Inside Voices: The Value Of Avant

Eagles WR Jason Avant dives for a pass against the Cowboys. 10/20/13
At first glance, it looked like DeSean Jackson was screaming at Jason Avant. The wide receiver was overheating on the sidelines after a Nick Foles interception in Minnesota Sunday. Jackson was being restrained as he barked in the direction of Avant just a few yards away. Turns out, his words were aimed at receivers coach Bob Bicknell; Avant was just moving in to gain control. And that’s exactly what he did. After a quiet moment of counsel with Avant away from the rest of the team, Jackson hopped to his feet and returned to the pack without further incident.

“He kind of understands, he’s like a big brother, a voice you can listen to,” said Jackson.

Later in the game, Cary Williams lost his cool and was benched following an unnecessary roughness call and an apparent misunderstanding on the sideline. There was Avant again, sitting next to Williams on the bench, diffusing the situation.

“When those situations come up, because I have a relationship with everyone, I talk to everyone constantly — when something goes on in their family I want to see about them – because we have a relationship usually I can go and talk to them, maybe not like the coach can or another player because they haven’t established their relationship,” said Avant. “It gives me a voice a lot of times that I can go over and they receive it even when they’re mad because they know who they are talking to.”

“Every NFL team,” said Williams, “should have a guy like that in their locker room.”

Avant is having a relatively quiet season statistically. While teammates like Jackson and Riley Cooper are having career years, Avant is on pace for 37 catches and a little over 400 yards, which would be his lowest totals since 2008.

For Chip Kelly, though, Avant’s value isn’t found in measurables. He needs culture-setters in his first year; guys that embody the type of approach and mentality that he wants to become the standard. Kelly has talked to the 30-year-old about what he expects out of him in that capacity, according to Avant.

His voice proved to be an important one when the Cooper situation unfolded this summer.

“My rookie year when I came in, immediately he came to me: ‘Anything you need. Any help. Anything. You just let me know.’ He always was there for me,” said Cooper. “He’s been one of my best friends on the team since the day I got here.”

The Michigan product leads a Bible study every Thursday that draws upwards of 20 players, some of whom will join him for a regular 7 :30 morning prayer as well. He serves as a conduit between position coaches and players to strengthen communication.

“That stuff goes a long way,” said Avant, “and what I learned is if you be a nice person to everyone and you speak, you’re kind, you do things right and be above blame, then even when someone else could do the job just as well or maybe just a little bit better, people will find ways to keep you around.  Same is true in life.

“It’s more than football. I want to see guys be successful. I don’t want to see the ESPN story, ‘Broke.’ I don’t want to see divorce, I don’t want to see car accidents and DUIs. I just don’t want to see that. So that’s my biggest goal here is not just to catch passes and not just to win, but if we can affect the lives of young men, that’s what my purpose is.”

Nick Foles, Yoga Master

A recent article in ESPN the Magazine detailed how the Seattle Seahawks have incorporated new-age methods, like yoga, into their training regimen.

Kelly’s Eagles aren’t practicing it regularly as of yet, but there is at least one player on the team that is a big proponent of it: Nick Foles.

The quarterback has typically been pretty guarded about his offseason training – he wouldn’t even disclose what state he spent his off months in heading into this year – but did allow that yoga is a part of how he gets ready for a season.

“I’ve done it for several years. It’s one of those things in the offseason I’ll do it once a week. I always do the heat yoga,” said Foles.

“It helps with flexibility. It helps with endurance. It will help with speed, it will help just overall when you cut and stuff, your body can handle more stress on it because everything is more flexible and it’s not all condensed and tight and stuff. When you stretch like that, it also lets a lot of, you know, you’ve got a lot of stuff on your mind, just relax.”

He picked up the practice from his mom, who Foles says is in better shape than he is. He’ll work out with her during the brief time when he is home in the offseason.

Once the season starts, though, he’s forced to put the yoga mat away.

“Absolutely not,” he said, when asked if that’s a practice he continues in-season. “My body…we do so much, it’s impossible to do all that extra stuff. We do so much stuff. I’m here 12 hours a day, so when I’m outta here I rest and get ready for the next day.”

Yes, the Cowboys will be on TV

Kelly said he will not rest his starters Sunday night even if Dallas win earlier in the day, making the Eagles-Bears game meaningless in terms of the division race. He wants a mentality where his players focus on what they can control instead of outside factors.

In an ideal world, the emotions and intensity would be the same whether Dallas wins or loses against the Redskins, but that’s probably easier said than done.

“We’ll watch the game, for sure we will,” said Mychal Kendricks. “Depending on what happens with that, I guess it’s going to put a little emphasis on our game.”

“We’re not going to say don’t watch the game or don’t pay attention to the scores,” said Kelly. “If it happens, it happens.”

If the Cowboys win, the night game will be little more than a warmup for the big showdown in Dallas to close out the regular season (though seeding could still be impacted by a win or a loss). If they lose, the Eagles can wrap up the NFC East with a win over Chicago. It could instantly become the biggest game of the year.

“You don’t try to make too much out of it. You try and do the same things you have been doing. You don’t wanna psyche yourself out,” said Kendricks. “No need for that. You still have to go out there and handle your business.”

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