Mike Coccia would understand if he hears an occasional boo from the crowd while playing for the Eagles. The undrafted rookie center is a Bethlehem native and son of an Eagles season-ticket holder whose memories with his father include sitting in the 700 level at Veterans Stadium and collecting stories unfit to print.
Malcolm Bunche, an undrafted lineman from Newark, Del., would understand, too. His father, Curtis Bunche, was an Eagles draft pick in 1979. Bunche grew up rooting for the Eagles less than one hour down I-95. Among his favorite players was Tra Thomas, evidence of Bunche's position.
The Eagles did not draft an offensive lineman for the second consecutive season, the by-product of a meager draft board during the Eagles' selections. Chip Kelly said he's not concerned about the line this season, although he acknowledged the team will need to address it in the future. He added that an undrafted rookie might last beyond the preseason to provide depth.
Finding success with an undrafted lineman compared with a high draft pick is like making money on penny stocks instead of blue chips - it can be done, but there's more risk.
Coccia and Bunche are two of four linemen the Eagles signed after the draft. Opportunity had as much to do with their decisions to sign as the hometown connections.
Coccia played in an offensive system at New Hampshire that was installed by Kelly during his time as offensive coordinator at his alma mater. Kelly visited UNH during Coccia's career and is close friends with Sean McDonnell, the Wildcats' coach and Kelly's former boss.
When the draft ended, Coccia was most drawn to Kelly's offensive system.
"Learning curve wouldn't be as great for me," said Coccia, who is 6-foot-3 and 302 pounds. "When I made the decision, that was the main factor. Pretty familiar with the scheme, the zone scheme, and if there was one scheme that would help me succeed in the NFL, it's definitely this one."
If he can earn a roster spot, it would fulfill his ambition of playing for the Eagles. Coccia's experience as a fan wasn't limited to Sunday rides from Bethlehem to Philadelphia for games. His father, Silvio, even took him to Jacksonville for the Super Bowl in 2005.
"A week I'll never forget," Coccia said.
Bunche's connection with the Eagles goes beyond his father and his hometown. He was a three-star recruit at Newark High with an oral commitment to Rutgers who changed his mind and signed with Miami in 2009. The Hurricanes coach who recruited Bunche was Jeff Stoutland, who is now the Eagles' offensive line coach.
Stoutland coached Bunche for one season before leaving for Alabama when Al Golden became Miami's coach in 2011. Bunche left Miami after 14 starts in 31 games to play one postgraduate year at UCLA. He started six games before losing his job and did not go to the Alamo Bowl because of an academic issue.
But Stoutland still saw potential in the 6-6, 320-pound lineman with experience at both guard at tackle. Bunche started rookie camp last week at right tackle and Stoutland told him to learn guard, too. The Eagles look for depth players who can swing between the two spots, and the lack of a draft pick makes Bunche an intriguing candidate.
"It could be a blessing in disguise," Bunche said of going undrafted. "Talking to Coach Stoutland, he told me, 'You're the one guy we want here. We didn't draft any linemen, so you've got to make a name for yourself.' "
Like Coccia, he can try to do it just a short drive from his childhood home on a team that maintains his allegiance.
"I could have gone somewhere besides the Eagles," Bunche said. "But it's close to home, and I have a lot of family here, so I figured, 'Why not?' "