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Villanueva's Progress Amazes Kelly

Posted Jun 20, 2014

After a set of spring practices in which the majority sentiment harped on an increased efficiency and familiarity in the system in Chip Kelly's second season, no one was further behind the proverbial eight-ball than Alejandro Villanueva. After serving four years as a U.S. Army Ranger, including three tours in Afghanistan, Villanueva signed with the Eagles this offseason to return to football for the first time since 2009.

Of course, his transition didn't end there. Beyond returning to civilian life and adjusting different physical requirements, Villanueva is also learning a brand new position. After bouncing between tackle, tight end and wide receiver in college, the 6-foot-9 Villanueva is now a member of the Eagles defensive line.

"I've been kind of partially amazed that he could do what he's done," head coach Chip Kelly said on the closing day of minicamp. "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 … 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."

Ever one to credit others, Villanueva turned the tables when asked about how far he's come this spring.

"Well I think, first and foremost, the coaches and my teammates have been great since I got here to the Eagles organization," said Villanueva. "They've been helping me and developing me over the past few weeks. I think I've learned a lot. I've come a long way in terms of the way the Eagles are preparing me physically and mentally. So, hopefully I'll make some improvements. I've got some time off right now to think about what just happened and then go back for Training Camp and hopefully learn.

"(Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro) has been extremely smart in the way he coaches me and he understands the challenge that I have ahead. Coach Kelly, another unbelievable human being that gave me the opportunity. So, for me it's all uphill. That's the only way I'm going to look is up. Hopefully with this work that I've put in during the offseason it will pay dividends in Training Camp."

Next up for Villanueva is the layoff before Training Camp – time that he'll use to continue preparing his body and to continue fulfilling his Army requirements at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. The tallest player on the Eagles roster may face the longest odds of making the team come September, but if there's anyone who shouldn't be counted out, its Villanueva.

"It's been fun," Villanueva said. "In the weight room I've improved a lot in terms of my numbers. I've learned the playbook, which is the first step. I feel a little more comfortable on the field with the plays and … being able to do what's required of me.

"Overall it's been a good experience and I hope that I can stay with the D-line and do good things."

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