Eagles' Rookies May Get Fast-Tracked After All

John McMullen

The Eagles' 2020 draft class runs 10 deep, a number that matches the output from the previous two years combined.

If you close your eyes for a moment, you can imagine the excitement the coaching staff might have had when working in many of the players, starting with first-round receiver Jalen Reagor and second-round quarterback Jalen Hurts, over the offseason.

This is no normal environment, however, with COVID-19 turning typical plans upside down.

On-field OTAs during the spring was replaced by virtual work. In the halcyon days 12 months ago coaches might have complained about no pads or no contact in the offseason making it tough to evaluate the newcomers. Now each and every mentor would consider any grass time with the rookies an oasis in the desert.

Doug Pederson himself mentioned 2020 would be a "veteran-laden season" back in the spring and with padded practices not in the cards until Aug. 17, it's hard to imagine that prophecy being incorrect.

Now that the rookies have finally "reported" to the NovaCare Complex and gotten through the initial COVID testing, strength, and conditioning are on the docket.

In essence, training camp has become the entire offseason with three phases, a condensed version of OTAs, minicamp, and training camp boiled down into one summer.

"It's a little different," said Pederson on a videoconference call Monday morning. "Really training camp has been divided into three phases, much like the off-season program, so it's phase one, phase two, phase three.

"We are in this phase one, strength, conditioning phase right now. And then we get into the acclimation phase. Then once we get into the training camp, the so-called training camp, or the padded portion of camp."

It's new for everyone and coaches around the league will be trying different things to get a feel for what might work.

"I have to do what I feel is best for the football team from a standpoint of putting the guys in position to succeed on the field," said Pederson. "Meaning, we have to have answers on a lot of our players, especially the young guys. We haven't seen these rookies live and in person."

Much of the draft was built on speed and traits, not only Reagor and fellow receivers John Hightower and Quez Watkins but also linebackers Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley.

A mini-package for the uniquely-gifted Hurts, meanwhile, might have to be put on the back-burner, at least early on.

"It's my job as the head coach to - from a scheduling standpoint - as we go throughout this training camp, to put our guys in competitive situations to see what they can do and then do the best we can at the end of training camp to come up with the 53," said Pederson.

The coach did walk things back at least a little when it came to rookies contributing, however.

"I wouldn't go that far," the coach said when asked about the class having a tough time getting on the field, "... as you know, every year, there's going to be a rookie or two that really steps up and performs and catches our eye."

Another wrinkle is the virus itself which could put a veteran on the shelf at any time and perhaps force a young player into the lineup.

"It doesn't matter if he's a guy on offense or defense," Pederson assessed. "He can be a starter on special teams. We can't forget that.

"So that's what I'm most excited about. "

And now the race toward game-prep is on. 

"As coaches, we have to get our young players caught up extremely fast," said Pederson. "I will tell you this: We had a really good off-season, as virtual as it was, with the meetings. We spent some time virtually with our rookies this past week and these guys are in a really good place mentally.

"Now it's about taking it to the grass, seeing what they know, and then leaning on these guys as much as we can throughout training camp."

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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