Josh Gaines knows the drill.
Don't stand out.
It's a difficult concept to heed, considering that the Eagles defensive end is trying to do almost anything to separate himself from the pack.
At Penn State, despite the nameless uniforms, Gaines had no trouble gaining the attention of his coaches. But he was overlooked in favor of his peers by those outside the team.
Gaines comes to the Eagles as just another undrafted rookie free agent facing odds that are stacked Mount Nittany high. But he doesn't have to contend with the culture shock of playing for the no-nonsense Andy Reid. The Eagles' coach and Penn State's Joe Paterno have a lot in common.
"He runs practice just like Joe," Gaines said of Reid. "Almost everything they do here reminds me of Penn State. They're strict on what you wear. They're strict on what you do. But I'm used to it. It's nothing new. I came in here and fit right in."
Still, Gaines hopes that maybe being a square peg will get him noticed by a team already loaded with quality ends. He's not especially tall for a pass rusher (6-foot-1). And he's probably too slight (274 pounds) to move inside. But what he has can't be measured.
"If he doesn't make the team, it won't be because of desire or because he didn't work hard enough," said Larry Johnson, Penn State's defensive-line coach. "It will be a numbers game. But he's one of those guys who can hang around. He can play both end and tackle. He can cover on punts. He can play on kickoff. He'll do anything."
In the NFL, though, they're not usually looking for the do-anything type. Coaches often want specialization. That's why Aaron Maybin, after a breakout sophomore season at Penn State, was drafted 11th overall by Buffalo in April. It's why Maurice Evans, a year earlier, was considered a likely first-rounder before his career nosedived.
Both ends had a knack for getting to the quarterback. Gaines, at the other end, did everything well, if not great.
"He got overshadowed by the hype of Maybin and Evans and all their sacks," Johnson said. "But they don't do what they do without Josh. If you went to [Penn State's] pro day and didn't know who Maybin and Evans were, you would have come away most impressed with how Josh went about his business."
The 23-year-old Gaines, though, went undrafted and now finds himself among those scrambling for scraps. For the middle child of 11, the numbers aren't promising. The Eagles could carry as many as six ends, and those spots appear to be slotted for Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Darren Howard, Victor Abiamiri, Chris Clemons, and Bryan Smith.
"They have a certain amount of defensive ends, but the system fits - once I get a hold of it," Gaines said. "They're doing stuff I've never done before. At Penn State, we took off. Here, you've got to wait, sit back, read the attack" and occupy two gaps.
"I've never [played in a] two-gap [scheme] before in my entire life."
During the Eagles' minicamps, Gaines has been traveling between the Philadelphia Airport Marriott and State College. Homeless and waiting to see where his future lies, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native has been staying with former teammate Tyrell Sales.
"He's letting me crash on his couch," said Gaines, a senior captain last season with the Lions. "I try and help out with rent every once and a while."
Making the team could help with the rent. Gaines knows one way he can stand out.
"First time I got here - I'm used to wearing the arm straps - they told me I couldn't wear them," Gaines said. "It threw me off a little, but I saw a few guys with them on. So I'm going to sneak them on next time."