Paintball, Pop-A-Shot and football, too: How Eagles are fostering competition

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks was sleeping under the Pop-A-Shot machine when he heard his integrity being called into question.

The conversation in the Eagles locker room was about last week's paintball excursion. Head coach Doug Pederson had surprised the team by taking the whole crew -- players, coaches, trainers, everybody -- to do some shooting on what was supposed to be the last practice day of OTAs.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a skilled marksman, apparently. But, in a development that brought much joy to Whoville, the brash assistant coach was eventually flanked by receiver Bryce Treggs and peppered with shot after shot.

"And you just see Schwartz pop up out of nowhere, running out of the game. That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen him move," said cornerback Jalen Mills with a laugh. "For sure, that was funny.”

The championship game was between Pederson's squad and an all-star cast that included linebacker Jordan Hicks, defensive end Brandon Graham, Mills, center Jason Kelce and Kendricks -- though Kendricks' affiliation remains a point of debate.

“Myke was ‘on the team,'" said Hicks, using air quotes.

"Hey," said Kendricks, his voice heard before his body seen. "The numbers didn’t look right, so I was like, 'Let me just go over here,'" before conceding, "I knew where the winning team was going to be.”

From the paintball outing to on-field duels to the Pop-A-Shot that Kendricks was napping under, Pederson has created an environment where friendly competition can be found at every turn. And the results are being tracked. There is a points system in place that tallies performance both in the weight room and in various field events, which have included tug-of-war, relay races and timed 40-yard dashes, according to the players. They're divided into three groups -- linemen, big skill (QBs, tight ends and linebackers) and skill (receivers, running backs, defensive backs) to ensure a level playing field. The winner for the week gets a primo parking spot and a T-shirt.

Bragging rights are the real prize, though. Mills says he and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod have fared well over the spring, and like to let the rest of the guys know about it.

"Us three, we always talk mess to the other DBs like ‘Hey, we’re in the circle. We’re part of a secret group that you’re not part of.' It definitely sets the other guys on fire and gets those guys going, for sure,” said Mills.

“[Pederson] said he wants everything to be about competition from the basketball hoops in the back to the pool table to the pingpong. Whether it’s the arcade games, the dart games, he said he always wants that competitive mindset.”

The players seem to know exactly who ranks where in the standings. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is the Pop-A-Shot champ, no questions asked. Hicks got some love for pingpong, cornerback C.J. Smith for darts. And according to right tackle Lane Johnson, kicker Caleb Sturgis is good at all of it.

“I think Sturgis has all the high scores because he kicks and then he comes in and plays his games,” Johnson joked.

There's been some spirited moments surrounding the on-field play as well. Quarterback Carson Wentz tagged Jenkins and other key defensive players in a tweet before minicamp practice earlier this week imploring the offense to "attack the day... And the defense." Things did not go quite as planned, with the "D" dominating that session.

“Carson better stop talking on Twitter, bro,” Jenkins added with a smile at his locker stall that afternoon.

There have been a couple of heated exchanges in practice involving players, and in one case an offensive and defensive assistant. During OTAs, a normally mild-mannered Alshon Jeffery spiked the ball emphatically in the direction of rookie Rasul Douglas. Coaches have been demanding, and there's been plenty of good-spirited trash talking.

The competitive juices have been flowing this spring, which is precisely the point.

“It just stems from creating an atmosphere of we’re always competing. And if we’re not competing in practice, it’s hard to compete in games," said Pederson. "So I want to promote fun, good-versus-good competition, whether it’s [strength and conditioning coach] Josh [Hingst] doing it in the weight room or me handling it out on the football field or last Friday taking the team paintballing and creating that spirited energy that you want."