Eagles rookie Elijah Qualls doesn't mind a little yelling - he's been criticized before
Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson's tough coaching reminds Elijah Qualls of his stepfather.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The early days of Eagles training camp were not kind to Elijah Qualls, a sixth-round rookie defensive tackle from Washington.
Qualls missed most of the spring work because the Huskies are on the quarter system and their graduation isn't until June. He showed up already behind most of his peers.
Defensive-line coach Chris Wilson loudly berated Qualls after he was pushed around in a drill by center Jason Kelce a few days into workouts, Qualls doubling over with what turned out to be a minor groin pull. Wilson complained that Qualls was "always on the ground."
This was right around the time that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz allowed that Qualls, 6-1, 321, has "got natural leverage. That's a kind way of saying he's short."
If you looked through the NovaCare locker room in search of the most impressive physiques, Qualls wouldn't make the list. He's built a bit like some of the guys who interview him.
But once he got over the groin problem, Qualls started to look better, on the field, anyway. Thursday night, when the Eagles kick off their preseason with a visit to the Packers, he will try to show the Eagles they made the right decision in drafting him, try to show the athleticism that made him a standout high school running back before he switched to the d-line.
Qualls said this week the groin tweak turned out to be a blessing.
"Being able to watch a couple of days helped me visualize what the right techniques would look like, and these last couple of days, I've put a couple of nice practices together," he said. "I feel like I understand what the correct technique is supposed to look like, how you're supposed to do it."
Qualls also said he wasn't thrown off by Wilson's pungent criticisms. Qualls' career from age 5 to when he signed with Washington was directed by his stepfather, DeJuan Miggins, himself a former star high school running back in California.
"He coached me all throughout little league and everything like that," Qualls said. "And literally having to be yelled at at practice, then going home to be yelled at for what happened at practice – at least here, I know if I'm going to a meeting, I'm probably going to get chewed out on this play or whatever, but then I get to go home and I get some silence … Having a parent as a coach, you don't get that peace. It's literally football every single moment.
"Nothing ever gets me like he did. He prepared me for it."
Miggins didn't follow Qualls to the Huskies' practice field, but Qualls said his Washington coaches weren't that different.
"Honestly, I've been around a lot of coaches that wanted me to be successful. They did the exact same thing. It (stinks) at the moment, because you just feel like they're on you about every little single thing – you want to be, like, 'Get off me … there's no way I could be doing that bad,' " he said. "But they really care for you and want you to do well. They have the highest of standards for you.
"If somebody's not coaching you, that's when you need to be worried."
Veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said he thinks Wilson's early criticisms "lit a fire under" Qualls.
Since then, Graham said, "He's doing real good. Not just blowin' smoke. He's really been coming to play … He reminds me of Mike Patterson. He's got great technique. He's just a rookie – he's gotta fine tune it … Just keep reppin' it."
Patterson, like Qualls, was undersized for a defensive tackle and unimpressive to look at, but he started 99 Eagles games over eight seasons, 2005-2012. He was a solid, reliable player.
"I want to be somebody they know they can count on in the rotation," Qualls said, when asked what he wants to show in the preseason. "I want to prove myself."
Qualls looks to join a rotation that right now features Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan as the starters, backed up by Qualls, Justin Hamilton, Gabe Wright and Destiny Vaeao. At some point, probably at least a few weeks into the regular season, Beau Allen will rejoin the group after rehabbing from pec tendon surgery.
Qualls said all the vets have been helpful. He relayed an anecdote from Monday's workout.
"Coach Wilson had corrected me on something and I was trying to explain what was happening, what I saw from my point of view. Chris Long was like, 'Hey, you've just got to take the coaching and you've just gotta roll with it. It sounds like you're talking back.'
"Sometimes being a rookie, you've just gotta take the coaching and bite your tongue and go on about it. I'm still learning, and guys have helped me a lot. I couldn't be in a better position, with this group. They're all really trying to help us young dudes."
Qualls said he is happy to be playing for Schwartz and Wilson, happy to be on the same pro team as his Huskies teammate, cornerback Sidney Jones. But he definitely expected to be drafted before the sixth round – Qualls was widely projected as a third-to-fourth-round prospect.
"I know there were a lot of knocks on me, especially because of my length," said Qualls, whose arms measured the shortest of the NFL Scouting Combine defensive line prospects, at 30 5/8 inches. "I felt like I was a much better player than being taken in the sixth round. But at the end of the day, I still got the opportunity. Also, I got picked by one of the teams I actually wanted to go to.
"It wasn't what I expected, but I want to prove that 213 players in this class weren't better than me."