A mere 24 months ago, Nate Sudfeld played in a football game that counted, the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Sudfeld's Indiana Hoosiers lost to Duke, 44-41.
Since then, Sudfeld was drafted in the sixth round by the Washington Redskins, kept on their roster throughout 2016 without seeing action, cut by Washington just before this season, signed to the Eagles' practice squad and promoted to the roster Nov. 1 after the Colts tried to sign him away. What Sudfeld hasn't done is play in anything other than preseason games. In fact, with the Eagles picking him up after the preseason, their fans have never seen him in action.
All that should change Sunday when the Eagles finish up their regular season against the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles have clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs. The Cowboys have been eliminated from playoff contention. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday he intends to play his starters at least a little and wants to see "execution going into our postseason."
He said he wants the starters to "stay within the moment," with a bye week coming up before the divisional round of the playoffs. But Pederson also said "I've got to be smart with it, obviously," and that both teams "want to see some young guys play."
The upshot seems to be that starting quarterback Nick Foles is scheduled to play about a quarter because he still hasn't had that much work with his receivers and that Sudfeld then will see his first NFL action.
"I'm ready at all times and looking forward to the opportunity if it does come," said Sudfeld, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 227 pounds. He is Indiana's all-time passing leader for yards and touchdowns.
Sudfeld said it hasn't been that different for him this week. Since Sudfeld became the backup, in the wake of Carson Wentz's Dec. 10 ACL tear, he has approached each game with the mindset that he is playing since that could happen if Foles were to go down. Sudfeld said he has again quarterbacked the practice squad this week.
"Competitors always want to play," Sudfeld said. He said his parents and two brothers will be in attendance.
Sunday's forecast high is 22 degrees. The Eagles bused over to Lincoln Financial Field Friday for practice – which observers thought might be the first time that has occurred during the season – because the Linc surface is heated from below, and the NovaCare fields, which are not, were frozen.
"Getting acclimated to that cold is always good. Fortunately I played in the Big 10 at Indiana, so I played in a lot of weather … Once you get warmed up or get going, it's never that bad," Sudfeld said. "It's kind of worse standing on the sideline."
Sudfeld recalled that it was 22 degrees in his last regular-season appearance, Indiana at Purdue two years ago, a 54-36 victory in which Sudfeld threw four touchdowns and ran for another.
Sudfeld might not be the only Eagle to make his debut Sunday. The Eagles placed linebacker Joe Walker on injured reserve Friday, opening a roster spot for rookie corner Sidney Jones. The team has to either activate Jones by Wednesday or place him on injured reserve, which would end any chance of Jones playing this season and prevent him from practicing with the team again.
Jones, a high first-round talent the Eagles were able to get in the second round because of an Achilles' tear suffered while preparing for the draft, has practiced the last three weeks. Pederson hinted Friday that Jones might be added to the roster. He said the team wanted to "get through" Friday's practice before making that determination.
"The physicality of banging, of hitting and stuff, is a little bit of a concern. But health-wise he's doing well," Pederson said.
Practice this time of year is non-contact, so Jones hasn't hit or been hit since his Washington Huskies lost to Alabama in last season's college football playoffs. This game would seem to be a low-stakes way of getting him a taste of NFL play. It's unlikely Jones would play a lot or that he would figure in the team's postseason plans unless a corner were injured.
"We just have to evaluate everything and make sure we're doing the best for the team and for going into the postseason," Pederson said.
Jones has not been available to reporters this week. Teammates have spoken of an impressive, one-handed interception he came up with in practice last week, and fellow corner Jalen Mills said he saw Jones doing a strong job in press coverage on fellow rookie Shelton Gibson.
The Eagles ruled out of Sunday's game defensive end Brandon Graham, who has not practiced this week because of an ankle injury. But Pederson said left guard Stefen Wisniewski, who has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain, will get some reps against Dallas.
"Wiz needs to play. He's had a couple weeks now," Pederson said. "I think it's important that he get out there and get back into the flow of the game."