A Unique Opportunity

Brent Celek scores in the first quarter.
Wale’s “Ambition” featuring Meek Mill and Rick Ross was booming out of the speakers inside the practice bubble as the Eagles entered the “stretch” portion of practice Tuesday.

Brent Celek had the head bobbing and the hands waving and when it was his turn to do knee lifts, his knees soared all the way up to his chest. This is Week 17, two days removed from a Sunday Night game against the Bears.

To get a gauge for how his players are feeling and the strength and conditioning program is working, Pat Shurmur looks to Celek. The seven-year vet pushes his body hard and plays through injuries others might not. That can wear you down over time. So Shurmur checks in with Celek and if he’s feeling good, chances are the majority of the guys are feeling good, too.

The guys are feeling good.

“I think that no matter who you go around and ask, especially the older guys — I know the older guys come the end of the year are hobbling around, a little stiff,” said Todd Herremans. “If you ask me, [Evan] Mathis, Celek, [Jason] Peters… I think you ask anybody, it’s phenomenal how much better we feel.”

“Plus,” said Celek of the energy at practice this week, “I like to bounce around and get my spirits up. Ninety percent of this game is mental, man. If you can get yourself going, you’ll be all right.”

It’s hard to tell exactly how much of this whole sports science thing is psychological and how much is real. What we do know is that the team enters the the regular season finale against Dallas generally healthy and believing that they stronger than they have ever been at this point in the season.

Meanwhile, Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense continues to give the opposition problems. Entering Week 17, the Eagles are tops in rushing yards/attempt and passing yards/play, and second in points per game (27.9) behind only Denver. That’s not all because of the tempo, of course, but it is a major part of the group’s identity. Defenses aren’t accustomed to facing that type of speed for 60 minutes. At least not yet. This is a copycat league, and if high-speed is working for one, chances are more and more teams will begin running their offenses in that fashion. And defenses will adapt. They’ll improve their communication and come up with better counterattacks for tempo.

Similarly, the secrets of the Eagles’ strength and conditioning will get out. Players and coaches and trainers will leave, and the methods currently contained within the NovaCare walls will spread throughout the league.

That leads to this question: Is the window of opportunity now, before the league adjusts to what Kelly has brought to the NFL?

This season was generally viewed as a program-building year. Kelly’s a rookie head coach, the team is filled with a bunch of young players (including the quarterback) and the transition was going to take some time. But the Eagles have won six of seven, they are in as good of shape as anybody in the NFL, boast one of the top offenses in the league and have a defense that has held 10 of its last 11 opponents to 21 points or less. With a win Sunday night, they’ll be NFC East champs.

“From the beginning we all thought this was the plan, this is what we wanted to do. In the building we all had the same feeling,” said Herremans. “We knew that outside the building everyone was kind of looking at it like a rebuilding year, but I think that goes to show that everybody in the building is on the same page and it doesn’t really matter what everybody else is saying.”

The Eagles are ahead of the curve in some respects and in theory have a unique chance to pounce before the rest of the league catches up. The question is whether those advantages are enough to overcome their relative inexperience.

We will find out shortly.

Whatever the answer is, Jason Kelce says the plan is to keep that window open by continuing to up the standard.

“This is one of the reasons that I think our culture is really the one thing that is so important because yeah, you’re right, we do have a lot of new things that teams are going to start stealing,” he said. “But the thing that’s going to continue to put us in the front is our culture is built around that we’re always going to be changing. Stuff that we’re doing now is not stuff that we’re going to be doing in two years. We’re going to be evolving into whatever is new then. If those other teams are just taking what we’re doing right now, they’re not going to continue to evolve.”

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