A week ago, few Eagles fans knew the name, Tre Sullivan. That changed in an instant with one hit.
The second half of an NFL exhibition game is typically a dull affair, but late last Thursday night, an undrafted rookie from Shepherd University was still commanding attention.
Sullivan went viral after delivering a crushing blow to Packers wide receiver Malachi Dupre during the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ preseason opener in Green Bay. Dupre lost consciousness and was taken off the field on a backboard, though replays appeared to show the hit was clean.
Sullivan was involved in another notable collision on the following series and would finish with a team-high four solo tackles and one forced fumble on 27 snaps. The 23-year-old safety was active around the football and physical — pleasant surprises from an unheralded prospect.
“That’s been with me since I was younger, starting in Pop Warner when I first started playing football,” Sullivan said after practice Sunday. “Then it carried on to high school and college. I just got better at putting myself in position to make plays like that.
“I see myself as a physical guy. I like to make a statement on the field. That’s how I carry myself. I play fast. I don’t stop.”
While the hit on the Packers' receiver may have been a good, clean football play, the aftermath was tense. Sullivan didn’t celebrate afterward, and members of both teams took a knee while medical professionals tended to the injured player.
Dupree is fine now and on track to play in the Packers’ game Saturday, but Sullivan obviously didn’t know that at the time. He exhibited a short memory, however — another important trait of a quality defensive back.
“I’ve been hit before,” Sullivan said. “Not as bad, but I know how the game goes.
“That play happened, and it was behind me. That’s how a DB plays. If you get a pass thrown on you, you have to move on to the next play. If you make a good play, you have to move on the next play. That’s how I look at it.”
There was no telling what to expect from Sullivan prior to the game. Not many people can honestly claim to watch a whole lot Shepherd Rams football. Even with the Eagles at training camp, there is little actual contact, so Sullivan’s physicality isn’t showcased.
He certainly looks impressive on paper, as Division II prospects go. Listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds, Sullivan earned first-team All-Mountain East Conference honors in 2015 and ‘16, totaling 129 tackles, five interceptions and 20 pass deflections over his junior and senior seasons.
Sullivan can add one bone-jarring hit in the NFL to his résumé as well. Yet, while that play has brought with it some degree of fame, it hasn’t gone to his head.
“I don’t see it as something that really put me on the map,” Sullivan said.
“It’s just another play. It’s behind me. I can’t go into next game thinking about the hit that I made last game because it’s not going to help me play better.”
Sullivan still faces long odds to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are clearly entrenched as the starters, while Terrence Brooks, Corey Graham, Chris Maragos and Jaylen Watkins are all ahead on the depth chart.
The Eagles carried five safeties for much of last season, which means even if he continues to play well in preseason games, Sullivan has a very slim shot. He would need to distinguish himself on special teams to warrant consideration.
As it happens, Sullivan excelled as a specialist in college as well, recording three blocked kicks as a senior. With three exhibition games to go, he just may be able to make a name for himself — for something other than hitting, of course.