When the transaction was announced, and defensive end Jason Babin officially became an Eagle, the reaction was something along the lines of, "Jason Babin, Jason Babin ... I remember the name. Whatever happened to him?" Babin was a former first-round draft choice of Houston in 2004 and had played with Seattle and Kansas City before signing with the Eagles as, well, a training camp afterthought.
He isn't an afterthought any longer. With 1 1/2 sacks in the last two games, Babin has worked his way into the rotation at defensive end with his feisty, never-stop attitude and style of play. Victor Abiamiri is going to miss his third straight game with a knee injury, so Babin is stepping into the void and taking advantage of the opportunity.
His performance is a pleasant addition for the Eagles, who literally decided to add him to the roster in the summer because they felt he was too good to not have a job somewhere in the NFL. Babin was at the bottom of the heap in NFL terms at that point. With rosters swollen to 80 players and with 32 teams looking for help on a daily basis, Babin was still unemployed.
The Eagles gave him a chance and he has responded.
In fact, Babin's production is one of the reasons teams go to such extraordinary lengths to work the depths of the roster every day. There are no such things as "throwaway" moves. Every player means something, whether on the active roster or on the practice squad. Look at the players the Eagles are receiving help from right now: Babin is playing more and more, although it remains to be seen what his role will be when Abiamiri returns; linebacker Will Witherspoon, acquired in a trade at the league deadline, has made a huge instant impact in the defense; defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, awarded to the Eagles off of waivers after Washington cut him as the Redskins reached the 53-man roster limit in September, looks like a really good, young prospect and backup tight end Alex Smith, whom the Eagles signed when he was cut by New England prior to the regular season.
Those are only some of the players added to the roster this year in somewhat unconventional fashion. The Eagles have done this for years. They have drafted well -- and how much better does the 2006 draft look now with Winston Justice starting and playing well at right tackle? -- and they have brought on players like cornerback Joselio Hanson and defensive end Juqua Parker off the NFL's veteran scrap heap, and have had good success signing rookie free agents for many seasons.
And how about running back Eldra Buckley? He had been on the practice squad for two years in San Diego and then the Eagles signed him shortly after the 2008 season ended. Eldra who?
Buckley is the team's third halfback, a key member of the special teams and ready to run the ball when called upon.
Last week, when the Eagles added running back P.J. Hill from the New Orleans practice squad, people took notice. He is a running back, and Brian Westbrook was hurt, and the conventional thinking was that the Eagles wanted Hill around, just in case. That really wasn't true. They wanted Hill because they liked the way he played at Wisconsin and because he showed up on the game film during the preseason.
Hill dressed on Sunday against the Giants, although he didn't play. He may not play a snap all season. That doesn't mean Hill lacks value. The Eagles want to watch him every day in practice and see how he learns the system and how he acquits himself during the work day. Maybe, just maybe, he can help the team later this year, or next.
The Eagles understand the long-range approach. They signed an Australian rules rugby player by the name of Sav Rocca during one off-season and some thought the move was more of a publicity stunt than a legitimate football move. Not true at all. Rocca beat out Dirk Johnson in training camp for a job and here he is, a couple of years later, showing steady improvement in his consistency and, at times, changing games with his booming leg.
Then there's Dimitri Patterson, added to the roster late last season as a virtual unknown. A cornerback at Kansas City, Patterson flew under the radar throughout most of the preseason until he made the 53-man roster. He had been a consistent contributor on special teams as part of Ted Daisher's core group until a leg injury knocked him out of action the last few games. Patterson is healthy now, and should aid the special teams once again.
You see the theme here: You never know when a player is going to break the mold. The high draft picks are the glamour boys, and the unrestricted free agents get all the headlines, but a very good roster and a deep practice squad includes players of all shapes and sizes and methods of acquisition.
Some come off the waiver wire. Some are signed out of thin air. Others are picked up in a trade. And all of them come together in a locker room, where nobody cares where anyone else came from. They all have jobs and they have new leases on their NFL lives, and when the chance comes to get on the field and play, they have a job to do and expectations to meet.