Safe to say Alejandro Villanueva has had his plate full since signing with the Eagles as a rookie free agent back in early May.
For starters, he hadn’t played the sport since 2009. The U.S. Army Ranger was on active duty for the past four years, which included three tours in Afghanistan. When he did play last it was at wide receiver and before that, offensive tackle. He has been not only reacquainting himself with football but is learning a new position — defensive end — and doing so on the game’s highest level. If that’s not enough, Villanueva still has Army requirements that need to be fulfilled.
“I’ve been kind of partially amazed that he could do what he’s done,” said Chip Kelly. “He was training such in a different realm, I think he was preparing for a lot of the PT work that he did in the Army, he was running five miles a day. We’re certainly not asking our defensive linemen to run five miles a day. There was one day here, you can check with him, I think he went from here to an Army training session and went out and had a couple PT tests that he had to pass and actually one of them was a five‑mile test. He nailed it and came back and didn’t miss a day.
“He’s been just a guy that you see every day just getting a little bit better, getting a little bit better. As I said the other day, a real intriguing prospect but just amazed at everything that Alejandro does to be honest with you.”
Villanueva stopped and spoke with reporters for a few minutes on the edge of the NovaCare practice fields Thursday at the close of Eagles minicamp and was asked to assess his progress to date.
“I think I’ve learned a lot and come a long way in terms of the way the Eagles have prepared me physically and mentally. Hopefully I’ve made some improvements,” he said. “I’ve got some time off right now to think about what just happened, and then go back to training camp and make sure that type of learning is there.”
The 6-9, 277-pound Villanueva said he has made strides in the weight room, learned the playbook and is feeling more comfortable on the field. He credits Kelly for giving him a chance, and praised defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro for being “extremely smart in the way he’s coaching me.”
“You’re looking at someone that from a physical standpoint has some great physical skills — six-foot-nine, he has great reach, has really good athletic ability. And then he has great character: his toughness, his ability to perform under pressure, those kinds of things are well-documented,” said Azzinaro of Villanueva, who has received many honors for his service, including the Bronze Star Medal for Valor. “So what we’re going to try do is see if we can make him into a four-technique.”
Judging linemen in a non-contact environment is difficult, and it’s hard to say just how realistic it is that Villanueva will overcome the odds to make this roster. He is among a defensive end crop that currently includes Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Joe Kruger, Taylor Hart, Brandon Bair and Frances Mays. There are only so many spots to go around. What can be said is that he has the coaches’ attention, along with their respect.
“For me, it’s all uphill and that’s the way I have to look — is just up,” said Villanueva. “So hopefully this work that I’ve put in during this offseason will pay dividends in training camp.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Does Nolan Carroll have a shot at stealing one of the outside corner gigs? Sheil explores.
Our final batch of photos from Eagles minicamp.
The secondary isn’t exactly the “Legion of Boom” with Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen at safety, and that’s partially by design.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
More on the joint practices between the Patriots and Eagles from ESPN Boston:
It was previously reported that the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles would hold joint practices at Gillette Stadium leading in to their Friday, Aug. 15 preseason game at Gillette Stadium, and the team today formally announced the details of those practices.
The practices will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 12 and Wednesday, Aug. 13, and will start at 2 p.m. ET.
Jake Kaplan of the Daily News wrote a piece on rookie corner Jaylen Watkins.
As a senior on a struggling University of Florida team, Jaylen Watkins started some games at cornerback and others at safety. But if you listen to Eagles defensive backs coach John Lovett expound on Watkins’ allure, that mere fact doesn’t fully contextualize the player’s versatility and football intelligence.
“When you talk to him about his defense at Florida, he knew what everybody did,” Lovett said. “I talked to the defensive coordinator [D.J. Durkin] down there. They put him in at positions that he hadn’t even practiced that week because he knew what everybody was doing. He’s really got a great football IQ.”
Thirty-one days until training camp.