INDIANAPOLIS — The convention center and stadium complex that houses the NFL scouting combine is all about what feels like endless miles of carpeted hallways, where participants trudge back and forth via skyways to connected hotels.
Jon Runyan, former Eagles tackle, ex-New Jersey congressman, and current NFL vice president of rules and administration, happened to cross paths this week with former Eagles coach Andy Reid, now coaching the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
- Kurt Warner says Carson Wentz needs to become more consistent as an every-down passer
- Alshon Jeffery was the perfect mercenary for the Eagles. He got what he wanted. You did, too. | Mike Sielski
- Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs is so fast, he might be gone before the Eagles have a chance to draft him. But can he outrun his mom?
“He asked me how my son was doing. I was like, ‘Why don’t you tell me?’ He just laughed and kept moving on,” Runyan said.
Offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr. will work out Friday evening for NFL scouts, after a college career spent at tackle for Michigan, where he tried to fill the exceptionally large cleats of his father, a Wolverines star and fourth-round draft choice of the Houston Oilers in 1996. Jon Sr. became the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman in 2000, when he signed a six-year, $30 million, free-agent contract with the Eagles; he would start 192 consecutive regular-season games for them, making the Pro Bowl in 2002.
Jon Jr. was measured and weighed this week at a little over 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds, 3 inches shorter and about 25 pounds lighter than his dad was in his playing days, which ended in 2009. John Jr. has darker hair, more like his mom, Loretta, but the set of his eyes would seem very familiar to Eagles fans.
Does the father see himself in the son, on the field?
“Somewhat,” Jon Sr. said. “What do you call my style, that physical type of thing?” (Jon Sr. once was voted the second-dirtiest player in the NFL.)
“That’s almost taboo nowadays, if you know what I mean. He has a lot of that in him. I always tell people he’s a better athlete than I am. Obviously, he is probably not quite as long, which is why he’s probably going to move inside [to guard]. But he has better feet and the ability to do it out there on the edge.”
Two months from the draft, Jon Jr. seems to project as a late-round pick, maybe even an undrafted free agent. Jon Sr. said what he has heard has been “all over the board.”
“I think between what happens on Friday, when he performs on the field, and what he does on his pro day, he’s got a lot of upside. There’s a lot of unknown. His body type kind of puts him at guard, but that’s a little bit of the unknown, because he doesn’t have any tape from any games at guard.”
Jon Jr. comes across as someone who knows quite a bit about the finer points of offensive line play for a 22-year-old. He recalled face-timing his parents a few years back, when Michigan’s O-line was about to face a 3-4 front, which he hadn’t seen much. He wanted some advice from his dad.
“He gave my mom the phone, and he had my sister line up as a four-I [a defensive end shading to the offensive tackle’s inside shoulder]. My mom was sitting there in the living room, trying to get all the angles and stuff. That was for a game plan against Nebraska in 2018. I had one of my better games that game, too. I’m just thankful for him. He’s gone about it the right way, just never been too pushy or overshadowing, and he’s just always been there when I needed him.”
Jon Jr. also recalled when he was much younger, getting up early on Eagles game days, dressing in his father’s jersey, waiting impatiently for the rest of the family to awaken so they could head to the stadium.
Once there, he and Brian Dawkins Jr. — now a Clemson cornerback — would be “raising hell and asking everybody for gloves and wristbands,” Jon Sr. said. “They would come out [of the locker room] with sleeves of wristbands on. … That was an awesome perk, to actually have him be part of that.”
Given Jon Sr.’s stature, both literal and figurative, some sons might have gone into a different line of work, but Jon Jr. never thought that way.
“I had a late-developing love for the game, and he was [interested] early on," Jon Sr. said. "He wanted to play at a young age.”
Jon Sr. wanted to play basketball, growing up in Flint, Mich., and only turned to football when he realized he wasn’t tall enough to flourish at a higher level playing his low-post, back-to-the-basket game.
As Jon Jr. neared high school age at Moorestown Friends, the lack of a football team led to a family meeting. Jon Sr. figured his son might pick a South Jersey private school with football; instead he opted for the area’s top private-school program, an hour’s drive away at St. Joe’s Prep.
“It was him driving the whole thing. He had a passion for it,” Jon Sr. said. “The only sport I told my kids I wanted them to play was basketball, and they all did.”
In fact, Bella, the youngest Runyan, is a 5-11 Moorestown Friends senior guard who has committed to Villanova.
Getting good technical advice and plenty of wristbands was the upside to being Jon Runyan Jr.; there also was a downside.
“Growing up, it was kinda hard, especially trying to play football in the Philadelphia area. People were always giving me these unfair comparisons against my dad, when I was just a 14-year-old kid just trying to find my way,” Jon Jr. said.
He won the Hugh H. Rader Award last season as the Wolverines’ best lineman, making the Runyans the first father-son duo to achieve that honor.
“I didn’t even know what position I was good at yet," John Jr. said. "It was really difficult, and I still get those comparisons to him. I feel like sometimes they’re unfair. I’m still [coming] into my own.
“I’ve been living kind of in the shadow, but I’m trying to step outside that shadow and cast a bigger one over that one.”
Last season, Jon Jr. got to work with Michigan offensive consultant Juan Castillo, his dad’s old Eagles O-line coach, who last month was hired to coach the Chicago Bears’ offensive line.
“Juan was really instrumental to my technique this year. … He’s known me ever since I was a little kid," Jon Jr. said. “Having it come full circle, with him coaching my dad and coaching me for a year, and possibly being able to coach me at the Chicago Bears, is really awesome."
Castillo said Thursday that he could see the older Runyan in his son last season.“The work ethic, the attention to detail, the physicalness at the end.”
He agreed with Jon Sr. that Jon Jr. has “better feet” than his dad, who was “one of the best players I’ve ever coached.”
Of course, Jon Jr. wouldn’t mind ending up as an Eagle, either.
“I grew up with the tradition of Philadelphia sports. They’re different about their sports down there, I don’t know how else to say it,” he said. “I understand everything about that city, the toughness and grit they expect from their players.”