To many of the participants in the 2-week Eagles rookie camp that concluded yesterday, every day in the NFL is an adventure. The locker room, the playbook, the photos of ex-stars lining the hallways, the detailed, fulltime-job emphasis on such things as special-teams technique - every experience is a first-time experience.
Then there are the guys like offensive tackle King Dunlap, who just sweltered through his third year of rookie camp.
Dunlap is what they call a project - in his case, a long-term project. The Eagles drafted him from Auburn in the seventh round 2 years ago, intrigued by the idea of a long-armed, 6-9 lineman, figuring the seventh round was a small enough investment to justify overlooking the fact that poor play, perhaps traceable to an ankle injury, caused Dunlap to be benched in favor of a true freshman during his final college season. Scouting reports did not tout Dunlap as a feisty competitor.
In 2008, Dunlap went on injured reserve following surgery to fix the ankle problem. Last year, after a wobbly preseason, he made it into 12 games, almost exclusively as a special-teams lineman; his one prolonged stint at left tackle, when Jason Peters got hurt during a loss to the Raiders, did not go well.
But spring is a time of hope and renewal in the NFL. Anyone who might have fallen short previously has a reason why this year is going to be different. In Dunlap's case, the King is fortified by an offseason spent lifting and eating with purpose. Dunlap said yesterday he has put 30 pounds of muscle on his unlinemanlike frame, and now weighs 335, though he still looks like he ought to be jousting with Marreese Speights and Thaddeus Young instead of Brandon Graham and Daniel T'eo-Nesheim.
You don't see that many NFL offensive linemen trying to gain weight. Eagles guard Max Jean-Gilles recently underwent lap-band surgery in a desperate attempt to lose 60 or 70 pounds - so far, Jean-Gilles has lost just about exactly as much as Dunlap has gained.
"Max lost all his weight and gave it to me," Dunlap offered.
Though long arms are good for a tackle, being 6-9 and angular is not. Line play is often about leverage. It can be ridiculously easy for someone much shorter to knock someone built like Dunlap off-balance.
"I've got the basketball build, the long 6-9, I'm not the guy who's 6-9 and built all squatty and everything," Dunlap said. (Who really is 6-9 and squatty? Shrek, perhaps?) "I gotta eat and stay in the weight room to keep my weight up, but it's worth it. I know I need it, being as tall as I am, at tackle, especially trying to beat the bull-rush from the guys I go against.
"It's been fun, actually, being able to eat what I want and lift all the time."
To a guy who has been through it before, the repetition and long hours of rookie camp were not all that exciting. The rest of the team is scheduled to show up Tuesday, when workouts resume.
"It's work. We spend long hours out here with [offensive line coach Juan Castillo]. Everybody knows, he works us hard, and this is the time we work . . . This is the dirty time of football right now," Dunlap said.
Dunlap said his 2 years in the NFL have been "a roller coaster." He said his experience against the Raiders convinced his coaches and him that "I was too light, I was only 305. I was getting bull-rushed, tossed around a lot."
This would seem to be the training camp where Dunlap has to show the Eagles something more than long arms; all projects have completion dates. The Birds didn't draft an o-lineman last month, but they brought in a couple of rookie free-agent offensive tackles, Austin Howard (6-7, 333) from Northern Iowa and Jeraill McCuller (6-6, 328) from North Carolina State, who looked reasonably promising in this no-pads camp.
"I think every year is a make-or-break year," Dunlap said. "You've always got to get better, or they'll find somebody else to replace you . . . [Howard and McCuller], they're both pretty talented guys. It's been fun working with them and watching them get better this last couple of weeks."
Dunlap can't be written off any more completely right now than Winston Justice was a year ago, when many observers thought the 2006 second-round pick was approaching his expiration date. Instead, Shawn Andrews' continuing back problems pushed Justice to the forefront, and he started all 16 games in 2009, while earning a long-term contract.
"My rookie year to now, he's definitely come a long way," Dunlap said of Justice. "He's a starter now, and he's getting paid for it. That's definitely motivation for me. Winston, he really, really worked hard [last] offseason . . . he really busted his tail to get where he's at."
Dunlap said he modeled his offseason work on what Justice did a year ago. He thinks he can make a similar impact.
"This is the first time I'm actually looking forward to going to camp and putting pads on," Dunlap said. "Usually I dread it, but this training camp, I'm anxious to strap it up and show all the work I've been doing."
The Eagles confirmed the hiring of Daniel Jeremiah as West Coast area scout, as was reported previously.
A former scout for the Cleveland Browns (2007-08) and Baltimore Ravens (2003-06), Jeremiah was a starting quarterback for Appalachian State for 3 years (1998-2000) after transferring from Northeast Louisiana (1996-97). He graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in broadcast management and marketing and worked as a production assistant for ESPN's "Sunday Night Football'' from 2001-02 prior to joining the Ravens. He also has authored a popular website, movethesticks.com, which he has discontinued.
In Baltimore and Cleveland, Jeremiah worked with Phil Savage, the ex-general manager the Eagles hired as a consultant to help with this year's draft. It is unclear whether the Birds intend to hire Savage long-term; the hiring of Jeremiah could indicate that they do.
"As of now, he is not an Eagle employee" general manager Howie Roseman said yesterday, a careful statement that could mean Savage isn't going to be hired, or that his hiring isn't yet official.