Wake-Up Call: Villanueva An ‘Intriguing Prospect’

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

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."

COMING UP

Thirty-one days until training camp.

 

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  • jmkrav

    Can we get a read on Villanuevas speed? Wondering about him for special teams. Can he get downfield to cover kicks? Would love to see his height in punt/FG block units. Maybe he makes his way onto the roster that way since Chip wants to improve ST.

    • JosephR2225

      Fast enough to kill the terrorists!!

      Seriously though, an exciting group at DE this season. I want to see what Curry can do and what a year in Shaun Huls secret strength and conditioning laboratory did for Joe Kruger. Obviously Hart is an interesting prospect as well and now Villanueva, who is still probably a long shot but interesting nonetheless… but Cox and Thornton were so good last year (especially down the stretch) I don’t want to see their snaps cut into too drastically. I guess that’s a good problem to have.

      • Eagles1018

        I know this is “glass half empty” talk but I wish we had that problem in our secondary and ILB spots

  • evanphilly

    Is it only me or does anyone else want to see a 6-9, 277 lb dude play TE or WR for this team? I know the speed may not be there, but the size alone would be a nightmare for opposing teams inside the 20.

    • NickS1

      I’d love to see it inside the 5. Otherwise, I’m good with him in a QBs face w/ those arms up.

    • Scott J

      Momah is 6-7 and sucks.

      • myeaglescantwin

        i don’t think he understands how to control that frame yet.

        last season he was acting like he was a 5’10 WR.

    • DoctorRick

      Jordan Matthews is coaching him up to play slot receiver.

    • Eaglehaslanded

      That would be cool, but, from my understanding, he has gained weight and is now up to 300 lbs.

      • guest

        I would hope so. 277 is WAY too light to be a DE at 6’9″.

        6-9, 277 is a big linebacker, not a 3-4 DE, so that extra weight is necessary

  • Scott J

    Theres no way the Eagles can afford to give a roster spot to a project like Villanueva. His only chance is to make the practice squad and improve from there. Very impressive guy though.

    • mtn_green

      He made the 90 and that’s impressive.

    • Kev_H

      Have you seen him play this year?

      • Scott J

        Uh, no. Have you seen him play? The last time he played was in 2009 and was a wide receiver. That was 5 years ago and a completely different position. People are being a little ridiculous with this guy. It’s a great story, but the reality is, he’s only fighting for a spot on the practice squad.

        • Kev_H

          So your judgement is premature.

          • Scott J

            Who’s he going to replace on the roster? Cox, Thornton, Geathers, Curry? He also has to beat out Taylor Hart and Joe Kruger.

          • Kev_H

            You haven’t seen him play. They brought him in to compete, let him compete before you pass judgement. Bench dwellers in the NFL don’t see much action either. This guy was athletic enough to play featured wide receiver in DI football, for his job he had to be more fit than NFL d-linemen. You ought to wait to see him compete before you jump to conclusions based on nothing. The Eagles aren’t stocked with pro bowl DEs.

        • hokieduck

          I see JJ Watt every time I see Villanueva. Jumping up and swatting passes with that 6’9″ frame and massive timbers for arms.

        • paul from nc

          Murderleg

  • Token

    The Momah of 2014.

    • Andy124

      So he’ll be the GOAT in 2015? Excellent.

    • myeaglescantwin

      i don’t think i’d go that far.

      Momah was coming off of injuries, this guy is coming off military tours & PT test. Momah didn’t even make the practice squad last year.
      I guarantee if Villanuevo is on the practice squad, someone will scoop him in the first week.

      side note, i heard Chip talk about how much improvement Momah has shown (believe it when i see it)

      • guest

        You guarantee that someone will sign Villanueva off the practice squad? You realize that when a team signs someone off of someone else’s practice squad, they have to keep that person on their 53-man roster for the rest of the season.

        He hasn’t played football in 5 years! Yes, he’s a Hero. But that doesn’t qualify him to play in the NFL. No team is going to give him a spot on the 53-man roster. He has practically zero chance of being on the 53-man here. And I’d put his chances of a practice squad spot as very slim. Its easy to say “yeah he’ll make it” or “just throw him on the practice squad.” Well, take a pen and paper and write down your 53 man roster, plus 8 for the practice squad. Then compare it to the 90 man roster and see the guys you are cutting. You’ll see. Villanueva MIGHT sneak onto the practice squad. But if he does, no one is going to sign him.

        • myeaglescantwin

          i love the arrogance trying to shut me down. If it was some other schmo it would work.

          i know the intricacies of the practice to pro roster move.
          He hasn’t played ball in 5 years, but he hasn’t exactly been working in a construction yard, or some desk job.

          He received several offers at the regional combine. Teams won’t let him sit through a 17 game season.
          why, because you can’t teach size.
          Furthermore, that size is attached to one of the fittest big men on the planet.

          & I’d wager that he does make the practice squad. Then we will have a stituation just like Kruger, some sort of boffo IR label, then he comes back at 300lbs, with technique.

          • Clamdigger

            Yeah, or he doesn’t. There are a lot of athletic big guys that can’t get a job in the NFL. This is ridiculous. He’s getting a chance, solely because he’s huge and athletic.

            Chip already explained that the type of training he did in the military wouldn’t necessarily translate directly to the NFL, but that he was impressed with his ability to handle it.

            More power to him if he makes the practice squad. But to pretend that he’s some mortal lock because he’s big and athletic is silly. His size is what got him the opportunity, because it sure wasn’t his tape. He made Momah look like DJax.

            Kruger actually had some meaningful experience and tape to go off of. Villanueva’s ‘tape’ was a joke. He’ll have to develop extremely quickly to make the practice squad.

          • myeaglescantwin

            agreed,

            but even with all that said. I stand my ground. He will, in some fashion, remain part of this organization.

  • myeaglescantwin

    I’m hoping they get this man coached up.
    His body type and endurance are top of the charts, hopefully his DL fundamentals get a boost from this coaching staff.

    He may be the only NFL player i am actually “pulling for”

  • Clamdigger

    I’m so tired of hearing about this guy. It’s a gimmick. I don’t see bums like Pratt or Momah getting this kind of interest.

    • Johnny Domino

      Operative word: bum

      Although that is probably unfair to Pratt and Momah at this juncture.

    • myeaglescantwin

      first off, Momah and Pratt have both earned a decent amount of accolades during these few days of practice.

      Second of all,
      this man is an American Patriot and servant. Not to mention the whole 6’9 280lb aspect. on a team that was littered with 6′ DL for the past 8 years.

      For you to be upset at him getting recognition is completely unAmerican.
      You’ve got some problems with YOU that you need to work out.

      • Clamdigger

        U.S.A! U.S.A!

        I’m not questioning his service. That has nothing to do with his ability to play football. I’m questioning why there are still articles covering this guy on a regular basis. Kruger and Knott are far more relevant players with actual football backgrounds who have a chance to make the team.

        I get it, he’s a hero and it’s a feel-good story, but the fans and subsequently, the media are fawning over a guy who has about as little chance of making the team as anyone currently on the roster.

        He’s already received his recognition. This is just pandering.

    • Corey Dawson

      He’s getting his shot because he’s a physical speciman that might pay off and Chip likes giving back to the armed forces. I’ve got no issues with that. I imagine he would have been an undrafted rookie free agent pick up for someone if he didn’t need to go fulfil his army requirements after school.

  • Tom Kazansky

    I like rooting for guys like this but am realistic about their chances of ever making an impact, given the constraints of roster and practice time limits.

    Expanded NFL rosters (say, 56) or the establishment of a “D-League” would do a lot for guys like this.

    I think the takeaway from this and similar stories is that Chip appreciates the concept of the NFL as “basketball on grass,” especially near the goal line. Do what you want in between the 20’s. We’ll take risks and try to create turnovers there. But once you’re close, we’re stopping the “jump ball” stuff and we’ll try to do some of it ourselves on offense.

  • Corey Dawson

    I’m really hoping he makes the team, but it’s such a long shot. Cox, Thornton, and Hart are locks. I think he’s going to have to unseat Kruger to make the team.

    • guest

      and Curry. you forgot him

      • Corey Dawson

        I didn’t. I don’t think Curry is a lock to make the roster or stick around, they didn’t seem to see him as a fit last year. I can imagine them trading him sometime before cuts, or just cutting him. It’s unlikely, but that’s why I didn’t include him.

  • TNA

    I hope someone asks him the similarities and differences of training/science conditioning between military and Eagles. Mentally and culture wise, this guy seems to be a great fit for the Eagles. He may not be able to make up for the lost time on the field, but if hope he is able to contribute to the organization in a Huls type of way even if he doesn’t make it as a player. If not, there’s an infamous government agency that could use his help when he discharges from the military.

  • John J. King

    I hope the guy makes it. If he can, he will be very disruptive.