."
"I'm thinking during the whole thing, 'We're never going to get home tonight.' It was New Year's Eve day, and my wife and I always have a big party on New Year's Eve at the house. I'm thinking, we're not getting home, we're not going to have our party. And the amazing thing was, when we walked out of the locker room after the game to the buses parked outside of Soldier Field, there was no fog. It was totally clear, we took off on time. It was just late in the second quarter until the end of the game. Once the game ended, the fog completely dissipated."
He remembers that broadcast as a frustrating experience, whereas Sunday he just had a ball.
"You're really just working every second, concentrating every second," he said, "but it was so much fun."
For my next trick, I'll pretend I'm someone else
The best magic trick Jon Dorenbos ever pulled off was the one that got him a full ride to UTEP, and ultimately, a job in the NFL.
Dorenbos had done some long-snapping in high school but very little as a freshman at Golden West Junior College, where he played linebacker. He wasn't drawing any interest from college teams, so he decided to get creative. He took tape of a more accomplished long-snapper, mixed it in with some of his own linebacker highlights (as well as highlights from another 'backer on the team) and sent it out to different teams, claiming it was all him. The film was so grainy, you couldn't tell the difference in jersey numbers -- or height, apparently.
"His name was Tim Thurman, he was a 6-6 longsnapper, so I took his film," said the 6-foot Dorenbos. "Put my linebacker stuff in there, then there was a guy by the name of Nick Heinle and I took some of his highlights -- he was a guy I rotated with -- and I made like an ultra highlight film and I sent it out. I told UTEP I was a really good long-snapper and at the time I don't think I was really good. Tim was way better. I hadn't done it in about a year-and-a-half. They needed a snapper, so I got a full ride being a long-snapper. Awesome."
The pressure was on now, especially since Dorenbos knew he would be playing right away. So he got busy working on fine-tuning his snapping skills. His first action came against Oklahoma, with his team backed up near their own goal line. He was able to get off a good one. He went on to long-snap for three seasons at UTEP, and is now in his 11th season in the NFL.
He said he came clean with UTEP his junior year about the tape. By that time it didn't matter.
Where did Thurman end up?
"Nowhere. I think he had a ride to Cal-Berkley, he was talking to Cal I think, and I think he stayed to play baseball and I don't know what happened after that."
Heinle is now coaching high school ball in California.
Where would you be without Tim Thurman?
"Who knows," said Dorenbos. "Probably doing magic in Southern California."