How Eagles seventh-round pick Casey Toohill earned a roster spot against the odds | Early Birds
The former outside linebacker at Stanford made the 53-man roster as a defensive end.
Good morning, Eagles fans! Hope you’re well. In case you hadn’t realized, we’ve started gracing your inbox five days a week. We’re in regular-season mode over at The Inquirer, obviously. The Eagles will return to the practice field Wednesday around 2 p.m. after taking Tuesday off. Doug Pederson is scheduled to speak with reporters via videoconference in the morning, and a few players should be available after.
The most important thing to watch for will be the injury report coming after the practice session. The Eagles have a handful of players with uncertain statuses heading into the Week 1 matchup with the Washington Football Team, most notably Javon Hargrave, Jalen Reagor, and Derek Barnett. There’s always a chance someone new will pop up, too.
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Casey Toohill went into training camp as an undersized defensive end without an offseason of professional strength and conditioning training to help him make up ground. Toohill was taken in the seventh round of April’s NFL draft, but he played outside linebacker at Stanford and was viewed as a 'tweener, between a 3-4 linebacker and a 4-3 edge rusher.
To make the team, he’d have to beat out players with a sizable advantage in experience at defensive end and, in some cases, draft position. Not to mention he had to do it all without rookie minicamps, OTAs, and preseason games to show coaches his capabilities as a 4-3 end.
But Toohill found himself on the right side of cutdown day after a solid training camp, edging 2019 fourth-round pick Shareef Miller and Joe Ostman, an undrafted rookie who had spent the last two seasons on practice squads.
“Casey was probably fighting an uphill battle,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said Saturday. “We had a chance as a staff to kind of watch all those defensive ends together and watch all their reps kind of like one after the other like we would do if we were scouting other teams, and I think the thing that stands out with Casey is he’s got the tools in his body and he has the explosiveness in his body. He’s got a relentless motor, and happy for that kid that he’s got an opportunity to be on the 53.”
Toohill is likely still on the outside looking in for the team’s defensive-end rotation, but the Eagles clearly valued him as a developmental edge rusher enough to keep him off the waiver wire and on the 53-man roster. He had eight sacks last season and ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
Toohill was listed at 247 pounds in his final season at Stanford and weighed in the same at the combine, but bulked up in the offseason working out at home and is now listed at 255. He bought weights and a squat rack once he realized the coronavirus pandemic wouldn’t just keep him out of the Eagles' gym, but close down the local gyms, too.
By the time he got on the Eagles practice field, his progress earned him a roster spot and the respect of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“From the time he got here … he did nothing but improve,” Schwartz said. “He did nothing but do things exactly the way he was coached to do them. You saw that in the productivity that he had. Like I said, he looked different at the end than he did at the beginning. I really liked that. I really respected it. He very rarely made a mistake, and if he did make a mistake, he was quick to correct it. He played with a lot of energy and brings some size and speed to that position, some length and some speed. Really earned his way onto our team this year."
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From the mailbag
Who will be starting as DE opposite of Graham? — from BirdsEyeView (@9ramone1) on Twitter.
Good question. If healthy, the job will almost certainly be Derek Barnett’s until further notice. The former first-round pick missed all of training camp with a lower-body injury, but the team still has a significant investment in him and the messaging from the coaching staff conveys confidence in him. He’s had a history of injuries slowing him in his first three years, but the team seems confident this will be his breakout season.
It will be interesting to see if he practices Wednesday, though. He hasn’t taken a snap since January, so it’s hard to imagine him having a big role in Week 1 if he hardly practices this week. It’s especially interesting because Josh Sweat had such an impressive training camp in Barnett’s absence. If Barnett can go, he’ll likely be the starter, but I’d still expect Sweat to play a significant amount. He is in better shape and has earned the playing time with his training-camp performance.