Amid Eagles’ defensive tackle crisis, two rookies prepare to make NFL debuts
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday he plans to start one of two rookies, Huggins and Anthony Rush, both of whom were picked up off practice squads this week and have never played in an NFL game. They say they're ready.
As an eighth-grader playing offensive tackle in sleepy Orangeburg, S.C., Albert Huggins first dreamed of playing in the NFL.
On Tuesday night, the 22-year-old landed in Philadelphia, ready to make that happen.
“I know I have a lot of work to do. I haven’t arrived. I haven’t done nothing,” Huggins said Wednesday at his new locker at the NovaCare Complex. “I know what I have to do.”
With the defensive tackle position in crisis mode, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday he planned to start one of two rookies, Huggins and Anthony Rush, both of whom were picked up off practice squads this week and have never played in an NFL game.
Rush, from the Oakland Raiders, and Huggins, from the Houston Texans, were claimed Monday after the Eagles released veteran defensive tackle Akeem Spence. Rush and Huggins practiced with the team for the first time Wednesday.
“Yeah, we’re down to really one [healthy] guy with Fletcher [Cox],” Pederson said. “I would expect both those guys [Rush and Huggins] to play.”
The pair said they’re ready.
“I’ll be playing this Sunday for sure,” Rush said. “NFL debut, I got to make it look good.”
Rush, who signed with the Eagles last spring but was released before training camp, said he hopes to impress with his tenacious “run-stopping."
Huggins, a new face in the building, said he will bring some intangibles.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to show it yet, but I think I have great intensity, dependability,” he said.
The Eagles’ defensive tackle struggles began when Malik Jackson suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 1 against Washington. At the time, the defensive line was deep, and Pederson said, “We’ve got plenty of guys who can step up and play.”
But then Timmy Jernigan, who filled Jackson’s spot, sustained a foot injury the following week. Hassan Ridgeway and Spence, who was signed in Week 2, stepped in. Over the past five days, Spence has been cut and Ridgeway has been sidelined with an ankle injury that Pederson calls “week to week.”
To make matters worse, the team’s healthy All-Pro defensive tackle, Cox, 29, hasn’t been his usual dominant self lately. So far this season, he’s logged only one sack, in Sunday night’s blowout loss to the Cowboys.
Cox said he’s focused on having a stronger showing against the Buffalo Bills, and hopes Rush and Huggins can help the struggling defensive line.
He spent a lot of time with the pair on Wednesday at practice and during team meetings, and planned to sit between them at an afternoon film session. Cox talked with the two about technique, he said, and encouraged them to ask questions.
Cox wants to build trust, he said, and fast.
“I’m trying to get them to understand, ‘Just go out and play, man. Just have fun,’” Cox said. “I told them today: ‘It’s not your first time playing football.’ ”
Cox’s main message: “Right now, we need you. I need you. This team needs you.”
The Eagles have their own practice-squad defensive tackle, Bruce Hector, who played in eight games last season. He said all he’s been told is to be ready when his chance comes. Why haven’t they put him on the 53-man roster?
That “isn’t a question for me to answer,” Hector said. “I’ll just keep doing my job every day.”
Rush, the 6-foot-5, 350-pound Alabama-Birmingham product, impressed during the Raiders’ preseason but hadn’t been promoted from the practice squad in Oakland.
Huggins, 6-3, 305, played on the national-champion Clemson team. He’s been in the league just a few months, all in Houston.
The pair are roommates, as of Tuesday, and Huggins said they’ll be spending the week studying plays in their spare time.
“We’re just chilling, trying to get better,” he said. “We all have one goal, and that’s to continue playing in the NFL.”
Staff Writer Les Bowen contributed to this article.