It’s been a tremendous offseason for me personally and professionally, but it’s exciting to be back to work in Philly.
Things never seemed to slow down this offseason, and that’s good. It started with signing the extension with the Eagles. I’m so excited to be continuing my career here. Then our team went out and got better this offseason. And to cap it all off, last month, I got engaged to the love of my life.
As all that was going on, I was making sure to put my work in, trying to get better every day.
I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to marry Julie Johnston. I’ve written about her at length in this blog before and our relationship has remained one of the most wonderful parts of my life.
She’s an unbelievable person, a selfless person. She has a huge heart, and she constantly wants to help other people. That’s something that has always stood out to me about her. I could honestly go on and on for hours about the things I enjoy about her.
But I’d rather say a little about our engagement.
I started thinking about proposing a lot after the season, and went through the process of getting the ring and all that stuff. But I knew the proposal had to be special. One of the more difficult parts of it was getting both of us in the same spot. We sometimes go a few weeks without seeing each other because she’s often training with the United States Women’s National Soccer Team or her National Women’s Soccer League team, and I obviously have my commitments here in Philadelphia. But we got some time together in February, and ultimately, it worked out perfectly.
I brought her back to California where we first met: Klein Field at the Sunken Diamond, the Stanford University baseball complex. We met there back during a game when we were both in college (me at Stanford, Julie at Santa Clara). It was the perfect place to bring our relationship full circle.
I set it up with the Stanford baseball PR department to get the time and the field, and have a sign in the background after I did it. My mom and my brother were there taking pictures of us so we had the memories. Julie had no idea what was happening, and she was so happy. We’re targeting some time after the NFL season to get married, and the wedding planning is well in the works.
It makes you feel a sense of pride to have the ability to pull something like that off, and make someone that happy. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’ll never forget that day.
It was probably the best day of my life thus far.
BUILDING ON LAST YEAR
Last season, we had our highs and our lows, and the low of not making the playoffs definitely outweighed the highs. So it was a rough season for us with a disappointing end as a team. But I think what we took from last year is the opportunity to build on it.
It’s no secret that I really wanted Sam Bradford to come back.
Sam and I had some things happen early last year that set us back. I had a very invasive surgery. We weren’t able to build any chemistry going into the season because he missed all of OTAs and spring recovering from his injury, and I missed all of camp recovering from mine. So we were kind of learning on the fly together—on the field—and that’s hard for anyone. That’s not an excuse by any means. It just is what it is. I battled through it. By Week 5 or 6, I started to feel like my old self, having the explosion back, having the speed back.
At the same time, there were a lot of moments last year that showed why Sam was the No. 1 overall pick when he was drafted. He also found his voice late last season, and the last six or so games of the year, he picked it up as the vocal leader of the team. He brought the team together before a lot of the games and voiced his opinion about what we needed to do to go out there and be successful.
We had such great chemistry the last couple of games that we didn’t want to go a whole offseason without training with one another. Jordan Matthews and I talked about it after the season, and told Sam that as long as the Eagles re-signed him, we wanted to come down to Oklahoma, where he lives, and train with him for a while.
So before I came back here to Philly, I went down to Oklahoma for a week to train with Jordan and Sam, just the three of us. We had a really great week of work.
Going in, I’d never really been to the Southwest for an extended period of time. It was definitely a new and interesting experience. It was so windy outside that even though we wanted to work on the field a bit, every day we were forced inside for training. It was unbelievable wind—like 50 mile-per-hour wind. It was unreal to me because there were no mountains. I’m from California. Oklahoma is all just flat land. So that was definitely eye-opening.
The people in Oklahoma were incredible. They were so gracious and nice. All the good things you hear about people from there are definitely true.
I flew in on a Sunday night and got there about midnight, so Monday was kind of an acclamation day. Jordan and I went out to meet Sam in Norman at the University of Oklahoma, and had a great running session—just a speed workout. Then we had a good lift. Then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we were all about routes. The three of us talked about working in certain routes and that sort of thing, and how we want to do that because the offseason is the time to discuss those things.
We probably ran about 100 routes each session. Sam was slinging the rock, and Jordan looked great. I thought I did pretty well. Sam looked extremely good, and hopefully he feels the same way about what we did. You could definitely see the chemistry building, and that’s so important for a quarterback and his receivers and tight ends.
You saw at times, especially late in the season, the chemistry Sam and I can have with one another. We attacked this offseason looking to improve on that. We want to be among the best quarterback/tight end combinations in the league in 2016. I think Tom Brady and Gronk are the high standard of a quarterback and a tight end playing at the highest level in the game. That’s who we’re going to emulate.
As great as the on-the-field work was, the off-the-field camaraderie between the three of us was just as good. During the season and even during OTAs and training camp, when you’re done with the day, you don’t have a whole lot of time to go hang out with friends because you’re so exhausted. People have families, girlfriends and lives of their own. So Jordan and I going out there presented the three of us the opportunity to learn more about each other off the field. To see what people like, what they don’t like and have a bond that goes beyond football and is bigger than the field—that’s going to help us in the long run as a team and as individuals.
That first night, we went to Topgolf in Oklahoma City, which was extremely fun to attend. I like to golf, but we don’t have a place like that where I’m from. This was just my second experience at one of them. Sam is basically a scratch golfer, so we didn’t present him any competition. But Jordan also didn’t really present me any competition, because he was that bad.
It was still a great time.
The next two nights we pretty much just went out to dinner, and enjoyed some good food. Then on Thursday, we watched the Sweet 16 basketball games. Stanford wasn’t in it, so I didn’t really have anyone to root for. I kind of jumped on the Villanova bandwagon, and it was awesome to see them win the whole thing. Congrats to those guys, and way to represent Philly!
SEASON OF CHANGE
A lot has changed since we left things last January. There are a lot of new faces here in Philadelphia from the coaches to the players. Everyone’s confident in the moves Mr. Lurie, Mr. Roseman and Coach Pederson made this offseason, and we’re really eager for the 2016 season to get here.
Personally, I’m really glad that the team brought back Brent Celek. Brent is one of the best tight ends in Eagles history and a selfless player. He can go out there and run routes well, and be an excellent blocking tight end. He’s been huge in my development, especially in regard to the blocking aspect of the game. I owe a lot of my success to him.
I’ve been able to watch him go about his business each and every day, with an incredible work ethic, and I’ve learned a ton from him. He’s been here through the ups and downs. He’s gone to conference championships, and he’s also experienced four-win seasons. He knows what it takes to be a successful team. Brent’s a great leader, and everyone is happy that he’s sticking around. For him to know that he’s going to end his career as a Philadelphia Eagle, we’re all very excited for him.
I like what I see out of our wide receiver group as well. Jordan’s going to have a huge season. Nelson Agholor comes into his second season with something to prove. And we added Reuben Randle, a tall, athletic receiver who brings a lot to the table to get excited about.
We also have some very strong and physical offensive linemen. Like myself, Lane Johnson signed an extension this offseason, and keeping him here was huge. Lane is an unbelievable player and incredible athlete. He’s going to be a successful right tackle or left tackle, wherever they deem fit for him. We came to Philly in the same draft class, along with Bennie Logan, and I think it’s great to know that we’re both going to be here for a long time. Hopefully, we’ll be the people who are familiar with the organization, and guys who, when new guys come in, they’ll be able to lean on.
Offensive and defensive line are two key cogs for any football team, and they’re two places you can always keep tweaking and improving. We did that by signing a stud guard in Brandon Brooks, and everyone’s excited to see what he can do. The guy’s a large human, and he’s going to be great for us. Bringing in Stefen Wisniewski was also a nice under-the-radar addition. We have depth up front, and with the offensive line we have now, we’re going to have the opportunity to be more successful on offense. Now it’s about us maximizing our potential, and building the chemistry and camaraderie together that leads to success.
I’m really loving what’s happening with our defense as well. I see our defensive unit taking a huge step forward in 2016. By re-signing Malcolm Jenkins and bringing in Rodney McLeod from St. Louis, the front office has given us a chance to have the best safety tandem in the league. What sets those two apart is that they’re so versatile. They can be interchangeable between free safety and strong safety. That’s kind of how you need it to be nowadays with the way teams play offense now. There are constant personnel shifts. So the defense has to be able to adjust. We’re going to be able to do that with two of the best safeties in the league.
I’m also really excited to see what Jim Schwartz has in store for the front seven of our defense. He’s a 4-3 base guy, and we have the personnel to excel there. Vinny Curry especially is going to thrive in his new role under Coach Schwartz. He’s one of the most explosive defensive players we have, and he’s going to be able to play the 4-3 defensive end and get after the passer. For how big Vinny is, it’s remarkable how fast he’s able to get off the ball. I think he’s really going to thrive in this scheme.
When you have a guy like Fletcher Cox, one of the best defensive linemen in the game, you’re able to build a defense around him. Everyone is going to have success off of that. The guy’s a stud. We see it every day in practice. He just finished his fourth year in the league and finally got his first Pro Bowl. He should’ve gone to the Pro Bowl the year before, but he was All-Pro, which is a great honor. The guy is just a hell of a player. He might not get the national notoriety yet, but when you go to the playoffs, that’s when the national notoriety comes.
BACK TO THE GRIND
That week in Oklahoma kind of whet our appetites in terms of what we’re going to be doing and working on over the next several months in Philadelphia.
Everyone’s really excited about the opportunity we have in front of us. We’re excited to learn from new minds. The people we’ve brought in have an opportunity to make us better football players. Whenever you have the chance to learn more you have an opportunity to grow.
For me personally, I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off. When I look back at those last four games, I don’t want those to be an outlier. That’s a standard that I’ve set. I’ve had good games in the past. I think I can consistently have those types of games and be an impact player for us. Now it’s about being healthy, being on the same page as the quarterback and the coach, and have them trusting me to go out and execute. That’s what it ultimately comes down to is me going out there and executing. I need to do that for all of 2016.
I’ve worked this entire offseason to improve my play from last year, and I’ve had a great offseason so far. I had a good year in 2015. But I think 2016’s going to be better.