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Eagles notebook: Enough talking — time to show it on the field

Eagles notebook: Enough talking — time to show it on the field originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

TAMPA -- The time for talking is over.

That was the feeling inside the Eagles’ locker room for much of this week as the team prepared to face the Buccaneers on Monday night. After weeks of talking about vibes and potential solutions, there’s not much else to say.

“See y’all Monday. We’re going to see how this go,” a no-nonsense DeVonta Smith said on Thursday. “I ain’t finna give y’all no pep talk about ‘Oh, we been doing this, we been doing that.’ Naw. We going out there Monday with the plan to win and that’s that.”

The Eagles have been in a free fall the last month and a half. A team with a 10-1 record finished the regular season with an 11-6 mark and is going on the road in the first round of the playoffs.

It’s the kind of collapse that is extremely rare in the NFL or in pro sports in general.

But inside this shell of an Eagles team is the same team that beat the Cowboys and Dolphins and Rams and Chiefs and Bills. Inside somewhere is the team that manhandled these same Buccaneers 25-11 back in a Week 3 win in Raymond James Stadium. Watch the tape of that game and you’ll see just how far the Eagles have fallen.

They have at least one more chance to prove themselves on Monday night.

“I just know that what we put out this last month and a half, it’s not going to be that. That’s what I do know,” the ever-optimistic Brandon Graham said. “I just know that we got a lot of pride in our room and a lot of people know that, that wasn’t good enough. I just say that we got a real chance to clean up all that from what it was before and what we just did. Let’s get back to what we know we can be. That’s going out there and being a dominant defense and being together.”

Of course, we’ve heard all of this before. The Eagles have said all these things for weeks now.

It’s fair to wonder if they really believe them at this point.

What makes it different this time?

“Because it’s gotta be. It’s ‘gotta have it’ right now,” Graham said. “If it ain’t, then we’re going to be home anyway. But I don’t think that the guys want to go home. But we do gotta go prove it. We gotta actually go do it instead of talk about it. That’s why I didn’t want to make up nothing. It was the same thing, it’s just more about us going to do it.”

Farewell to a legend

There was plenty of notable news in the football world this week but one of the biggest bits came from the college ranks as longtime Alabama head coach Nick Saban retired.

The Eagles hadn’t drafted an Alabama player for several years but have three key members of their offense who played under Saban for the Crimson Tide.

“Obviously, a sad day in the game of football, just knowing how much he’s [meant] to the game. It’s surreal,” said quarterback Jalen Hurts, who finished his college career at Oklahoma after leaving Alabama. “I know for me personally, he’s always been coaching ever since I’ve been alive. And growing up and knowing what he’s been and knowing why I committed to going to that university, because of the man he was and the intentions he had and the way he went about his business and his process. I have a ton of respect for him.”

When asked for a memory of Saban, Eagles left guard Landon Dickerson remembered that the first thought he had after winning the 2020 National Championship Game was to pick up Saban.

The problem with that was that Dickerson was healing from a torn ACL. Even though he was able to get on the field when the Crimson Tide were in victory formation in their win over Ohio State, he wasn’t anywhere near healthy.

“I don’t think the docs were happy about it,” Dickerson said this week. “But that was just the first person that I went to. He meant a lot to me. He changed my life and put me in a position where I can be where I am today.”

After beginning his college career at Florida State, Dickerson played his final two seasons under Saban at Alabama and became the No. 37 overall pick in the 2021 draft.

What was the biggest thing Dickerson learned from Saban? How to be a man, he said. DeVonta Smith said the same thing.

“What stood out to me most was him teaching us to be men in life,” said Smith, who was a Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama. “Football can only take you so far. But the way that you treat people and things like that, the way that you carry yourself that takes you a whole lot farther.”

An unusual hype video

The Eagles released their wild-card round hype video this week and it was a bit unusual. Credit to the team for realizing the typical rah-rah approach wasn’t going to work.

This is a team that has struggled a ton recently and there’s just not a ton of excitement from fans. Can you blame them?

So for this one, the Eagles got veteran Jason Kelce to voice it with the following message:

“Fans are frustrated. We’re frustrated. The playoffs are here and we’re not where we want to be yet. This is when you’re most tested as a team. We believe in every player in this locker room, in our will, in our hearts to push through and do anything for this team and this city. It’s time for the playoffs. Now is when we come together. It’s about who wants it most. I know we f—ing want this.”

On Thursday, Kelce was asked about the tone of the video.

“I think we’re obviously a little frustrated with the way we’ve performed over the last month and a half,” Kelce said. “But at the end of the day, we put ourselves in a position to be in the postseason and we played really good football at times this season. And it’s a reminder to ourselves and to the fact that if we go out there and play up to the potential that we can play, that we can compete with anybody and win on any given week. I think it pretty much is what it is. It’s an honest assessment of what’s happened recently but also an honest assessment of what can happen if we get this thing turned around.”

Replacing Sydney Brown

The Eagles lost Sydney Brown for the season when the rookie safety tore his ACL against the Giants in Week 18.

“Obviously, you feel really horrible for Sydney,” de facto DC Matt Patricia said. “Obviously, you guys spent a little time with him. But what an unbelievable person, what a great, just, player, young guy, works hard. Everything that we try to ask him to do.”

While Brown didn’t become an every-snap starting safety as a rookie, he was a key role player for the 2023 Eagles. He ended up playing 335 snaps (29%) on defense and was sixth on the team with 220 special teams snaps.

So how do the Eagles replace him?

On defense, the Eagles are also dealing with another safety injury from Week 18. Reed Blankenship hurt his groin in that game and xxx. Their options are limited a bit there. The only healthy safety on the 53-man roster is Kevin Byard. The Eagles also have Tristin McCollum, Mekhi Garner and Josiah Scott on the practice squad. But perhaps playing Avonte Maddox at safety could be an option too, especially because the Eagles have Bradley Roby and Eli Ricks available to play slot corner.

“I think for us as a team, as a defense, you just move forward,” Patricia said. “You always have plans in place because you know those things can come up, whether they're long term or short term, and you try to adjust and take a look at whether you can keep those packages, move on from them or somebody else go in those roles from that aspect or change them slightly maybe give them a different look from that aspect of it.

“But I think those are things in the game of football you always try to have plans for going forward if anything does happen where you have to adjust personnel-wise.”

On special teams, coordinator Michael Clay specifically mentioned McCollum, who took over gunner reps in Week 18 after the injury. The Eagles elevated McCollum the maximum three times in the regular season but that doesn’t matter in the playoffs.

“It will be hard to fill the void. We're ready in this room,” Clay said. “We've got all the guys in this room ready to get their name called up to play whenever at a high level. We've done a good job at that for the entirety of the season.”

Given McCollum’s ability on special teams and the injuries at the position, it seems likely he’ll be elevated for the wild card round.

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