Earlier this week, the Eagles placed Jon Dorenbos (wrist), Wendell Smallwood (knee) and Matt Tobin (knee) on Injured Reserve, ending all three of their seasons. To fill those roster spots, the Eagles signed cornerback Dwayne Gratz and long snapper Rick Lovato while promoting practice squad running back Byron Marshall to the active roster.
We caught up with all three of the newest 53-man roster members on Wednesday to get their thoughts heading into this week's matchup with the Baltimore Ravens …
Time On Practice Squad Has Greatly Helped Marshall
Rookie free agent running back Byron Marshall arrived to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent. After failing to make the 53-man roster out of Training Camp (thanks mainly to the depth on the Eagles roster at the position), Marshall was added to the practice squad. Since then, he's been working hard to get his shot, and all that hard work has helped him rebound from an ankle injury he suffered during his last season at Oregon.
"It's been – for myself especially – a long road, just with not getting to play last year and being hurt (while at Oregon)," said Marshall.
"Just being back and being on the practice squad allowed me to get my rhythm back and just to feel like myself again and get used to playing football again. I don't think the game will be too fast for me and I feel ready to play."
Marshall will join backfield forces with veteran teammates Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner. Marshall hopes to add some of his own play-making style to the already-established group.
"My running style is a little bit different than everybody (here)," Marshall explained.
Marshall has had to wait for his chance on the practice squad, and while his patience was surely tested, his time on the practice squad helped him adapt to an NFL system.
One thing in particular that Marshall had to adjust to quickly was the difference in play calling. Coming from the University of Oregon where they communicated in signals, Marshall had to resort back to his old high school ways with learning from a play book.
"It's just different," Marshall added. " I'm not used to a play book. At school we just had all signals so I haven't heard a play call since high school. It took a little bit to get back in there and these playbooks have everything in it so just a little more catch up. But it wasn't too bad. Once I got my legs underneath me I felt alright."
Gratz Reunites With Childhood Friend Malcolm Jenkins
A former third-round pick of the Jaguars in 2013, Dwayne Gratz brings some more experience to the Eagles secondary. He spent some time earlier this season with the Los Angeles Rams before hitting the open market again. While several teams had worked him out, Gratz chose the Eagles in part because of the reunion it afforded him with Malcolm Jenkins.
Not only did Gratz and Jenkins both grow up in Piscataway, NJ, but they even lived on the same block, and it was Jenkins' father Lee who helped Gratz find his way to the NFL when he was seven years old.
"We actually lived right across the street from each other," Gratz said. "We would play backyard football all the time. Then one day his father came out and saw us playing and asked me If I wanted to player organized football, and it took off from there."
Gratz says he and Jenkins have kept in touch "on and off" over the years, but he reached out to Jenkins to get his sense of the Eagles locker room and culture as a whole. After all was said and done, Gratz felt the Eagles were the right place for him to be.
Lovato Has Been Down This Road Before
Being a long snapped in the NFL can mean a lot of moving around until a player finds the right situation. Lately, Rick Lovato has been the fill-in long snapper for a few different teams.
A Middletown, NJ native and Old Dominion product, the 24-year-old Lovato has spent time bouncing around from place to place in search of an NFL home.
"I was in the same situation last year with the Green Bay Packers, where I was filling in for a guy who had been placed on IR. I just have to come in here and do my job, just like everywhere else I've been. I was with Washington two weeks prior to this and was a free agent prior to that and my job as a specialist and long snapper, I jump around until I find something permanent. "
Lovato says he's spoken with Jon Dorenbos to learn all he can about this special teams unit, and he's also enjoyed getting to know his fellow specialists through his first couple of days in an Eagles uniform.
It takes a little bit. The chemistry, building that up with Caleb and Donnie, it takes a little while, but we're getting a more personal connection as well, not just on the field, but having a more personal connection most definitely helps with the chemistry both out on the field and in the locker room.