Pro Bowl is the mandate. We’re not here just to play football. We’re here to dominate.
That’s the motto that floated off the lips of Tom Bender when speaking of his Atlanta-based program, which trains anywhere from 25-35 NFL players at a time during the offseason. It sounds a bit bold until you consider that his clientele includes the likes of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas, arguably the top three receivers in the game.
This is the environment Jordan Matthews has nestled into for the past week, and where he’ll remain until the Eagles open training camp.
“He’s learning a lot, he’s integrating well and we’re cleaning up some of his college issues,” said Bender with a laugh.
“That’s for us to discuss. It’s just a matter of getting him to move better, clean up his routes, just clean up all aspects of his game.”
The Bender Performance Institute offers a comprehensive training program that ranges from body diagnostics and development to speed and strength training to on-field work. For the latter, Bender uses the talent at his disposal to help in the evaluation process. That means that Johnson, Green and company have been actively critiquing Matthews’ game since he arrived.
“I get feedback from Calvin, I get feedback from Demaryius, I get feedback from A.J. just on how he is looking,” said Bender. “How is he disguising his routes? Is he not disguising his routes? And then functionally, how is he maintaining his body position…How is he getting off the line? How is he accelerating? Is he too full-throttle at the beginning? From the defensive backs to the linebackers, the d-ends, the quarterback, the receiver, everybody is giving feedback on what they see. I try to create an environment where it’s not competition but everybody is helping each other get better.”
The first big-name receiver Bender worked with was Hines Ward, he says. He spent some time away from the game as he trained soccer players over in Europe for a spell. When he returned he was connected with Johnson through another client.
“I didn’t know who he was when I first met him,” said Bender, who first hooked up with Johnson after his rookie season. “All my guys looked at me like, ‘Do you know who this guy is?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ I really don’t pay attention to all that and that’s what guys I guess feed into with me. I don’t care who you are, I’m just going to fix and develop your body. I’m not star-struck.”
Similarly, a connection recommended that Bender work with Matthews, and after a phone call with the Vanderbilt product, Bender agreed.
“He’s a humble kid. He said, ‘Coach, you’ll be happy with me.'”
For Matthews, it’s a chance to learn from some of the best wideouts on the planet during the lead-up to training camp.
“They’re having fun. Jordan’s a humble guy and he’s been in work mode. He approached A.J. probably the second day he was here and started asking key questions. One of the biggest things A.J. translated is that you really have to take care of your body during the season. Your production is going to relate to how you maintain your body. And as far as with Calvin, he is not a man of many words but he’s helping [Matthews] correct some of his route running.
“They’ve enjoyed him, they’ve enjoyed his work ethic. He’s come out as far as conditioning…Some of the vets are like, ‘Slow down, young buck! Slow the pace down.'”
When asked if Matthews reminds him of anyone, Bender said that he was a little faster than a young Keary Colbert and runs some routes similar to Green.
“As far as overall he’s kind of his own enigma right now. I can’t really put too much on him as far as his body type. He’s going to make his own mark, I think.”
Bender said many factors go into how productive a receiver ultimately is. But is he a believer?
“A believer in Jordan? Absolutely.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“Foles runs like Joe Flacco trying to carry Philip Rivers up a flight of steep stairs.” What they’re saying.
Could Jaylen Watkins work his way on the field in his rookie season? Special teams may be the key.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Bovada released odds for this year’s MVP, including two Eagles:
Bovada odds have #Eagles LeSean McCoy at 25-1 to be the 2014 MVP. First 7 players with best odds are QBs, Peyton at 3-1.
— Ed Kracz (@kracze) July 8, 2014
Temper your expectations for the Eagles this year, says Joseph Santoliquito of CBS Philly:
Many in Philadelphia see the Eagles going further than the one-and-done playoff appearance last year in Chip Kelly’s inaugural season, and there is a strong possibility the Eagles could.
As we sit here on July 8, however, the Eagles will have more than a few obstacles standing in their way as they try to step towards the Seattle’s and San Francisco’s of the NFC. Namely, climb four teams that are better than the Eagles right now.
On paper, the Eagles look like the fifth best team in the NFC behind defending Super Bowl champion Seattle, NFC runner-up San Francisco, Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay, and the New Orleans Saints—who beat the Eagles in the wild-card round last year.
Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com dives into the state of the offensive line, which receiver will earn the last roster spot and more in his weekly chat:
I’d handicap it with Maehl over Benn at the moment, but Benn will get a chance to win a job. I think Benn has to be significantly better than the other receivers because he has the biggest durability concerns at that spot.
Sixteen days until the team reports.