THE 20 TRYOUT players who took part in the Eagles' rookie camp over the weekend all face uncertain futures, but Weston Steelhammer is pretty sure he knows what he'll be doing this football season.
Steelhammer, a safety from the Air Force Academy, will graduate May 24, will spend the summer on leave, and then Lt. Steelhammer will report to a base in San Antonio, Texas, where he will work in logistics and contracts.
Until last month, Steelhammer had reason to think he'd be trying to start his pro football career this fall. Instead, during the NFL draft, the Air Force abruptly announced a change in the policy it had adopted only a year earlier: Graduates with pro-sports aspirations can't go on reserve duty right away, an arrangement that allowed them to play professionally. Instead, they must serve two years active duty, as had been the case, more or less, before the 2016 policy was enacted.
Several potential NFL players were affected by the change, and have talked of continuing to seek exemptions to the new policy. Air Force wideout Jalen Robinette likely would have been drafted, had it been clear he would be available right away. Instead, Robinette has attended rookie events with the Patriots and the Bills. Steelhammer, 6-2, 201, with excellent instincts and ball skills that help make up for a lack of speed, probably would have been a priority UDFA with a little guaranteed money in his pocket under the former rule. Instead, he spent the weekend as a tryout, with no promise he will be invited back for the Eagles' full-team OTA starting May 23. Steelhammer and Robinette have stayed in close contact.
"It wasn't how we expected the (draft) weekend to go, but we both got a shot," Steelhammer said as the rookie camp began. "It all came at once, like a fire hose. Having to absorb it . . . Certain doors close, but certain doors open, this being one of 'em. Just excited to be here this weekend, taking it day-by-day."
There is still a fair amount of confusion around the issue. Draft-eligible players had no indication that a change was contemplated; they hired agents and prepared for the draft thinking they would be able to play.
"I think I found out about it the same time you guys did. Maybe that was a miscommunication, misinterpretation, I don't know," Steelhammer said. "It went down the way it did, and we have to make the most of it . . . We'll see. Just gonna put my best foot forward and put myself in a situation to succeed."
It might help that Steelhammer, in addition to having a classic football name courtesy of a distant ancestor from Germany, played at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, La., where Doug Pederson once coached. Steelhammer grew up with Drew Pederson, the Eagles' coach's eldest son, who went on to play quarterback at Samford.
When Doug Pederson spoke Friday, he mentioned that the Eagles knew about undrafted running back Corey Clement because he is from Glassboro, N.J. "I kind of have the same history with one of the safeties out there right now . . . It's great to have these connections, to know these guys and then get them in here . . . It's a great relationship to have," Pederson said.
Is there any point to signing Steelhammer, even if he looked great in rookie camp? (It was open to reporters only for some early warmup work on Friday.) He can participate in OTAs, minicamp and training camp, but it seems unlikely he will be available after that. Maybe there would be value to further exploring whether Steelhammer can help the team once his active service commitment is up?
And what does he bring to the table, as a tall, skinny safety with little speed?
For one thing, Steelhammer intercepted seven passes last season, 18 during his Air Force career.
"Like Coach P says, he's looking for football players, and that's definitely what I pride myself in (being)," Steelhammer said. "I know I'm not the biggest, not the fastest one out there. I just love the game, love playing it."
Even if Steelhammer ends up serving two years active duty, his NFL aspirations can survive. Former Eagles receiver Chad Hall tried out for the Falcons in 2008 as he was graduating from the Air Force Academy. Hall had hoped to get an exemption, didn't, served two years, then reemerged with the Eagles in 2010. He played 15 games here over the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and also played for Kansas City and San Francisco. Hall currently is an offensive assistant in Buffalo to the Bills' new head coach, former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
"Looking forward to it," Steelhammer said, when asked about the two years of Air Force work. "Feel like that's two years for me to get bigger, faster, stronger, that type of thing . . . It's going to take a time commitment, dedication, for sure. I gotta do what I gotta do, to serve our country. I'm excited about that.
"Hoping to put in some good work this weekend, set myself up for the future."
The Eagles waived/injured quarterback Jerod Evans (foot), and signed tackle Victor Salako, from Oklahoma State.