Braman and Maragos came to the Eagles as free agents this week to improve special-teams units that were good in some areas last season, not so good in others. Kick-return coverage improved from 21st in the NFL in 2012 to 19th, punt-return coverage all the way from 31st to 11th.
They are contrasts physically - Braman, a linebacker, listed at 6-5, 241, safety Maragos listed at 5-10, 200. But their complicated stories seemed similar - neither Braman nor Maragos was a touted prospect, each finished college somewhere other than where he started, both men entered the NFL undrafted. They talked of having had to work for opportunities.
Maragos, 27, was a walk-on receiver at Western Michigan when he contacted Wisconsin's top receiver, Luke Swan, through Facebook, asking Swan to take his film to Badgers coach Bret Bielema. Bielema watched the film and invited Maragos to the Badgers' camp. He was converted to safety, lettered his final two years, finally won a scholarship as a fifth-year senior.
After Wisconsin, Maragos was up and down with the 49ers, once finding out he had been cut (but subsequently getting re-signed to the practice squad) after flying with the team to London for a 2010 game against the Broncos. He was cut for good in 2011 and surfaced with the Seahawks, first on the practice squad, then on the active roster from the middle of the 2011 season through Seattle's Super Bowl XLVIII victory last month.
Braman's story has even more twists. "It was definitely a lot of fun, and I don't think I would be standing here talking to you today if it wasn't for that journey," said Braman, who turns 27 in May. "I played a year for the University of Idaho out of high school. Unfortunately, I didn't realize you had to go to class and get good grades in order to play football. I had to learn that the hard way. I took a year off. I come from a pretty humble beginning, a blue-collar family, decided to go back and work with the family. I thought that would be something I would do, just like generations before me. After about three months [making concrete railroad ties], I realized that wasn't something I wanted to do.
"I decided to go back to school and found my way to Long Beach City College, played two years there. There was a real great guy, Bobby King, he came and found me from West Texas A&M . . . I played there for two years. Unfortunately, my senior year I got into some trouble. There were some character issues that people were questioning when I was coming out my senior year."
The trouble was that he pled guilty to a charge involving hallucinogenic mushrooms that led to his departure from West Texas A&M. He paid a fine.
He signed with the Houston Texans in 2011 and played three seasons there.
"Coach King, fortunately enough, he was brought up onto the staff with Wade Phillips when [Phillips] came to Houston [as defensive coordinator] from Dallas, and coach King did a great thing for me. I feel like I owe him a lot. He stood up for me, put his name on the line, told the Houston organization that it was a misjudgment, that I don't have character issues, that I'm a good guy, a good quality guy, that I work hard. I've always worked hard for everything I have."
Braman had other good stories to tell, such as the time he ran head-on into a fire hydrant as a youngster, and how he gets his size from a 7-4, 360-pound grandfather who was a World War II vet. Eagles fans might enjoy watching the clip of him making a tackle against the Titans in 2011 after he'd gotten his helmet knocked off.
Birds go Carrolling
The Eagles added to their defensive backfield depth and to their special teams yesterday with the signing of former Miami corner Nolan Carroll to a reported 2-year, $5.2 million deal.
Carroll, 6-1, 205, started 12 games for the Dolphins last season, intercepting three passes and recording two sacks, along with 11 passes defensed.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly said in a statement released by the team that Carroll's skill set "fits what we are trying to do on defense and special teams."
General manager Howie Roseman said of Carroll, 27: "The thing you see is his size, speed and press [coverage] ability . . . You can never have enough big, long corners on a football team."