Somewhere, Joe Ostman is working on his game. You can bet on that. He's either in the weight room pumping iron, or he's working on his agility or he's working on his hand technique, mimicking a pass rush. No doubt, Ostman is working. That's just what he does.
A defensive end who spent his first NFL season on the practice squad after a strong preseason performance, Ostman is among a handful of young players the Eagles are expecting to challenge for:
A) A spot on the 53-player active roster in 2019
B) If everything works out just perfectly, playing time in the rotation
First things first, though. Ostman has some odds to overcome. He's undersized by some NFL standards at 6-3 and 255 pounds. He doesn't have the classic "look" of a defensive end at this level – where are the long arms and long legs? – and he isn't an elite athlete. Heck, the guy has been pretty much overlooked his entire football career.
So not having a secure place in the Eagles' 2019 defensive picture isn't anything new for Ostman. His plan is to keep it simple and just keep working. Harder than anybody else.
"Every day you learn something new," Ostman said after the Eagles' 2018 season ended and he cleaned out his locker room stall at the NovaCare Complex. "This year has been like that for me – a lot of learning. Everything has been new. From where I was to where I am now, it's not even close. I became a much better football player, but I know I've got a long way to go."
Twelve months ago Ostman, after a dominating career at Central Michigan – 26 career quarterback sacks, 45.5 tackles for loss – was seething after being snubbed for the 2018 Scouting Combine. Instead, Ostman gained the attention of NFL scouts with a strong Pro Day at Central Michigan and then signed with the Eagles following the NFL Draft.
From the day he arrived at the NovaCare Complex, Ostman did what rookies do: He kept his head down, he stayed focused, and he did his work. And while Ostman never made it to the active roster, he served a valuable role on the scout team in practice with his high energy and intensity. He kept coming. He didn't stop.
He impressed the Eagles.
"You get here and you know you have to bring it every day," Ostman said. "You can't relax. You can't take time off. There is a lot of competition and I take that seriously. I am in no position to relax or think that I've accomplished anything. Getting here is one thing and staying here is another thing."
At the time of the 2018 NFL Draft, NFL.com gave Ostman a grade of 5.47, projecting him as an NFL backup with special teams ability. The website quoted an AFC team scouting director saying this of Ostman: "He's got those short legs like a penguin, but don't let that fool you because he will outwork most of the guys across from him. I would love to see what his Fitbit step count is during a game. That guy is constantly moving and chasing and hustling."
Ostman is still moving and chasing and hustling – right into the Eagles' picture for the season ahead. How he fits exactly remains to be seen, but Ostman's work ethic and his determination and the production that he had in college give him a chance. And all he's ever wanted is a shot.
He'll get it this summer.
In the meantime, the Eagles are going to challenge the defensive end position. They've got some questions to answer in the weeks to come – Brandon Graham's pending free agency is at the top of the list – but Ostman will be in the mix.
Are you looking for a long shot? Do you love the Rocky stories? Ostman is one of those, but he's here in real life, pushing for something more. And as the NFL prepares for another Scouting Combine, Ostman is on his own, doing what he does best: Working harder than everyone else, dedicating himself to chasing the dream of a lifetime. Ostman knows nothing is going to be handed out, but that's just fine with him. He's never been given a thing in this game, so why start now? It feels so much better earning every step of the way.