Javon Hargrave is excited.
He's daydreaming, he fully admits that, about playing next to Fletcher Cox and alongside Malik Jackson and in a defensive scheme that emphasizes getting off the football at the line of scrimmage and playing in the offensive backfield.
"It's such a great feeling to be surrounded by some dogs, man," Hargrave said in an exclusive interview on Monday afternoon. You can hear the full interview in Tuesday's Eagles Insider Podcast presented by Lincoln Financial Group. "For me coming from Pittsburgh, I had a lot of talent around me and now going to the Eagles, it's like the same thing with Fletch, Malik, Hassan (Ridgeway), (Derek) Barnett, Brandon (Graham). It's a lot people on that defensive line. I'm just happy and enthused to be able to bring what I've got to the table."
Hargrave, the prize of the Eagles' free agency additions – he agreed to terms on a three-year deal when the 2020 NFL calendar year opened last Wednesday – spent his first four seasons in Pittsburgh after the Steelers made him a third-round draft pick in 2016 out of South Carolina State. He was a playmaker at nose tackle for the Steelers, recording 10.5 quarterback sacks the last two seasons and helping the Steelers win in the trenches.
Hargrave said he fell in love with football "in the fourth grade" and was also an accomplished basketball player. Asked to provide a report on his game, Hargrave said he was more like a "poor man's Zion Williamson. I just didn't have the ups that he has. It was kind of like Zion, a Zach Randolph-kind of game."
Now, "The Gravedigger," Hargrave's nickname since college, comes to Philadelphia looking to take his game – and this defense – up another notch.
"I'm disruptive. I love football," Hargrave said. "I feel like I can do a little bit of everything. I'm going to get there and put in the hard work. I'm not going to say too much on the field. I'm going to let my play do my talking. I can do it all. I just love football. I love going out there and competing at the highest level. Being with the Eagles, there are going to be a lot of people and a lot of eyes on you, so that's a good feeling."
Known for his great burst, tenacity, and aggressiveness, Hargrave became a mainstay in the Steelers' 3-4 front playing over the center. The Eagles play a four-man front in their base defense and Hargrave will have the benefit of lining up with a gap to attack. The Eagles rotated through a whopping eight defensive tackles last season and still ranked fourth in the NFL against the run.
With Hargrave on board, the defensive line has depth, talent, and versatility. The Eagles are going to have options. Hargrave said, "I always knew I was a defensive tackle," even as he was playing the nose tackle position in Pittsburgh.
"This is like a defensive lineman's dream playing here, where they kind of let you just get off the ball," Hargrave said. "It's like, 'go make plays.' For me, transforming from a 3-4 to a 4-3, I'm real excited. That's all I really talk about, getting the opportunity to play in this defense."
Hargrave raves about Cox and his abilities, pointing out a play in the playoff game against Seattle when Cox used a club move to swat away Seattle center Joey Hunt and sack quarterback Russell Wilson.
"He made the offensive lineman look so little, so small. He basically knocked him over," Hargrave said. "He's so strong. He's one of the best of the game. He's basically the best in the game, so it's a great feeling, witnessing someone you've watched for so long and now I'm playing with him."
One challenge Hargrave has had so far is that he's been unable to visit Philadelphia to stock up on Eagles gear, so he's done it online. Until he can see the NovaCare Complex and sign his contract, Hargrave is doing his conditioning at home, rising early to get in his cardio work on a stationary bike and "going old school" with pushups and situps.
Oh, and about that nickname. His friends called him "Grave," at South Carolina State because of his last name, and his defensive coordinator there (Mike Adams) added the "digger" part after watching Hargrave destroy quarterbacks.
And the nickname stuck.
"I'm just so ready to go," Hargrave said. "We have to be patient, but my family can't wait to get down there, see my teammates and the city. I hear a lot of good things about Philadelphia and I know the fans, they're into it. We played there in my rookie season and I just remember seeing how it was. I'm glad I'm on the other side now."