WHEN DWAYNE GRATZ was a 7-year-old playing backyard football in Piscataway, N.J., the father of an older kid he was playing with suggested that Gratz try an organized youth league.
The father was Lee Jenkins, his kid was named Malcolm. Nearly 20 years later, Gratz is a cornerback who practiced for the first time as an Eagle Wednesday, alongside safety Malcolm Jenkins.
"His dad was a very good guy - cared about not only his children, but the other children on the block. I'm sure I'm not the only one he helped," Gratz said.
"My family and their family is really, really tight - grew up right across the street," Jenkins said. "His mom grew up with my dad . . . My dad used to pack everybody up in his truck and take us to and from practice every day. Everybody played in my backyard; if we played out in the street, my dad was the quarterback."
Gratz spoke to Jenkins before signing here, "to see what type of situation I was getting myself into." After being waived by the Rams on Nov. 22, following more than three years with the Jaguars, he wasn't eager to dive into another hopeless mess. Gratz said he turned down an offer from the Browns.
"I know how that whole thing goes, and it's tough on players," Gratz said. "I didn't want to go right back to another situation like that."
Of course, he's coming to a 5-8 team that has lost eight of 10, but long term, Gratz said he thinks he made a good choice.
"I see a lot of potential, I see a lot of good things happening," he said. "A lot of talent here."
Long term most certainly is the focus. Gratz isn't here because the Eagles expect him to learn Jim Schwartz's defense in a few days and take over a starting corner spot this weekend at Baltimore. The team signed Gratz, 5-11, 199, to get him on the roster for 2017. He was a Jaguars third-round pick in 2013, who started 13 games for them in 2014.
"I can pick up a few things, and hopefully, carry it over to next season," Gratz said. "We had been talking for a few weeks, off and on."
While Gratz worked with a new defensive backfield group Wednesday, punter and holder Donnie Jones worked with Rick Lovato, the long snapper signed to take the place of Jon Dorenbos. After tying Harold Carmichael's franchise record of 162 successive starts Sunday, Dorenbos suffered a season-ending broken right wrist.
"Obviously, you've got to learn this guy," said Jones, who said he could tell from looking at Dorenbos' hands when he was about to snap the ball. "He's played before in this league" as a fill-in for the Packers and the Redskins. "It's not like he's a guy with no experience. He'll be able to step in and do a good job for us."
Running back Byron Marshall wasn't new to practice but he was new to the 53-man roster, Marshall having been promoted in the wake of the season-ending MCL sprain suffered by Wendell Smallwood against Washington.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week that "if you took the 10 most eye-popping 'wow' plays on the (practice) field this year, Byron might have three or four of them, where he's running scout team and he runs a route or he makes a cut against our defense that (you) just go 'Whoa!' We'll look at each other and say, 'That was legit.' "
Marshall, an undrafted rookie from Oregon, said making plays against the starters from the scout team - "people that aren't supposed to be good enough to play" - isn't easy. "My thing was to go in there every day and try to make a play, at least one," he said.
Marshall, 5-9, 201, said he feels "like I'm a little more herky-jerky than the other (Eagles) backs. I make people miss, and try to use some power."
Darren Sproles remains in the concussion protocol and off the practice field . . . Jordan Matthews (ankle) did not practice, in order to preserve him for Baltimore. Dorial Green-Beckham (oblique) was a full participant Wednesday . . . Dwayne Gratz is wearing Brian Westbrook's No. 36 jersey, new long snapper Rick Lovato is No. 45 . . . With Byron Marshall promoted, tight end Anthony Denham rejoined the practice squad.