Ryan Bates grew up in Warrington with a life-size Brian Westbrook poster on his wall. He rooted for the Eagles every Sunday. So when the offensive lineman from Archbishop Wood and Penn State took a moment in the Eagles locker room after his first practice at rookie minicamp to wonder what the 12-year-old version of himself would think about this sight, Bates explained it with raw emotion.
“Holy [bleep],” he said. “Honestly. Twelve years old, that’s what I’d probably say.”
And how about his friends from back home who joined him in the stands for the NFC Championship game 16 months ago, before which they tailgated in the parking lots and after which they went running up Broad Street together?
“Holy [bleep],” he said.
Ninety players are on the Eagles’ roster, including 15 rookies. For every one of them, reaching the NFL is special. Nobody stumbled into the Eagles locker room. But only a few of them can understand the joy that someone like Bates or George Washington High alum Shareef Miller experiences walking through the double doors in the NovaCare Complex. Kids throughout the Philadelphia region imitate these players during recess or banter about them at lunch. They seldom rise to the point that there’s an Eagles nameplate above their locker.
“Grew up watching the Eagles, bleed green,” Bates said. “I’ve always been an Eagles fan. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Bates, who left Penn State with one year of eligibility remaining, went undrafted this spring. He was expected to be a Day 3 selection and was left as one of the top players without a team after the draft. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout with the Eagles, identified Bates on his “undrafted all-star team.”
However, Bates’ decision to sign with the Eagles was not about fulfilling a childhood fantasy. It was a business decision. After the draft, it appeared a sound one.
The Eagles selected left tackle Andre Dillard in the first round, but they have three starting offensive linemen who will be 30 and older this season, and Brandon Brooks is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. The Eagles were viewed as a team that could use the offensive-line depth.
“I picked the Eagles because it was the best option for me,” Bates said. “Depth-wise, now they have some injuries and some people getting old, it was just a good opportunity for me to come to an organization and try to make a name for myself.”
However, the opportunity become tougher last week when the Eagles re-signed Stefen Wisniewski – a fellow Penn State product who has been with the Eagles the past three seasons. Wisniewski gives the Eagles depth on the interior of the offensive line. After the five starters, the Eagles have Dillard, and they‘re also set to return valuable reserve Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata were two 2018 draft picks the Eagles want to continue developing. Bates is one of four undrafted rookie offensive linemen the Eagles signed. So there will be fierce competition for roster spots.
» READ MORE: Meet the Eagles’ undrafted free agents
Bates’ versatility will help him this summer. The Eagles list the 6-foot-4, 302-pound Bates as an offensive tackle, and he played right tackle during the first day of rookie camp. At Penn State, he played left guard and left tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2016; left tackle in 2017; and left tackle and right tackle in 2018. He also took snaps in practice at center during his freshman year and said he could play that position in the NFL. The Eagles value that flexibility, especially among reserves.
“Right now, keeping my options open,” Bates said. “Today, I played tackle. Tomorrow, I can play guard.”
Bates will get this spring and summer in an Eagles uniform. Barring roster changes, he’ll be there beyond organized team activities this week and will be there for training camp this summer, for preseason in August. But he’ll need to play his way onto the 53-man roster or practice squad. He said “all my buddies are watching me now,” just as they’ve always watched the Eagles on Sundays. He already experienced the disappointment of draft weekend, but he still has chance to live his dream.
“I watched the draft Thursday through Saturday. When my name wasn’t called Saturday, was it disappointing? Yeah. But life goes [on],” Bates said. “And I have a great opportunity to come here and play for the Philadelphia Eagles.”