ANAHEIM, California — As soon as coach Doug Pederson blew his whistle Thursday, the Eagles players gathered at midfield — normally known as second base at Angel Stadium — for a quick pep talk before getting into the serious portion of practice.
By all accounts, the team’s workouts this week in preparation for Sunday’s key game against the Los Angeles Rams have been intense and crisp.
They can ill afford a second consecutive loss after last week’s 24-10 setback at Seattle. The Eagles (10-2) are tied with Minnesota (10-2) for the best record in the NFC, but the Vikings hold the edge on a tiebreaker. The Rams (9-3), New Orleans (9-3 entering Thursday’s game against Atlanta), Carolina (8-4) and the Seahawks (8-4) also are in contention for playoff spots.
“After a loss, you could say it’s been a little bit more motivating,” tackle Lane Johnson said Wednesday. “You’re not going to drag through any of these practices or you’re going to be called out.”
Pederson and some players implied their focus may not have been as sharp in practices leading up to the Seattle game.
The Eagles committed costly penalties and had two turnovers against the Seahawks.
“Listen, I do believe the guys need to have fun at practice,” Pederson said. “You don’t want to make it so they’re not enjoying it. But at the same time, when they are out there, when they are executing a play on offense, defense or special teams, they need to be focused and they need to be paying attention to their assignments. It has to be business as usual.”
Business has been extremely unusual this week, however.
They flew to Los Angeles right after Sunday night’s 24-10 loss at Seattle and have been ensconced at a hotel for most of the time except for practices at Angel Stadium.
That plan was established to eliminate making back-to-back West Coast trips and cut down on distractions and perhaps even promote some bonding.
The Angels also went out of their way to help the Eagles. The Angels’ clubhouse was altered to fit more cubicles — linebacker Nigel Bradham occupies part of Mike Trout’s locker — and the team did an outstanding job of transforming the diamond into a football field.
“The grass is just a little slick, but otherwise it’s great,” center Jason Kelce said. “Everything’s gone very smoothly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
The location of the Eagles’ hotel and practice facility helped.
Anaheim is about 100 miles from the wildfires that have been burning this week in Ventura County and the Los Angeles area this week.
Thousands of people have been affected by the fires.
That group includes Chris Jay, who has lived in Ventura since graduating in 1996 from Lower Cape May Regional High School. He works in the movie industry and is also a member of the music group Army of Freshman.
He has not been forced to evacuate, but is hosting a number of people who had to leave their homes.
“We’ve been housing everyone we can,” Jay said Thursday in an email. “The other guys in the band were all evacuated from their homes. Some people left with just minutes to spare. For the past two days, embers have just been landing on random houses and they go up in flames. I have multiple friends who lost everything.
“The sky is a thick, brown smoke and everyone is wearing masks. It’s surreal. It’s like a disaster movie. It’s surreal in all the worst ways.”
Notes: The Eagles’ players selected safety Malcolm Jenkins as the team’s nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Jenkins has been extremely active in protesting social injustice and raising money for education through the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Jenkins said Thursday. “Especially in this locker room because we have so many guys who do so much for the community.”
Tight end Zach Ertz (concussion) was cleared to practice on a limited basis Thursday, but it was not yet known if he has cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol to play Sunday. He is the team’s leading receiver with 57 catches for 563 yards and is tied for the team lead with seven touchdowns.