By Nick Shook
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Summertime. August. The dog days of training camp.
As the sun shines down on sweat-drenched backs and bakes the arms and legs of players one shade darker, players trudge from group drills to full team sessions. Eleven-on-eleven. The horn sounds. It’s time to roll.
Pads and helmets clash. Grunts of various tones sound through the hot air. Coaches shout “stay up! stay up!” as whistles bring plays to an end.
Seriously, though — stay up!
That’s the point Eagles tight end Zach Ertz made after practice Friday, a session that saw Jordan Matthews leave early with a knee injury scare after a low hit by rookie corner Jalen Mills.
Matthews isn’t alone in being on the receiving end of low blows. Ertz was sent to be evaluated for a concussion after taking a low hit from Blake Countess on Friday. But it isn’t just the rookies — new acquisition Rodney McLeod went low on the tight end two days ago.
“I think it needs to be addressed, but it is what it is,” Ertz said, via Philadelphia Magazine. “It’s live football, so that situation is in the game. We got to get ready for it. Obviously, Jordan and I getting hurt today, you don’t want to see that.”
Younger players often enter their first camp with an added intensity, feeling the need to both prove themselves and fight hard enough to make it through camp. Sometimes this spills over into making a tackle when wrapping up — but not bringing down — is all that’s necessary.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson, a former quarterback, is well aware that football is not for the mild. But he wants his players to practice a bit of caution.
“I just know this: football is a contact sport,” Pederson said. “This is gonna happen. And whether it happens today or it happens Thursday night, it’s part of the game,” Pederson said. “I’m a big believer in you never shy away from contact. You got to have contact. Again, it’s a contact sport. You just keep training the guys. You keep talking to them about protection.
“We’re in a live situation, too, so I understand the competitiveness of the drill,” he continued. “But I’ve tried to get the message across, too, sometimes. Just protect each other. Try not to go low if you can’t. It’s reactionary stuff. You can’t fault the players for trying to make plays.”
Respecting elders is a long-standing tradition in sports that, if violated, can turn a camp practice ugly quite quickly. It could also cost a team its top receiving threat. It’s up to the young — and sometimes older — players to understand they need to respect one another on the practice field.