VINNY CURRY thought he had died and gone to heaven 2 years ago when the team he had grown up rooting for, the Eagles, selected the Neptune, N.J., native in the second round of the draft.
Eighteen games into his career, though, heaven seemed a lot more like hell to him.
As a rookie, the defensive end out of Marshall played only 89 snaps in six games and failed to register a sack, which was kind of his thing at Marshall - he had 23 sacks and 10 forced fumbles his last 2 years there.
Then came 2013 and a new head coach (Chip Kelly), a new defensive coordinator (Bill Davis) and a new defensive scheme - a two-gap 3-4 - that he had never played before.
After getting deactivated for the Eagles' first two games last season, Curry, who had never lacked for confidence, was wondering what the hell was going on.
"I was confused," he said. "Just confused about different things. I was reading a lot of the things you guys were writing. Just real confused and not knowing what was going on."
Reading the paper when you're a second-round pick and have played only 89 snaps and in only six of your first 18 games seldom is a good idea.
But Curry refused to doubt himself. A week later, he finally registered his first NFL sack in the third quarter of a 26-16 Thursday night loss to the Chiefs.
Slowly but surely, he earned the trust of Davis and defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who used him as an inside pass-rusher in nickel packages.
Despite playing only 322 snaps, Curry finished third on the team with four sacks. His 22 hurries were fourth on the team behind Fletcher Cox's 39, Connor Barwin's 32 and Trent Cole's 28. It should be noted that Cox, Barwin and Cole all played three times as many snaps as Curry.
"When I step on the field now, I still have a chip on my shoulder," Curry said yesterday after the Eagles' OTA workout at NovaCare. "Every year, it's something new. Something this or something that. You just have to understand it.
"You were picked in the second round. You were inactive all those games [as a rookie]. Nobody knows why. You come back and you're inactive for two more games [last year]. Then in your third game, on the second play of your series, you get a sack and people are like, 'Huh.'
"The one thing I learned in college was competitive excellence. When your number's called, you've got to be ready to go and take advantage of your opportunity. That's what I'm doing. Just working hard. I'm doing everything that's asked of me. Keeping motivated. Motivating my teammates. The picture is bigger than me."
A year ago at this time, Curry didn't know where he was going to play in Davis' new scheme. Was he going to be an outside linebacker or a hand-in-the-dirt end?
At 6-3 and 265 pounds, he seemed too small to be a 3-4 end. But that's where they put him, though he was mostly used as an inside pass rusher in nickel situations.
Curry has since added 15 pounds to his frame, but says it hasn't been at the expense of speed or quickness.
"It comes with hard work and applying yourself," he said. "The coaching staff and my teammates know how hard I work in the offseason and how much I'm dedicated to the game and becoming the best player I can possibly be for this team."
With Cox and Cedric Thornton entrenched as the starting ends, Curry again is expected to be primarily used as an inside nickel pass-rusher, though he may be used a little more often as a rotational end in their base 3-4.
"He helped us a lot last year as a [pass] rusher, and I'm sure he's going to be in a similar type role [this year]," said Barwin, who often lined up next to Curry in nickel. "But he's improved as far as two-gapping in the run. So I think he'll help us more there than he did last year.
"But I think he's going to continue to help us in the pass rush and in certain nickel situations, which he did last year."
The adjustment from an outside edge rusher to an inside rusher can be difficult. Instead of tackles, you're frequently dealing with guards, whose girth gives them an advantage over you in short-area confrontations. You're also not able to take advantage of your speed like you can when you line up on the outside.
Curry said he has spent a lot of time in the film room studying quicker interior pass-rushers, including ex-Eagles Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Curry's burst was evident in that first sack against the Chiefs last year when Kansas City tried to slide its protection on a bootleg and he blew through the line between right tackle Eric Fisher and tight end Kevin Brock and dragged down Alex Smith for a 6-yard loss.
"You try to study what they did and how you can use what they did to help you," he said. "Though there are some things you can't do because you're not 320, 330 pounds like them."
Curry had 31 quarterback sacks, hits or hurries in only 228 pass-rush opportunities last season (13.6 percent), according to Pro Football Focus. That's actually a higher percent than Cole (11.4 percent), who had a team-high eight sacks, Barwin (9.6) and Cox (8.9).
The Eagles' pass rush needs to improve this season. They finished 21st in sacks last year with 37, and were 31st in sacks per pass play.
They are hoping Cole has at least one more double-digit sack run left in his 31-year-old body and they are hoping first-round pick Marcus Smith will have an immediate pass-rush impact.
A breakout year from Curry also would be helpful.
"This season, I want to be a factor," he said. "Where it's third-and-long and my teammates are like, 'Let's go, V. Here we go.'
"You want to be that guy that people can lean on. You want to be that teammate where when you come in, it's like when [the New York Knicks'] J.R. Smith comes in. Because he's like a sixth man of the year kind of thing. I just want to be that kind of guy for my team.
"I want to make people walk away from an Eagles game, first of all happy that we won, and second of all [saying], 'Did you see that boy, Vinny? He was all over the field.' You want that kind of buzz. That way, you know all your hard work is paying off.
"And people understand that this guy was picked in the second round for a reason."
On Twitter: @Pdomo