Enter Canadian rugby sevens star Adam Zaruba.
Four days ago, the Eagles signed Zaruba to a three-year contract and watched their new tight end take the fields at the NovaCare Complex on Friday morning. After landing in Philadelphia last night around 9 p.m., the coaches are easing him into practice, working on his technique, and introducing him to the playbook. Zaruba has an opportunity to make the jump from professional rugby to the NFL.
"It's been a dream of mine to do this for quite some time. Rugby has been my focus for the last four years, but I've always wanted to come back and give football a shot and this opportunity is awesome," Zaruba said. "I'm thankful for it and it was a lot of fun. Today was a good day."
The Eagles' newcomer will have his hands full making some adjustments. For starters, he'll have to adapt to the NFL field size which measures 30 feet longer and 70 feet narrower than a rugby field. The rugby sevens' two seven-minute halves become four NFL 15 minute quarters along with an additional eight more players on the field. To make matters more intriguing, Zaruba will have to quickly familiarize himself with the Eagles' playbook.
"Athletically, I know I can shape up and do it. It's going to be getting in the book and learning everything and making sure that I can adapt to all of the systems," Zaruba said. "But I'm feeling good, every day keep getting better and see what happens."
In addition, Zaruba will be asked to do something he wasn't required at all to do in rugby. Blocking.
"I have played football before so I do know somewhat about blocking," Zaruba said. "The techniques are a lot different and it's going to be more complex, but the coaches are going to work with me every day. I just have to work on the technique but I think I'll be able to pick it up."
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On the flip side, there are parts of Zaruba's game he believes will translate and maybe even give him an upper hand. His athleticism in high school allowed him to play at multiple positions on both sides of the football, at tight end, slot receiver, defensive end, and kick returner. He has the experience of playing professional rugby for the past four years. But most of all, Zaruba is accustomed to the innate physicality that sets rugby apart.
"It's a different kind of game and it is a different movement set, but physically it's helped prepare me and I think that's a big one," Zaruba said. "I'm not worried as much physically about being able to go out there and do the job. It's about the technical aspect of it."
Zaruba will even have to make minor adjustments catching the ball given that the dimensions of a football are slightly slimmer and longer than a rugby ball. He intends on spending extra time after practice but remains confident in his catching ability.
"I have big hands and I think that I can catch the ball," he indicated. "The ball is coming at you at a different velocity and it's different than rugby, so I'm going to have to get used to that, but I think the ball skills and the handling skills are something that will be an attribute of mine."
During his first practice, Zaruba was getting to know his teammates on the fly, briefly introducing himself on the sidelines in between drills. When asked about the other Eagles tight ends, Zaruba stated he has yet to have the chance to catch up with veterans Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton.
"I just met them today, like this morning," Zaruba stated. "We just had our first session so I haven't really got a chance to sit with them in a meeting or do anything like that, but I've been talking to Billy (Brown) a little bit so he's going to help me out, but I've just got to get settled in and meet the guys."
The 6-5, 265-pound Vancouver native initially had another workout set up with the Seahawks next week, but once Philadelphia gave him a call he immediately changed his mind.
"I had a good conversation with (the Eagles) on the phone and they were pretty quick to bring me out so I was really excited about that," Zaruba commented. "I came out here and then they wanted to sign me right away and I did it and I wasn't going to turn it down. Absolutely not. I got a really good vibe coming here, I liked it here, everyone was really friendly and I just felt like this was the place I wanted to be."
Fans will be able to catch Zaruba in action this Sunday, July 30 as the Eagles will have their first Open Practice at Lincoln Financial Field.