Nose tackle sniffed out Eagles' opening

ASSOCIATED PRESS Damion Square made the roster as a rookie free-agent d-lineman.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Damion Square made the roster as a rookie free-agent d-lineman.
Posted: September 04, 2013

ONE OF THE problems the Eagles face in trying to shift their base defense from 4-3 toward a 3-4 front is that they don't have much in the way of proven nose tackles.

Damion Square identified this need very quickly, after going undrafted last spring out of Alabama. Square signed with the Eagles and set about showing them he knew how to play the position, even if he lacked ideal heft, at 6-2, 293, nearly 40 pounds lighter than Isaac Sopoaga, the scheduled starter the Birds imported from San Francisco early in the offseason.

Square was one of three undrafted rookies who made the 53-man roster, along with offensive tackle Matt Tobin, from Iowa, and linebacker Jake Knott, from Iowa State. Of that trio, Square and probably Knott seemed to have spots pretty much locked up for the past few weeks.

"You always want that confirmation that the work you've put in has been accepted by the organization," Square said yesterday.

"When we watched Square, we always knew he was a good player and fit this scheme," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said over the weekend. "We felt very fortunate to get him as an undrafted free agent, and it didn't take very long, seeing him in pads, to see how violent he was, what a good technician he was. It was pretty quick that we realized he was going to be part of this."

It isn't clear whether third-round draftee Bennie Logan (6-2, 309) will ultimately be a nose tackle or a d-end; he's a nose tackle for now. But Square knows his best fit is in the middle. (Even if the team website's depth chart currently lists him as a defensive end.)

"The important thing is to get your hands on your opponent as quickly as you possibly can and get your eye on the back," Square said, "because you're 50-50 both ways [depending on where the back goes]. It's a position that I've been in a while, and I'm comfortable with it."

Square, perhaps appropriately given his name, seems to have a strong base, doesn't get moved aside easily.

"It's a leverage game," he said. "You get up under the guy and hold the point of attack. You understand where the linebacker is . . . In a 3-4, that's the most important thing for a d-lineman to do, is hold the point of attack.

"I don't do a lot of running up the field, making wild plays for my team. I'm a technique guy. I'm going to come back again and again and execute my assignment to the best of my ability. That's the thrill I get out of playing the game, not running around everybody and grabbing some guy from the back, but going through a center, shrugging him off, and making a play in the 'A' gap. That's the most exciting play in football."

Square, overshadowed on the talented defense of the two-time national champion Crimson Tide, decided when he went undrafted that he liked his chances with a team on which everybody was going to be a rookie of sorts, in a new defensive scheme. It also helped that Alabama offensive-line coach Jeff Stoutland had gone to the Eagles, and gave him a strong sales pitch.

Square says he has adjusted well to Eagles defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who came with Chip Kelly from Oregon.

"He focuses on the little things. He doesn't really let us slide on the little things," Square said. He said he also likes Azzinaro's emphasis on repetition. "He understands that we are all creatures of habit."

Square has an interesting perspective from which to evaluate Kelly, having played for Nick Saban at Alabama.

"They get the same things done in different ways," Square said. "They're guys, they're going to hold you accountable, they're just alike in that way. They're not going to bend when it comes to accountability. They give you a schedule, they give you an assignment and they expect it to be done, and if it's not done, you're going to have to go see them."

Goode move?

It would have been hard to find a happier Eagle last Thursday night in the visitors' locker room at MetLife Stadium; Emmanuel Acho had just notched seven solo tackles, 11 total, including a sack, in the final preseason game against the Jets. Acho was confident he'd done everything he could to make the roster of the team that had acquired him in an offseason trade with Cleveland for running back Dion Lewis.

Acho, a sculpted 6-2, 240, capped a strong preseason with his performance against the Jets. That was reflected over the weekend, when the Eagles kept him on their 53-man roster while releasing, among others, linebacker Chris McCoy, who also had flashed skills.

But yesterday, observers who had been surprised by the cutting of McCoy to keep uninspiring veteran Casey Matthews were further confounded when the Eagles were awarded Tampa Bay linebacker Najee Goode on waivers, and in order to add Goode, they released Acho, not Matthews.

Chip Kelly was not available to talk about the roster tweak. Matthews played at Oregon, where Kelly coached before jumping to the NFL this year. Matthews was a disaster as a rookie starter at middle linebacker in 2011, but by last season, he was a productive special-teams player, albeit for some of the worst special teams in the league.

The Eagles have room to put Acho on their practice squad, should he clear waivers.

Goode, meanwhile, was a fifth-round Tampa Bay pick in 2012 from West Virginia. Like Shaun Prater, the corner the Eagles claimed Sunday from Cincinnati, Goode (6-feet, 244) comes from a stronger, deeper defense than the one he joins. He played in three games as a rookie.

The Eagles practice for the first time as a 53-man team tomorrow.

Birdseed

When the Eagles waived injured Curtis Marsh to add Shaun Prater, that meant they'd cut their first-, second- and third-round picks from 2011, in Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Marsh . . . The team worked out briefly and lifted yesterday, but reporters were not allowed at NovaCare . . . The Eagles have announced five practice-squad members, four of whom played for them in the preseason: tackle Michael Bamiro, running back Matthew Tucker, wide receiver Greg Salas and linebacker Travis Long. Safety Trenton Robinson comes from the 49ers and might be a good bet to find his way onto the 53 after he gets some time in the defense.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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