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Rugby star Zaruba faces a steep learning curve with Eagles

Adam Zaruba has about a month to learn how to play tight end in the NFL. He hasn't played the sport since high school.

Tight end Adam Zaruba catches a ball at Eagles training camp.
Tight end Adam Zaruba catches a ball at Eagles training camp.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Adam Zaruba "got some reps in and learned a lot" in his first day on the field at Eagles training camp, Zaruba said Friday.

Learning a lot barely moved the needle, though, for the longest of the  longshot hopefuls on the team's 90-man roster.

Zaruba, 26, is a Canadian rugby star — calm down, that's rugby star, not firefighter — who last played football in high school, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. But he's 6-foot-5, 265 pounds. He shows great hands in his rugby highlight tape, and he ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash when the Eagles tried him out. So here he is, rocking jersey No. 80, dressing in one of those portable overflow stalls the equipment guys roll into the middle of the locker room.

Zaruba balked at a reporter's suggestion of "overwhelming" as an apt description for his situation.

"Not so overwhelming. It's just like it's new. It's going to take a little bit to get used to the techniques and the systems and stuff, but they're coaching me real good out there," he said.

Zaruba, signed earlier in the week, remained in Canada until Thursday as visa paperwork was filed. He didn't get many team reps Friday since he has no familiarity with the playbook and was meeting his new teammates just before heading onto the field.

"I'm just taking it a step at a time, learning the formations, and then learning some routes," Zaruba said. He said he hoped work after practice would help him "really lock some in for the session [Saturday]."

There is no blocking in rugby. Tight ends block.

"Blocking's a physical task," Zaruba said. "You learn the techniques, and then you smash 'em. I think I'm going to be good at it. … I have played football before, so I do know somewhat about blocking. Obviously the techniques are a lot different and it's going to be more complex, but the coaches are going to work with me every day."

Jarryd Hayne, another rugby star, played briefly for the 49ers in 2015 but ultimately returned to rugby.

Zaruba said he had discussed football off and on for a few years then was approached by an agent who was looking for rugby players willing to try the NFL. The Eagles and Seahawks offered tryouts, Zaruba said, but he never got to Seattle, signing with the Eagles after his Sunday workout. He did extra work on Friday with the ball machine and noted that he needed to get used to catching a more oblong sphere.

Eagles tight end Trey Burton isn't a rugby player, but he did play several other football positions before settling in at tight end.

"You're almost like a quarterback in a sense. You have to know what the wide receivers are doing. You have to know what the o-line is doing," Burton said. "That's probably the toughest mental part.'

Well, hey, Zaruba has a good month still to work on all that before the preseason ends.


Center Jason Kelce recently referred to right guard Brandon Brooks as "350." Turns out that is indeed Brooks' weight, though he doesn't look overfed at 6-5 with thick shoulders. "I'm between 345-50. Been that way for a few years. I feel good at it," said Brooks, who is listed at 335. Even his listed weight would tie him for heaviest on the team with 6-6 undrafted rookie tackle Victor Salako. … Right tackle Lane Johnson, who shaves his head, decided to take the field wearing a curly blond wig Friday that he bought online. Johnson plans to show it off again at the public practice, he said.