Former Canadian Rugby Star Adam Zaruba Makes Eagles Training Camp Debut

Adam Zaruba faced questions Friday that he simply couldn't answer. 

What do you know about the United States and Philadelphia? Have you gotten advice from fellow tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek? 

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The Eagles' practice started at 8:15 a.m. and Zaruba's flight landed less than 12 hours before. The new signee said he barely had time to step out of the hotel before heading to the NovaCare Complex, so these inquiries were a bit too much to ask of the new arrival. But it was not overwhelming, he said. Not for a guy who has played four years of professional rugby in Canada and been a prominent piece of the Canada Sevens national rugby team.

Zaruba, 26, tried out for the Eagles Sunday. The workout came to be after a South African agent reached out to him with the idea of switching sports. Zaruba had played football in high school and said he always kept the idea of playing again on the back burner. He had a workout scheduled with the Seahawks next week, but talks moved so quickly with the Eagles that next week that it didn't matter, Zaruba said.

He signed Monday.

"I wasn't going to turn it down, absolutely not," he said.

At practice Friday, Zaruba was limited to mostly observation and introduction. He watched seven-on-seven and other offensive sets. The 6-5, 260-pound convert stayed out afterward to get some catches in on the jugs machines. He will need to adjust. 

"I'm pretty comfortable, it's just the speed," Zaruba said, alluding to the fact that tosses in rugby don't compare to the velocity of a quarterback's pass. "And the size of the ball is a little different than what I was practicing with in Canada. I just gotta wrap my hands around it and get a feel for the ball."

Similarities between rugby and football exist, the main one being the physicality needed to participate in both sports. Zaruba thinks this can give him an edge.

Although, some comparisons between the two games can be futile. Blocking schemes don't exist in rugby the way they do in football, and blocking is, of course, a major portion of a tight end's responsibilities. Zaruba repeated several times after practice that his biggest challenge will be the learning the playbook; the formations and schemes of football have no overlap with rugby.

"Athletically, I know I can shape up and do it," Zaruba said. "It's going to be getting into my book and learning everything and making sure I can adapt to all the systems."

Despite his light participation Friday, Zaruba was on the first kickoff unit. Special teams could be his initial home. He ran a 4.62 40-yard dash during his tryout, he said, but that was hand-timed. Using laser measurements during a personal workout, he said he's recently clocked as fast as 4.49 seconds.

Ertz and Celek have to be ahead on the positional depth chart. Trey Burton caught 37 passes last year and should have a role again. Zaruba is certainly not a lock to make the team. Getting in the opponent's way will be his first job.

"Blocking is a physical task," Zaruba said. "You learn the techniques and then you just smash 'em. I think I'm going to be good at it."

When asked if he was a tight end in high school - he played at Carson Graham Secondary in North Vancouver - Zaruba said that if you're athletic and play football in Canada, you have to be a jack of all trades. He played tight end, slot receiver, defensive end and even returned kicks.

Playing fullback for the Eagles has not been discussed, Zaruba said.

For now, the focus is solely on learning how to be a professional tight end. This is not Canadian high school football. Zaruba  will take things one day at a time. 

Then, maybe when he's settled in, he'll have a moment to find some answers to all those pressing questions.

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