— Going against the real thing is so much better than a simulation, the Philadelphia Eagles under coach Chip Kelly have come to discover.
Because with all due respect, there are some things they just cannot duplicate in their own practices, no matter how hard they try.
For instance, their second or third quarterback may pull on a red No. 12 jersey and pretend to be New England Patriots star Tom Brady on the scout team. Or a defensive tackle from the bottom end of the roster can throw on a No. 75 jersey and pretend to be the Patriots' Vince Wilfork for a day or two.
But that's playing make-believe with athletes they don't have. So the way Kelly sees it is why not just seek the real McCoys [not to be confused with LeSean McCoy] to prepare for a matchup against the real McCoys? Since he's close with New England's boss anyway, it makes sense.
According to an informal, unscientific poll, the padded practices the Eagles held with the New England Patriots on Tuesday and Wednesday — Thursday will be just a low-intensity walk-through for both teams — ensured they would be a better team by the end of this week than if they had stayed at home to prepare for Friday night's preseason clash with the Pates.
"I think so," guard Todd Herremans said. "That's not something that we can create in practice with ourselves, along with some of the other things we see from the Patriots. You're just getting different looks, different techniques, a whole different defense.
"It's very beneficial for us being able to practice for a week seeing something like that."
Herremans was one of the players who drew the unfortunate assignment of trying to move Wilfork off the ball. Listed at 325 pounds, Wilfork's actual weight is probably closer to four bills than three. Yet he has the footwork of someone 200 pounds lighter.
"He's a big boy," Herremans said. "But he's got quick feet, though, so you definitely have got to get some leverage and you've got to get him moving. You've got to get him to move his feet before you can get any movement on him."
Even then, the movement would only seem to be where he wants to go. He's virtually unblockable, which is why he's lasted more than a decade in the NFL.
Brady is entering his 15th season. Five years after his last, he will be in Canton, which is another reason Kelly wants his team going against this guy for more than just a quarter or so Friday night. He also believes it provides more than a benefit to just his defense.
Kelly made a case for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles gaining from it as well.
"You're watching a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game," Kelly said of Brady. "So I think everybody, when we get a chance to watch someone who is as good as they are at their craft, I think you can learn a lot of different things.
"That's the neat thing. When you get to participate in situations like this, is that when you're not in there [playing], what are you doing, and Nick is a student of the game. For him to get a chance to watch Tom up close and personal in terms of how he interacts, what he does pre-snap, what he's doing post-snap, a lot of times you don't see it on film because the camera is not on him, I think anybody can garner anything from that. And when you get a chance to see someone as special as Tom is, I think it's a credit to this whole operation in terms of what we can get accomplished, not only in the work we can get, but when you're watching other people work."
Said Foles: "It's great to watch him to see how he conducts an offense and just where he throws a ball. So it's great being out here from a learning standpoint."
Going against Brady and a different offensive system gave cornerback Bradley Fletcher a different perspective as well.
"It's good to go and compete," Fletcher said. "We have a lot of respect for them and to go up against them in practice all week, it makes us play at an even higher level. And we look forward to that. We always want to compete against great competition.
"In our practices, we're always practicing our craft, always practicing our technique. But to come over here and practice against them all week, it definitely ramps it up a little more."
Wide receiver Brad Smith likes the sheer variety of styles joint practices bring.
"Sometimes, honestly, when you play each other, you kind of get used to the mannerisms of the guy, `I can beat him this way,' and you can tell when he's maybe not going as hard or as fast," Smith said. "But here you have no idea. You have to compete each and every play, and it brings out the best in you.
"It's as close to a game as possible."
Closer than anything they could have done by themselves at the NovaCare Complex, which is why this will continue to be a staple of Kelly's preseason plan in years to come, particularly if the NFL cuts the preseason schedule to three or two games.
To that end, Kelly had no comment.
"We haven't heard that that's going to happen," he said.
Sure they have.
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