Hey fellow BGN'ers! Sadly I wasn't selected to go to the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles' Academy for Men, but I didn't even have to try and do so because I bought my ticket well in advance on April 9th and was excited about the event ever since. I knew all along that I would want to post a recap for BGN, so here it is!
The day started bright and early for me as I had to wake up at 5:00 AM to get ready to leave for the event because I live in Brooklyn, New York. Although I don't drive, my father was nice enough to agree to drop me off and pick me up from the event while him and my family went and toured a little bit of Philadelphia. So it was a win-win situation for both sides and I was extremely grateful that he did so.
The drive ended up being much quicker than anticipated and we arrived at the NovaCare Complex around 8:00 AM. My father, being the talkative one that he is, decided to ask one of the security guards at the complex if their was anywhere to grab breakfast around the area. They told us to go to the Penrose Diner which was only 2 stoplights away, and my goodness was it a great suggestion! Six of us had an entire breakfast including drinks, etc. and it was less than $60! So yeah, that was a great way to start the day.
We then headed back to the NovaCare Complex, and they dropped me off and they went on their way. I'll admit, I was a bit nervous because I was by myself and didn't entirely know what to expect of the event but it ended up being well worth it, definitely an experience I will never forget. A large group of people, I'd say around 100-150 of us waited outside the complex doors for roughly 20 minutes before heading into the entrance and having to tell them our names, hand in our injury waiver forms and get stickers with our name and "team" on it. There were 8 teams, broken into 4 offensive players and 4 defensive players, I was assigned to Team Jackson, which basically meant that was the group/team you would go through the days events with.
Once I received my sticker, they made everyone go sit in the auditorium while we waited for everyone else to arrive, finish handing in their forms, getting their stickers, etc. Once everyone was done and in the auditorium, we were greeted by an Eagles' marketing associate who briefly summarized what would be taking place throughout the day and she also announced that Riley Cooper and Arrelious Benn would be working with us during the drill section of the day at the indoor practice facility.
After her brief summary, she introduced Jon Dorenbos up to the stage and he received a pretty loud applause. At first it seemed like it would be a pretty bland and boring speech but boy did it get entertaining. He announced that whenever he didn't know what to say, he would start doing magic...so he started doing magic. Everyone busted out in laughter and he kept us entertained for a bit with a "magic rope" in which he kept undoing knots, tying knots, taking apart, etc.
Then things got pretty serious, a quite surprising turn of events as Dorenbos began to explain that as a child he bounced from foster home to foster home because when he was young, his father murdered his mother. He recalled that one foster home that he was once at was located close to the Cincinatti Reds' stadium and he would always stand in the parking lot. He would never approach any of the players, he just liked to watch them get in their car and leave the parking lot as he looked in awe. But one day, he said a Reds' player holding a baby actually approached him and told him that "nobody bothers you when you have a baby". Dorenbos recalls just saying "yeah" in response to the player with a dumbfounded look on his face.
Things got jolly once again when Dorenbos began to explain a funny training camp experience that took place his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills. He recalled getting out of his car and heading towards a tunnel which had close to a thousand fans standing around it. The crowd started cheering like crazy and Dorenbos began to throw his hands in the air and show off to the fans...but then he realized that Drew Bledsoe parked right behind him and that's who the crowd was going crazy for. All of us in the auditorium laughed once again and everyone seemed to enjoy everything Dorenbos was saying.
Finally, things ended on a sad note because Dorenbos recalled a touching story that took place after a game when he was with the Bills. He noticed a young boy that reminded him of himself when he was a kid just standing along the fence. He asked the kid if he wanted to go on the field, the young boy said yes and Dorenbos told the boy to get his father and follow him. Once they were on the field, Dorenbos recalled the kid rolling all over the field and throwing himself on the grass but things got awkward when Dorenbos spotted the boy's father crying. Dorenbos joked to us that he thought he was about to get sued and cut because he hurt the father's child but sadly the father told Dorenbos that this was the first time he has seen his son be a kid in three months because he was diagnosed with cancer and the doctors only gave the boy six months to live.
From that moment on, Dorenbos took the under his wing and brought him to all different kinds of places and even tried to get the kid to drive to the Bills' stadium prior to a game because he wanted the boy to feel what it felt to actually be a player on gameday. The car ended up being pulled over with the young boy in the driver's seat and Dorenbos in the passengers seat, too embarrassed to look at the officer. Dorenbos told the officer's what he was doing for the kid and they ended up surrounding the car and actually guided the kid in the car while he drove to the stadium. After a couple more meetings with the boy, Jon said the kid told him "we're going to the Super Bowl together", even though Jon knew the Bills had no chance at doing so, he agreed with the kid and the boy actually gave Jon a pair of giant Super Bowl tickets that the boy made using the back of a cut out cereal box.
A few weeks passed and on October 18th, Dorenbos got an urgent call from the father telling him to come to the hospital immediately and the kid jumps on the phone and urges him bring the Super Bowl tickets he made for him as well. Dorenbos rushed to the hospital and once he arrived at the room, the boy saw him and said "today is the Super Bowl". Dorenbos was confused and said "it's October, the Super Bowl isn't for a few months", the boy replied "It's been six months and one day. Today is my Super Bowl." Sure enough, Dorenbos checks the tickets he's been keeping in his house since he received them and the tickets read October 18th for the date of the event. Truly a touching and very emotional story, something that I felt I had to share with you guys about this part of the day.
Once Dorenbos was done speaking, each group was called to go to their respected section of the day and my group, Team Jackson, started in the offensive meeting room with former Eagles' left tackle and current coaching intern, Tra Thomas. Thomas is a huge towering man that didn't even bother introducing himself, he just said "ya'll know who I am, right?" Almost everyone said yes while others giggled. Thomas apparently had planned to use an overhead projector to show us formations and how the offensive lineman are supposed to read defensive formations and adjust accordingly but the overhead wasn't working so he began to write on the dry-erase board.
He warned us that he was going to show us four plays, toss a football to a random person in the group and they had to say who each player on offense had to block. If they got it wrong, the quarterback would be sacked and the entire group had to do push-ups. We went through the first two plays, both occurring in sacks which meant ten push-ups for the group before an assistant came in and told Thomas that the offensive lineman meeting room had a working overhead and suggested that we should move there.
Luckily, Thomas decided to let us forgo the push-ups because of the technical difficulties that they had with the overhead projector. Once we settled in the offensive line meeting room, which was much smaller, Thomas spotted me looking up on the dry-erase boards on the side walls with a bunch of playcalls and cadences that were clearly leftover on the walls from a previous team meeting. He jokingly said to me, "Hey you! Don't look at the side walls!", at least I think he was joking...and as big as he is, it's not like I was going to say no.
He finished up the meeting after going over two more plays and he kept talking about how well Lane Johnson has been in practice and also called Jason Peters the most athletic lineman he's ever seen. Luckily enough, I was able to get Tra Thomas to autograph my Eagles' Academy Playbook they gave out before we were forced to move on to the next section.
After the offensive meeting with Tra Thomas, we made our way to the defensive room to meet with assistant defensive line coach Erik Chinander. This was personally my favorite part of the entire day because of how real and honest Chinander seemed. He also seemed to really embody and teach all of Chip Kelly's philosophies such as big people beat up smaller people, etc. and that could easily be because he has prior experience working with coach Kelly. What I also loved was he let us decide what he was going to show in terms of tape, etc.
He started off by showing us some practice drills, specifically of the younger defensive lineman. One that stuck out in particular was Bennie Logan because of how fast and powerful he seemed. Although it was just against a dummy, in one drill Logan lifted up and slammed the dummy so fast and ferociously that I was amazed. Chinander also allowed us to ask him any questions we wanted and I asked him of all the young defensive lineman that impressed hiim the most so far and he quickly mentioned Logan. He said Logan has really stood out because of his power, versatility and quickness but also noted that he still has a lot of work to do coming from a 4-3, sort of Wide-9 technique at LSU. He also kept stressing hand placement and planting your foot in the ground instead of teaching all "that bullshit" about having your hips right, etc.
Right before the meeting ended, another person in my group asked him if they were working specifically on any spy packages since we have a quarterback such as RGIII in our division. He dug through some files on the computer and showed us a specific part of practice in which they were using DeMeco Ryans as a spy with a 3-4 look. If I remember correctly, it was Cox/Sopoaga/Thorton up front with Barwin, Ryans, Kendricks and Cole as the LB's. But Barwin was almost at the line and no defensive player except Sopoaga had a hand in the ground, he said it was called "Magic Spy" and was somewhat like an amoeba defense, in which no player is really set pre-snap so it is much harder to predict what player is rushing, dropping back in coverage, etc.
Once the meeting was dismissed, I quickly ran up to Chinander to get his autograph because although he is a coach, he seemed to have a great atttiude and really treated us as if we were players.
P.S. - He definitely didn't hold back with the foul language and I took down some amazing quotes in my notes which can be seen below.
Once the defensive meeting with Coach Chinander came to a close, we made our way to the Training/Weightlifting/Gym facility. We were greeted by a strenght and conditioning intern that gave us 10-15 minutes to venture around the room on our own and take pictures of anything we wanted too and then had us gather around him. He went on to explain how he had only been there for a little over a month but has been amazed by the new technology and equipment that the Eagles have been using. Right away, he pointed out a pair of machines that appeared to just be a black stand with a water jug shaped object on it. It was actually a vibrating massager that the players could lean on to massage their back, legs, arms, etc. It allowed the players to work out any kinks they may have in their body on their own at any time. Although, the intern didn't seem to knowledgeable about football itself, he sure seemed incredibly knowledgeable about all of the machines, their uses, etc. Which is what he should know about, it's his job after-all, leave the coaching to Chip and his staff.
He asked the group if we wanted to hear him explain the use of anything in particular and everyone asked about the weightlifting bench that also had the tablet attached to it. He explained to us that it was called "Elite Form" technology and the players must enter their ID and password on the tablet prior to using the machine. That allows the coaching, training and medical staff to view the player's progress and whatever excersise they are doing instantaniously. It keeps track of every rep as they do it, as well as bar speed, etc. The intern stressed that the bar speed was important because if a player is moving a bar too fast, that means they could add more weight and increase his workout without harming the player's body or overexerting them either. The tablet also used it's camera to record every single exercise the player did on the machine, which allowed the staff to playback the video and try and work out any kinks the player has in their mechanics, etc.
The other interesting machine he pointed out to us was an anti-gravity treadmill. It appeared to be a normal treadmill, but once the player steps on it, they pull up two handles, one on each side, that reveals a plastic enclosure that surrounds their body up until about their waist and makes running easier. It is mostly used to rehab an injury as it allows an athlete to do an exercise like walking normally without risking further damage of tissue, cartilage, etc.
We then headed into the lab which had a pair of tables for stretching and examining the players as well as a special treadmill that was self-powered, it did not move on it's own. The machine was also surrounded by cameras, which the intern said allows them to focus specifically on a player's feet and their running or walking motion to work out any kinks or missteps they may be taking that could be aggravating or causing them pain.
Lastly, he explained two devices that were enclosed in what appeared to be toolboxes with slots in them for each device. The smaller device, which almost resembled a car remote, was a heart monitor that they can actually attach to a player's jersey to monitor their heart rate throughout the day and especially during practice. The other, slightly larger device, was used to monitor the distance each player ran throughout a practice. He said the main use was to see if an entire position group was exerting or running a longer distance than the other, this way they knew to not make them run as much in the gym, etc. Another interesting note, was that each of the larger devices has a sticker with a number on it, which was likely a player's number so that they each had their own device they were assigned too. Both of these devices can be seen below. Once we finished checking out the weight room, we were kindly guided back through the hallways into the locker room!
Player's Locker Room:
Heading into the locker room was easily one of the most exciting parts of the day. Just the thought that I was in a room where the players would actually start and end their daily routine amazed me. Immediately I noticed that the first two lockers belonged to Jason Kelce and then Michael Vick. Although Chip Kelly's new locker room set-up wasn't meant to group positions together, it sure seemed like most of the groupings made sense sine Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham were grouped together in one section of the locker room as well. Obviously nothing too excited took place in the locker room because noone was their to really walk us through any of it, so we just wandered on our own.
But I took a ton of pictures which you an see below, including one of me in front of Shady's locker, I kinda chuckled when I noticed the Gucci bag sitting there, you can see it in the background of the picture. The rookies and unsigned free agents also had much smaller lockers which were in the middle of the locker room, almost looked like furniture from Ikea. Lastly, Arrelious Benn left the keys to his Porsche right on the chair in front of his locker, so that was kinda weird yet funny at the same time. After the locker room, we headed back into the auditorium to meet with Jon Dorenbos for the special teams meeting!
Special Teams Meeting:
Once again, it was an honor to just sit down and listen to Jon Dorenbos talk. He is extremely down to earth and very entertaining but also knew when to get serious and really try and teach us about special teams. He stressed that he was only going to talk about punting and kicking field goals, he said that he didn't know a thing about kickoffs. Dorenbos noted that the punt is one of the most important plays in all of football because it usually ends in the biggest exchange of yardage between the teams. He said although a punt may seem like nothing when you're watching on TV, there is actually a ton of work to be done on such a "simple" play.
He showed multiple game clips to us, the first was of Akeem Jordan helping him pick up a defender on a punt and Dorenbos was quick to add that Jordan was the best guard he has ever played with in his career and that Jordan can easily bench anywhere from 500-600 pounds. The following play was a play against the Bengals, in which two defenders crossed each other, trying to confuse the punting team. Dorenbos said they studied that exact play and knew the Bengals were going to try it against them. Dorenbos admits that he fell for the crossing defenders but praised Stanley Havili who made a key pick up block and allowed the punter to get the punt away cleanly.
The third video, Dorenbos showed us was against the Saints. He noted that he has a couple of friends on the Saints' coaching staff and said they purposely put their 360-pound defensive lineman in on a punt block formation just to hit Dorenbos, he didn't even try to block the punt! Dorenbos was in great spirits when talking about the play and admitted that he got blasted on the play and completely taken off of his feet.
The final play that he showed us was truly amazing because he told us a very intriguing story. It was prior to the Giants' game last season in Sunday night in Philadelphia. He said that he had torn two ligaments in his foot and that he struggled to walk in the week prior to the game. But he knew that if he couldn't play, the team would have to either place him on season-ending IR to free up a roster spot for another long snapper...or release another player that was currently on the roster to make room for another long snapper. Dorenbos stressed he wasn't going to let that happen and worked his tail off, rehabbing 17 hours a day to get back on the field for that game against the Giants.
Andy Reid came up to Dorenbos and told him that they were going to sign a long snapper to the practice squad just in case he was not ready for the game. Dorenbos told Reid that he understood but that he would try his hardest to play...and sure enough he did. Prior to the game, he recalled 10-15 people from the Giants' team and coaching staff watching him closely in the pre-game workout to see if he was showing any signs of a weakness that they could attack. Once it came down to the wire, with around two minutes left in the game, Dorenbos recalled a coach stressing to him to just snap the ball and get off the field. Dorenbos replied "screw that, I'm going to snap this ball, make this tackle and we're going to win this fucking game". What happens? Dorenbos snaps the ball, hobbles his way down the field and makes the tackle. He jumps to his feet, snaps off his chin strap and celebrates like a warrior, which he truly was on that day to play in that situation and physical condition.
But that play wasn't the biggest moment for Dorenbos, the biggest moment and something he said he would never forget was that after the game, "20 or so of the younger players" came up to him and thanked him for his effort to play in that game. They all explained to him that he saved them their jobs and allowed them to avoid the stress of paying to move their families to wherever the next road in life took them. Dorenbos explained that this is what the Eagles' organization is all about, watching out for those around you, it's one big family. Before ending the meeting, Dorenbos also said he wants two pictures framed after his career is done, one being him holding the Lombardi Trophy and the other is him making that tackle against the Giants on that Sunday night. Once we were dismissed from the meeting, I asked Dorenbos if he could sign a couple of items for me and he didn't hesitate and signed all three of the items I asked him to sign including the cover of the playbook, around his picture in the playbook and my custom Eagles' jersey that I brought with me. Up next...it was lunch time in the player's cafeteria.
Lunch at the Player's Cafeteria:
Not too much to be said about this part of the event. It was definitely not a Chip Kelly approved variety of food because there was everything from cheeseburgers to chicken marsala, as well as waffle fries and penne a la vodka, quite a selection of food as well as a soda machine with all types of Coke-brand drinks. There were some healthy options such as a variety of fruit, but not much else. I chose to go with chicken marsala, penne a la vodka, waffle fries, a banana an orange soda...it was quite delicious.
Once lunch winded down, it was time for a raffle which included three different footballs, one signed by Michael Vick, the other signed by Jeremy Maclin and the last one signed by Ron Jaworski. I think it might've been fixed because the first two footballs went to a pair of guys that came together, a little fishy I must say, haha! After the raffle, each group broke up once again for their each respective last event of the day, my groups last event being the indoor training facility where we finally meet Riley Cooper and Arrelious Benn...or would we!?
Indoor Training Facility/Drills with Players:
While we made the short walk to the facility outside of the NovaCare Complex, I can say I sure was excited to meet Riley Cooper and Arrelious Benn but was surprised to see that Benn actually was nowhere to be found. Instead it was Colt Anderson! I was actually really excited to see Colt because I really appreciate good special teams play and he is easily the Eagles' best special teams player and even did a respectable job when he stepped in at the safety spot this past season.
All four of the offensive team groups were in the facility at the same time and we spread across the field for a quick couple of stretches before heading to our first of four drill stations. The first drill that "Team Jackson" went to was Colt Anderson's station. We started off by doing a simple tackling drill in which we lined up directly in front of a dummy, lowered our hips and fired up at the dummy while carrying it for five yards and then returning it to it's original position. Colt stressed for us to take wide steps, almost around the dummy, while we carried it and said "the coaches tell us to do it, I don't really know why".
Next we did a ton of coverage drills including dropping back for five yards, shuffling to our right and then intercepting a pass in front of the dummy. Another coverage drill we did was playing the ball along the sideline in coverage trying to cover a double route which was a post towards the middle of field and then turning back towards the sideline and intercepting the ball. I was always one of the first up at each drill and Colt got pretty excited when I made a one-handed interception and manage to keep my feet in on the double move coverage part. Lastly we had a drill in which the football was propped up on the dummies shoulder and we had to blitz from 5 yards outside of it and strip the ball, recover the ball and return it for a touchdown. Colt's station was definitely a ton of fun and I thanked him for showing us what to do and he responded "great job out there, nice pick!", it was really cool to hear that from him.
The second station was Riley Cooper's station, and I immediately took notice of how huge Cooper was. The guy looks like a monster in person, but was a hell of a nice guy. We started by simply lining up off the field and running a straight route while he lobbed a pass to us, but he told us to only catch it with one hand and that it was a drill the Eagles' receivers always start their position drills with. Next we did a simple post in which we had to take five steps and then cut towards the center of the field and he was hitting us in stride almost the entire time...maybe a dark horse for the open QB competition? Maybe not.
We then did short out routes toward the sideline in which we had to try and keep our feet inbounds. He also had us run a route which made almost every one dizzy at first, it was a nine-step route in which we ran a double move and made a catch along the sideline. It was three steps straight, a three step post towards the center of the field and then a three step post in the opposite direction towards the sideline, quite a complicated one.
Lastly, he had us run from around 25-30 yards out and do a fade route in which we started in the slot, made a move to get to the side line and tried to catch the ball in the end zone and keep our feet in bounds. I was up first for this part, and he threw an absolute bomb that didn't leave me much room to get two feet in, but I did, and Cooper was pretty excited about it and pointed up at the sky and we did a mid-air shoulder bump, easily my favorite part of the day.
Once that drill was over, it was on to the three-on-three "redzone challange", which was a lot more fun then I thought it'd be. It was three wide recievers and a quarterback from "Team Jackson" against three defenders which were from a young staff that was working there. On the very first play. I lined up at receiver, and used the exact double move that Cooper just taught us and made a pretty sick catch because the ball bobbled in my hands, somehow landed on my back and managed to gain control of it. Everyone was amazed and I heard one of the workers say "it looks like we have competition in this group". I went on to catch a couple more TD's and then they allowed us to play some defense as well but nothing really of note happened then.
Finally, it was the last drill of the day, catching punts from the JUGS machine. This was fun the first couple of times but got pretty boring pretty quickly. Easily my least favorite drill of the day, and after catching about five punts, I called it quits and headed over to the cooler and drank a ton of water because it was quite humid inside the facility. Once the final horn sounded, we all gathered around midfield and said a loud E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles chant which was pretty awesome. One of the staff members gave a little speech thanking us for coming and saying that the organization really appreciates the support and that they had a couple of parting gifts for us. One was an Eagles' branded three-piece BBQ set...but the other was a pretty big deal. It was a 20 x 26 picture of Jason Avant's insane catch against the Bucs last year signed by him. I already have it hanging in my room as I type this and you can check it out in the pictures after the conclusion. Sadly I wasn't able to get any pictures inside the facility because I put my phone in my bookbag on the side because I didn't want to risk dropping it or possibly losing it while running through the drills but I did manage to get both RIley Cooper and Colt Anderson to autograph my playbook cover and jersey as well!
Once we received our gifts, I went to the parking lot to meet up with my family and we made the long trip back home...but not before stopping for some cheese-steaks. I prefer Geno's but they all prefer Pat's, too each his own, I guess. I can definitely say with confidence that any Eagles' fan that has the oppurtunity to go to a Philadelphia Eagles' Academy for Men should definitely do so. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget, and I definitely look forward to going every upcoming year as long as I can make it! Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed my recap and here are some final pictures of the autographs I received and me and my girlfriend enjoying Geno's after the event!