When rookie defensive tackle Bruce Hector signed with the Eagles after the draft, he agreed to join arguably the deepest defensive line in the NFL. Now, thanks in part to an injury up front, the South Florida product could get a serious look this summer.
News that starting interior lineman Tim Jernigan underwent back surgery and might be out of action until mid-season changed the outlook up the middle. Fletcher Cox and Haloti Ngata are expected to hold down the fort, but Jernigan's absence will inevitably open the door for at least one more regular contributor to emerge.
Could it be Hector? He was clearly a priority for the Eagles, who reportedly signed off on $60,000 in guarantees – the largest sum promised to any of the club's 15 undrafted free agents. The competition behind Cox and Ngata doesn't exactly appear to be insurmountable.
Hector's goal was always to make the team, and his odds have certainly improved since signing. Yet, even before there was an obvious path to a roster spot and playing time as a rookie, the 23-year-old saw the Eagles as the right fit.
"They have a great defensive line, so that means they have a great coach," Hector said. "You don't mind playing for somebody that's going to coach you hard and coach you well."
Likewise, the Eagles probably view Hector as a potential fit in their defensive scheme.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 296 pounds, Hector was very productive in college, capping off his career with 13.0 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks as a senior. He was consistent too, increasing his tackle and sack totals every year and registering at least 6.0 sacks in each of his final three seasons at USF.
Both under Charlie Strong as a senior and with the previous coaching regime, Hector was given some latitude to trust his instincts and go on the attack.
"In the scheme that we went with, the coaches gave me the ability to read some things," Hector said. "I had a couple years under my belt, so they gave me free range to, if something happens in the game or I read something, then I would be able to go make the play."
Sound a little familiar? Though the schemes aren't the same, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is known for simplifying assignments for D-lineman in his wide-nine front, which players often say allows them to be more aggressive.
The reads and responsibilities are different, but it's a system that gives an athlete with Hector's skillset the opportunity to thrive.
"Coach Schwartz was talking to me and saying how if you can get upfield as a defensive lineman, you're going to love this place," Hector said.
Schwartz may come to appreciate Hector's enthusiasm for the game. After going months of pre-draft interviews and workouts, he seemed genuinely excited to get back on the practice field at last week's Eagles rookie mini-camp.
"It was the best feeling ever, because you go through so much," said Hector. "After the season, I had a bowl game and an all-star game, but after that, you're training, getting ready for pro day, getting ready for all the drills and all that stuff. It's back to football now, and I just love playing football."
"I'm just happy to finally get all that stuff behind me and be out here playing again."
As for the competition, Hector rightfully is only worried about himself. However, the opportunity is there. Destiny Vaeao and Elijah Qualls return from last season, but split roughly 15 percent of the Eagles' total defensive snaps between them. Neither should be considered a lock to make the team.
"Anywhere you go, you're going to have to work hard to make the 53-man roster," Hector said. "It doesn't matter who's here. If there's a lot of people, if there's not a lot of people, I'm just coming in to work hard and get better every day.
"I feel like it's all on me."