There are 12 rookies among the players on the Eagles' current 53-man roster, 11 of whom got to hear their name called during this April's NFL Draft. And yet somehow the story of undrafted rookie tackle Austin Howard making the team has become an afterthought because Howard's play has been so impressive since day one that he was already considered a lock for the roster.
Howard is a testament that quality football players, even at a position as important as left tackle, can still be overlooked despite the depth of scouting across the football landscape. Howard was "discovered" by the Eagles when offensive line coach Juan Castillo went to watch his son, a defensive back for Iowa, play against lowly division 1-AA Northern Iowa. Naturally, Castillo's eyes were drawn to the offensive line, where he noticed a 6-foot-7, 333-pound figure dominating at the point of attack, albeit using pretty raw mechanics.
After going undrafted, Howard had several offers but chose to come to Philadelphia, where he would have an opportunity to impress since the team didn't draft a single offensive lineman. From the very beginning of mini-camps, Howard was installed as the second-team left tackle.
"It's been a lot of hard work since day one, through mini-camp and OTAs, but (offensive line coach Juan Castillo) informed me of that long before I even got here," Howard said. "He told me that we're going to work hard before and after practice every day just to try and get better."
Howard has never really considered himself a favorite for anything, noting that, coming from small school programs in both college and high school, "I've had that underdog mentality for a few years now." So even though he was proud of the work he had put in this summer, Howard wasn't quite sure what to expect on cutdown day.
"I sat in my hotel room just kind of waiting until six o' clock," Howard said. "Then it was about 6:05 (p.m.) and I hadn't gotten a call yet. So I called my agent and he was like, 'If you haven't gotten a call yet, that means you made it.' So that was a pleasant surprise."
The decision to keep Howard - who is now the fourth player on the Eagles' 10-man offensive line to go undrafted, joining Jamaal Jackson, Nick Cole and Jason Peters - was a no-brainer, according to general manager Howie Roseman.
"It's hard to find offensive linemen in this league," Roseman said on Saturday. Howard "had a heck of a camp in preseason. He's a big guy, long arms, good athlete, former tight end and we'll try to develop him here and see where we go."
Meanwhile, Howard has already taken to heart the advice of those around him and is refusing to get complacent simply because he's reached his first goal.
"It was a long process, hard work and it feels great to accomplish (making the team)," Howard said. "But like my coaches and teammates have said, now the hard work really starts. Now we're getting geared up for Green Bay and hopefully bringing a Super Bowl back to Philadelphia."
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 7:40 p.m., September 6