Stephen Tulloch practiced with the Eagles for the first time Tuesday afternoon wearing a No. 54 jersey and with an understanding of both the scheme and the expectations of his new defensive coordinator.
Tulloch's relationship with Jim Schwartz goes back to 2006, when Schwartz still ran the Tennessee Titans defense. As Tulloch tells it, the Titans were prepared to draft another player in the fourth round that year before Schwartz put more college tape of Tulloch in front of coach Jeff Fisher. Schwartz lobbied for the undersize linebacker and persuaded the Titans to draft him.
Tulloch developed into a starter in Tennessee before signing with Detroit in 2010 to reunite with Schwartz after Schwartz became a head coach. A free agent this summer for the first time since that reunion, Tulloch wanted to play with Schwartz for a third stint. After agreeing to a deal Sunday, Tulloch finally put pen to paper on a one-year contract Tuesday and is a member of the team.
"I didn't ask Coach when I first came in what role I was going to play," said Tulloch, who has started 112 games in 10 NFL seasons. "I told Coach, 'Whatever you need me to do, I'll do.' I'll come in and continue what we did in our past history together, playing ball. I know what he does. I know what he expects out of his players. And if I can help the younger guys get better, I'll do that."
Schwartz said that the Eagles have a "merit-based defense" and that Tulloch is "not here to replace anybody." Schwartz expects him to add to the linebacker corps and said the coaching staff will find a role for different players. He did not yet know what that would be for Tulloch, but he also didn't hide his fondness for the 5-foot-11, 245-pounder entering his 11th NFL season.
"He's a very experienced player," Schwartz said. "He's played at a high level of production. Plays with a lot of spirit. He's heavy in the run game. He has natural leverage. That's a kind way of saying he's short but he's really powerful. He understands blocking schemes, and he has good understanding of pass games."
Tulloch, 31, was not released until July because he had minor offseason ankle surgery. He said he's fully recovered and has been training twice a day in Miami. Other than a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in 2014 while celebrating a sack - the injury caused him to miss the final 13 games that season - Tulloch has not missed time since entering the league in 2006.
Tulloch said he invests in his body the same way he would invest in the stock market, and Schwartz said he's unconcerned about Tulloch's fitness level this late in the summer because of the way Tulloch trains. In 2013 in Detroit, Schwartz tried giving Tulloch a day off in training camp. Tulloch went to Schwartz's office upset. He said he has never missed a game or practice going back to high school. He called practice "more important than the game."
"Guys like that, they know how to get themselves ready," Schwartz said. "He's not coming in here with his eyes shut not knowing what he's getting into. He's done it before, so he will be able to do that."
Tulloch might need to accept a different role from the one he's used to. Coach Doug Pederson said that Jordan Hicks is still the starting middle linebacker and that he would like Tulloch to play on at least one special-teams unit. Tulloch has not been a regular special-teams contributor since 2007, but he sounded willing if required.
"I come here to play ball, and whatever's asked of me, I'll do," Tulloch said. "I'll let coaches do what they do and management take care of their business. . . . I'm not here to step on anybody's toes."
But he is here, which is an achievement in itself. Schwartz discussed how much respect he has for players who last 10 years in the NFL. A player will likely play for multiple coaches and in multiple systems, so they must be adaptable.
Tulloch found the system he wants. After playing in other defenses, he said, he fits best in Schwartz's scheme. He likes that it's a downhill, aggressive defense that forces turnovers and does not complicate concepts for the players. He has at least one more year to play it.
"It's been beneficial to my career," Tulloch said, "and I know it'll be beneficial to the Philadelphia Eagles."