EAGLES COACH Chip Kelly is no stranger to open competitions among players. He is also a fan of fast-paced, hard-working players who want to make the most of every opportunity.
After joining the Eagles as an undrafted free agent following April's draft, defensive lineman Damion Square has risen to being a candidate for the starting nose tackle position. The 6-2, 293-pounder from Alabama feels ready for any opportunity after playing under Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who also used the 3-4 defense.
"Nick did a great job at Alabama for all 5 years that I was there with just making sure his guys were disciplined and holding us to the things that he talked about and giving us consequences for the things we didn't do right, and I think that carried over for me on this level," said Square, who redshirted as a freshman.
During his brief time in Philadelphia, Square has noticed certain similarities between Saban and Kelly. He stated that he was grateful and excited to join the Eagles.
"Chip is a great coach also, and I am just fortunate enough to come from one great coach to another great coach," he said. "What those guys do and how serious they take their jobs is great, and when a player sees a coach buying into the program, it makes the player buy into the program a little bit more. The way Chip concentrates on the little things will make us better as a team in Week 14, Week 15 and Week 16, and I think we owe him a lot of credit for that."
While Kelly likes to put his players through fast and upbeat practices, Square notes that he is up to the challenge because of his time in the 3-4 defense at Alabama.
"The 3-4 defense is a reaction defense and the longer you play in it the faster your reaction becomes and that just makes you better as a player, getting all the experience you can in this style of defense," Square said. "When I started at Alabama, I was rusty when I was trying to get the 3-4 defense down coming from high school in a 4-3 defense, but that is my advantage coming into here, playing in the 3-4 for a while now."
After coming out of Yates High in Houston, Square redshirted as a freshman in 2008. In the second game of the 2009 season, he tore his right ACL and spent the next year rehabbing.
Square became a starter, playing in each of Alabama's 13 games during his junior and senior seasons. During his junior season in 2011, Square was responsible for 32 tackles, seven of which were for a loss, and one sack. He added an even more impressive season as a senior in 2012, recording 33 tackles, four for a loss, while adding 3 1/2 sacks, a fumble recovery and one pass defended.
"He is a very talented guy," Eagles wide receiver Russell Shepard said. "I played against him in high school and I played against him in college during my time at LSU, so I know what he has. He's very talented and he's kind of a gem. He's gotten a lot bigger and stronger and his game went to another level in college. He was always talented in high school, but through hard work and good coaching, he has gotten better and better."
Square will be part of a three-player competition along with defensive tackles Isaac Sopoaga and Antonio Dixon. While Sopoaga entered camp as the favorite to win the nose tackle position after eight seasons in San Francisco, Square has shown he is capable of earning the job and has appeared strong during the first days of training camp. Dixon has been sidelined to start camp, recovering from a hamstring injury.
"It's going to be good and fun to watch," Shepard said. "You've got three talented guys; a veteran guy in Sopoaga, a guy in Dixon who comes from a good program in Miami and somebody like Square who has been playing this position in this scheme for a while, so they all have individual things which benefit them. I think at the end of the day, it's going to the guy that makes the most plays."
Square said he has not tried to do anything specific in an attempt to stand out to the coaches, other than work hard and at a fast pace.
"I just try to practice fast. I try to use the things that I know I've got in my ability and I put those out on the field," Square said. "This organization brought me in to this place to do what I can, and I try to do that to the best of my ability in the end."
Shepard believes Square simply needs reps and a chance to prove what he can do. Shepard added that as long as Square can take advantage of the opportunities he is given, he will be fine.
"I just have to go out there and do what I do every day," Square said. "I am a guy that has been playing in the 3-4 for a long time and it's a situation that I am very comfortable in, but I still have to get better each and every day. I can't be satisfied with what I did today; I have to come out tomorrow and get better. Whatever happens in the end happens."
Square will use the rest of training camp to improve in any way possible, but he also will try to do whatever it takes to be a contributor on a defensive line that struggled a year ago. Although he went undrafted, scouts noted that Square has a strong upside and has the drive to finish every play, with his best gift being his motor.
"My goal is to be at the top of anything I do," Square said. "I will come into any situation and will try to be the front-runner coming out, and that's just how I attack life."