THE EAGLES' signing of free-agent fullback Leonard Weaver was greeted with loud hosannas from the fan base.
Enough of this trying to convert guys from other positions into fullbacks! Finally, a real fullback, with a pedigree! A guy who really knows the ins and outs of blocking!
Except, 4 years ago, Weaver was a former small-college tight end trying to learn the fullback position after being signed as an undrafted free agent by Seattle. And less than 2 years ago, Weaver was called into then-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren's office to be told that if his blocking didn't pick up, he was going to be cut.
Weaver has looked solid in the organized team activities that started last week and end tomorrow. But somehow, the word "pedigree" seems a little strong for a stubby, 6-foot, 250-pound guy from Carson-Newman College who has started just 11 NFL games in four seasons.
"I came in, they were like, 'You're too small to be a tight end, you're not fast enough to be a running back; let's put you at fullback,' " Weaver recalled yesterday. "I was used to blocking guys up on the line of scrimmage, not coming from 7 yards deep. That was a bit of a change.
"I didn't have very good pad leverage. That was one of the key things I worked on at first. And moving my feet."
Of course, one difference between Weaver's situation and that of Dan Klecko with the Eagles last year was that Weaver did much of his learning in practice. Seattle had Mack Strong as its starting fullback when he arrived. The Eagles wanted Klecko (now returned to his natural habitat at defensive tackle) and since-cut running back Tony Hunt to learn to be fullbacks during the season, when mistakes were costly.
Weaver played sparingly as a rookie, missed the 2006 season with a high ankle sprain, but seemed primed for extensive work in 2007. Except, in a preseason game at Green Bay, he blew blocking assignments, leading to two sacks. Holmgren wanted to chat after that.
"In this offense, you've got to have two backs who can pass-block," Weaver said. "It was something I kind of struggled with. Mike Holmgren called me into his office and let me know, 'If you don't fix it, you're going to get cut' . . . I had to provide for a family; I couldn't let them down. I just kind of buckled down in my faith . . . and I spent extra time out on the field, had the linebackers work with me."
Weaver cleaned up his pass blocking, and in Week 5 that year, when Strong went down with a neck injury that would lead to his retirement, Weaver became the starter. Last season, he was a Pro Bowl alternate as he headed to free agency, and eventually the Eagles. Now he's considered an elite fullback, even though agent Harold Lewis' efforts to market him as a hybrid, emphasizing Weaver's running and pass-receiving skills, didn't net the kind of big-money deal they had sought. Weaver signed with the Birds for 1 year and $1.75 million.
"It's an opportunity for me to showcase not only to the Eagles but to the league what I can do," said Weaver, who obviously is hoping the fullback has a more prominent role this season than in Andy Reid offenses of the past. He said his main hope is that as the organization gets to know him better, it will be "an opportunity for [the Eagles] to say, 'Hey, you know what, this guy's consistent in what he does,' and hopefully we can get a long-term deal done."
Holmgren and Reid are close, but we don't know whether Holmgren passed on a warning about something else he spoke to Weaver about - the fullback's tendency to burst into song while on the practice field. Weaver is an ordained minister who started touring as a gospel singer during his days at Carson-Newman, a private, Baptist-affiliated school in the mountains of Tennessee.
"Singing is just a great opportunity to be able to express how you feel inside," Weaver said. "To let things out, whether it be stress, happiness or joy. And you can bring happiness to others around you, as well."
Weaver said he didn't take Holmgren's singing critique personally:
"I was out at practice one day at training camp. It wasn't mean; he was really joking with me. I was singing back there and he was like, 'Hey, calm down right now, we're working.' ''
Weaver has become friendly with another locker-room songbird, right guard/tackle Shawn Andrews, who couldn't say which of them is the better singer. He could say, however, that he thinks he'll enjoy having Weaver in the backfield.
"What he brings to the table, as far as his mentality - Leonard has that instinct about him, that he'll knock your head off," Andrews said.
The Eagles have signed a pair of seventh-round draftees to 4-year contracts, Arizona State guard Paul Fanaika and Maryland linebacker Moise Fokou. That means five of eight from the April draft are signed, leaving only the top three unsigned, first-rounder Jeremy Maclin, second-rounder LeSean McCoy and fifth-rounder Cornelius Ingram . . .
The team announced that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been elected to the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame at his alma mater, the University of Montana. Mornhinweg was a 4-year starter at quarterback, and a two-time team MVP. His 6,081 passing yards rank seventh in school history . . . No Asante Samuel sightings yesterday . . . Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley worked out on his own, protecting a hamstring tweak . . . The Eagles have announced that a limited number of single-game tickets for all home games will go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 16, through Ticketmaster. *
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.