Phillip Hunt wants more than an opportunity with Eagles

Posted: August 15, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Phillip Hunt realizes he's in the NFL and playing on one of the league's most respected defensive lines during positional drills and in positional meetings, and it's not just because of the talent that surrounds him. It's also because of the talent that once surrounded him.

Trent Cole and Jason Babin, the Eagles' two starting defensive ends, have both been to a pair of Pro Bowls. Before Hunt came to the Eagles, he spent two seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. Hunt, who led the CFL with 16 sacks in 2010, remembered a linemate named Odell Willis who impressed him.

"Other than that," Hunt said, "there really wasn't no Trent Cole or Jason Babin or Fletcher Cox or any of those guys."

This is another way of indicating that Hunt is not in Manitoba anymore. He's with the Eagles, and in recent days, he's been with the first-team defense during training camp practices.

After a two-sack performance in last week's preseason opener against the Steelers, Hunt arrived at camp on Saturday and took snaps with the No. 1 defensive line in Babin's absence. The defensive ends all rotate, so it was not necessarily a shock to see Hunt playing with the first team, yet it was undoubtedly a promotion.

The development further fortified Hunt's case to make the roster, however crowded the depth chart might be. The Eagles' deepest position is defensive end, and Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp and Hunt can all make conceivable cases to be the third defensive end after the starters. With six of them on the roster - not to mention two undrafted rookies, too - the Eagles must make difficult decisions when the roster is trimmed to 53 on Sept. 2.

Hunt entered camp as one of the players seemingly on the balance. In his virgin NFL season after two years in Canada, the 6-foot, 248-pound Hunt was inactive for seven games and finished with only two sacks in 2011. Yet both of those sacks came in the last four games of the season, and Hunt carried that performance into training camp.

"I came from the CFL, and I knew it was going to be a fight to get some playing time or respect, or whatever you might call it," Hunt said. "I knew I might have to start from wherever they wanted me to start from and work my way up."

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo singled out Hunt as a player who impressed him in the preseason opener, when Hunt abused Steelers left tackle Mike Adams, a 2012 second-round, with two sacks and a forced fumble in the first quarter. The performance came without Cole and Babin on the field, so Hunt maximized his audition.

But the effort actually started in the meeting room, where both Babin and Cole are present. Hunt followed a circuitous route to the NFL, from an undrafted player out of Houston to the 110-yard fields in Canada to the bottom of the Eagles depth chart. He won't receive pity from Cole, a fifth-round pick who needed to convert from linebacker and develop into a Pro Bowl end, or from Babin, once a first-round pick who played for five different franchises before securing his big payday.

"It's a sense of urgency when you look across the field and see Trent Cole," Hunt said. "You know the type of things he's done to make himself a permanent player in this league. It makes you want to try hard to be just like him, or maybe better."

Hunt said a player who took his path develops better appreciation for an opportunity compared with a high draft pick who can be recycled elsewhere. If Hunt fails in Philadelphia, he might not receive another opportunity. For that reason, he insists he does not dwell on what could happen on cut day or even what happened against the Steelers. Two sacks last Thursday does not give him two sacks against the Patriots, and worrying about what the 53-man roster looks like on Sept. 2 will not help him in practice on Aug. 14.

What Hunt says he worries about is what occurs each day. When the first-team defense lined up on Tuesday, Hunt was a part of the group. Asked if Hunt has worked his way into the top rotation of defensive ends, Castillo diplomatically said the Eagles have multiple groups and play whoever is active on game day. But if Hunt continues to play as he has played during training camp, he'll continue to be a name in the mix.

"In my eyes, does it include me?" Hunt said. "I hope so. I hope it includes me. I'm ready to go full-steam ahead with getting more reps."


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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