ISAAC SEUMALO'S head was already spinning, before Eagles pass-rushers left the rest of him flapping in the South Philly breeze.
Seumalo is the third-round rookie guard from Oregon State who missed most of the team's spring work because his school was on the quarter system. Despite the fact that almost nobody preparing for the NFL draft goes to school in the spring, the league caters to NCAA pretense by not allowing any senior whose class hasn't graduated to go to OTAs.
The Eagles set up Skype sessions with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but nothing beats working on the field with other players, witnessing how the stuff on the video screens actually looks and feels when you're doing it. It was obvious from the day Seumalo reported for training camp that he was way behind.
This deficit was underscored when one-on-one pass-rush drills started. The first few days, Seumalo was getting manhandled. That has been less the case recently. One rep on Sunday, for example, he did a good job of keeping defensive tackle Beau Allen in front of him, though Allen's strong arms forced Seumalo's torso to nearly bend backward.
"It's a tough drill. The NFL's no joke," Seumalo said. "You gotta bring it and be near-perfect every time you go, if you wanna win, and even then, it's hard. I just look for improvement."
Seumalo said he knows the only way to get better is to be "really objective and coachable."
Seumalo, 6-4, 303, was the first player the Eagles drafted this spring after taking quarterback Carson Wentz second overall. Thanks to the trades for Wentz and for Sam Bradford the year before, Seumalo, selected 79th overall, was the only player the Eagles could claim between Wentz and fifth-round running back Wendell Smallwood, 153rd overall. It was no secret that the team hoped Seumalo could challenge for a starting job as a rookie.
"I expect that out of myself, to compete, but most importantly, get better every day," Seumalo said. "I don't make the depth chart. The best five will play. If that's me, I'm excited. If not, I'm still excited."
In fact, the Eagles need a lot of long-shot things to work in their favor to become contenders in Doug Pederson's first season. Chip Kelly spent the last couple years getting rid of difference-makers without getting value in return, and then this year, Howie Roseman sunk a bunch of assets into trading up to take Wentz. The Eagles need for Smallwood to contribute. They need for at least one of their three seventh-round guys to turn out to be a major find, which might actually happen, in the case of corner Jalen Mills. There will be some undrafted rookies who make the roster. A whole lot of wishing and hoping is going on.
But asking a third-rounder to challenge for a starting spot at guard really doesn't seem too outrageous, and maybe it will happen, as Seumalo starts to get his feet under him, both literally and figuratively. Right now he's running with the second team at left guard, behind 2015 starter Allen Barbre. It doesn't help that left guard is the only offensive line position Seumalo never started at for Oregon State.
"The biggest thing is balance," Seumalo said, when asked what Stoutland is working on the most with him. "Pass-protection, that's what it's all about. Those little details, to do with your feet and your hands and where your eyes are."
Stoutland doesn't always come off as the epitome of patience during drills.
"He's a man. He coaches us hard . . . but I know he cares for us. I feel in good hands," Seumalo said. "Sometimes you gotta kinda block out the extra noise and take the coaching, but once you do that - not take things too personal, just know you've got to get better."
Center Jason Kelce said the tools are there for Seumalo to blossom.
"He's got great fundamentals and things to work with," Kelce said. "He's got really good feet. He plays with balance, great hands . . . He's gotten better and better through camp. You see him shooting his hands better, in better position. He's starting to understand things. A lot of it comes with just kind of calming down and understanding the situation. Obviously, he wasn't here through OTAs and all that stuff. As you get more accustomed to the speed of the game and everything, things start to slow down."
It will be interesting to see if free-agent signee Stefen Wisniewski emerges as a competitor for Barbre (and Seumalo) at LG, now that Brandon Brooks is back and Wisniewski isn't playing with the starting unit at RG.
So far, none of the newcomers brought in behind Seumalo - fifth-rounder Halapoulivaati Vaitai, or undrafted rookies Bruce Johnson, Dillon Gordon, or Darrell Greene - has caused much of a ripple. Andrew Gardner, who has 11 Eagles starts over the past two seasons, seems to be working exclusively at tackle. Ditto Dennis Kelly, with 15 starts in four seasons. There hasn't been much buzz so far about big guard Malcolm Bunche (6-6, 320), who made last year's practice squad, and who looks like an OL prototype you'd draw up in a lab.
With the preseason starting Thursday at home against Tampa, Seumalo can still make up for lost time.