BETHLEHEM - Dan Klecko was standing next to Todd Herremans yesterday during 1-on-1 linemen's drills. It sure seemed that if Klecko stood on tiptoe, he might be able to graze Herremans' chin with the crown of his helmet.
Herremans, the Birds' starting left guard, is listed at 6-6, 321. Klecko, signed during the offseason as a fullback, then moved back to the defensive tackle position where he once starred at Temple, is listed at 5-11, 275. Feel free to speculate that the height listing might have included Klecko's cleats and helmet.
That's why, when the switch was made during minicamps, some observers immediately wrote off Klecko's chances of making the team. Granted, small and quick is a concept the Eagles' defense has been known to embrace, sometimes perhaps to excess, but this man does not look like an NFL defensive tackle.
Unless someone gets hurt, we know who the Birds want their top three d-tackles to be this season: Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson and second-round rookie Trevor Laws. Line those three up with Klecko and one guy is noticeably, significantly smaller - by a couple inches and at least 20 pounds, whatever the roster listings say.
Klecko is battling for the fourth spot in Jim Johnson's rotation, along with Montae Reagor, who is listed at 6-3, 285, and 37-year-old Kimo von Oelhoffen, listed at 6-4, 299. (Let's assume for a moment that Darren Howard, if he makes the team, will be on the books as a defensive end, even if he continues to move inside a lot.) Given that ends Howard and Juqua Parker can play inside, there's an excellent chance only four tackles will be activated for most games, even if five make the roster.
The thing is, as the Eagles move toward their preseason opener in 6 days at Pittsburgh, Klecko seems to be winning that battle. Somehow, he gets around or through these offensive linemen who look as if they might hurt him if they fell on him. Watch practice a while and it doesn't seem such a mystery that Klecko has played in 47 NFL games over the past five seasons for two pretty talented teams - the Patriots and the Colts. Granted, he never quite settled into a position all that time - he was a defensive tackle, he was a linebacker, he was a part-time fullback, he was on waivers - but there is no question he is an athlete, and a guy who knows what he's doing out there.
"Something's keeping me around," Klecko said yesterday. "It's not just dumb luck" that the Patriots won the Super Bowl twice with Klecko as a role player, and the Colts won it once.
"He has a big heart. He plays hard. I've said it before, he's been one of the good surprises at camp," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said yesterday. "He's played a lot better than I thought he could, and he's fighting [to be] one of those tackles in the rotation. He's doing a great job."
Klecko signed here to try to be a fullback. If he isn't going to play there - quite frankly, he's never looked more like a defensive lineman than he did when trying to run pass patterns last spring - he's probably best suited for linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. But the Eagles' base defense is not 3-4, and they aren't playing Klecko at linebacker.
"Of course I'd like to play three-technique, where I can be a little quicker, play on the edges, but you know, it is what it is . . . I've just got to shut up and go do it," Klecko said.
Johnson has mentioned many times that while he liked the play of his d-tackles last season, they didn't get enough of a pass-rush push up the middle. If Klecko can show something there in the preseason, he'll be hard to cut, at any size.
"You just gotta outquick 'em," Klecko said, when asked how he handles seeming interior line mismatches. "Every now and then, throw a little power move at 'em or something. It's just working hard, for a guy like me, every play you've got to work hard. Whereas some of the bigger guys can maybe take a play off here or there, I don't have that luxury."
Klecko said the biggest problem in going back to d-line from fullback wasn't putting weight back on - he never really got all the way down to the 265 range the Eagles targeted - but getting the hang of Johnson's aggressive defense.
"I'm just working on the little things," he said. "It's getting out of that Indianapolis style, too, where it's a little more under control, staying in your pass-rush lanes and all. But it's coming back to me."
Johnson was reluctant to list a minimum size for a d-tackle in his scheme.
"Well, you have to make up for [lack of size] with other things - quickness, balance, determination, heart, things like that. That's what he has. He's not a really big tackle, but he does have quickness and it's helped him," Johnson said.
sat out yesterday with a viral illness, the Eagles said . . .
who tends to get glossed over in the drama over
is having "probably his best camp, I think. He is really solid right now. I'm happy with him" . . . Johnson is thinking he'll finally have Samuel (hamstring) in practice some time this coming week . . . Johnson's defense got its first crack at working with the defensive headsets the NFL is implementing. "It was pretty easy today, it really was," Johnson said. "I think it's going to be a little bit more of a hairy situation in the games, with substitutions and personnel." The Eagles are working rookie
at safety and corner . . .
Kimo von Oelhoffen
(knee) sat out.
(right quad contusion) and