As far as built-in excuses go, this would have been a pretty good one.
After all, it’s not Casey Toohill’s fault there’s a global pandemic. It’s not his fault gyms were closed and OTAs were canceled. And it’s not even his fault that he’s an undersized 7th-round pick entering a season where all rookies are at an extreme disadvantage. He won’t even have preseason games.
But you can save the excuses. Toohill did. He refused to let the COVID-19 pandemic stand in his way.
I knew I needed to gain weight, so that’s what I did,” Toohilll said last week. “I bought a squat rack, I borrowed weights. Eventually, I was able to find a place to work out with maybe a little bit more equipment. But from the first day on, I came home to San Diego, where I’m from, and I knew that was going to happen. I had that foresight, I purchased that equipment and then I hit it hard.
Toohill, 23, is listed at 250 pounds but he is already up to 255. He’s not done yet, but he’s off to a good start.
This is an offseason where we got to learn a lot about the desire of football players at various levels. The self-motivators found a way. Even in inopportune situations, those guys were able to lift and workout and train and prepare for camp. Then there are guys who might not be self-motivated.
There’s no question what category Toohill falls into.
“A lot of guys need that structure and organization,” Stanford director of defense Lance Anderson said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last week. “If anyone can do it on their own, it would be a guy like Casey. He’s going to take the initiative to get in and do what he needs to.”
Anderson said it didn’t surprise him — “not a bit” — to hear that Toohill put in extra work this offseason despite the conditions. And he thinks if anyone can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to make an NFL roster under these conditions, it’s Toohill.
Anderson saw those qualities from Toohill even as they were recruiting him as a high school player. But he really saw those qualities up close and personal during 2015, Toohill’s redshirt freshman season.
Stanford’s strength and conditioning coach had been watching Toohill work out with two players a year ahead of him that the coaching staff had high hopes for — and Toohill was outworking both of them.
“This is a guy that you need to keep an eye on,” Anderson remembers the coach telling him. “Don’t worry about those other two. Keep your eye on this guy just because of what he’s shown already.”
Toohill is now at 255 pounds and he doesn’t have a definite target in mind. His main goal is to increase his weight slowly without losing the athleticism that caught the eyes of NFL scouts and coaches.
“I’ve gained weight and I want to continue to,” he said. “But I think it would be a mistake to rush to gain a lot of weight and then maybe feel like I’m slow or not as explosive.”
At 6-foot-5, now 255 pounds, Toohill is still undersized for an NFL defensive end, but that’s where the Eagles want to play him. He’s actually already heavier than the listed weights of Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller.
If Toohill can improve his strength, he has a ton of other attributes to work with. Check out his athleticism numbers compared to other edge players:
“Casey, naturally, he is an athletic kid,” Anderson said. “He can run, he can jump, he’s explosive. It’s just finding that right balance of gaining that weight and getting bigger, stronger but doing it the right way and doing it slow enough where it’s not bad weight and you start to lose that speed that makes you a good football player. That’s why you were drafted; that’s why you have an opportunity in the NFL.
“It’s just that balance of doing it the right way. But it’s getting bigger and stronger to be able to hold up against those tackles and tight ends and fullbacks in the NFL.”
Role in the NFL
Anderson said Toohill garnered interest as both a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 defensive end during the pre-draft process. Some teams even inquired about him possibly playing as an off-the-ball inside linebacker or even an H-back or fullback. Teams were intrigued by his athleticism.
But with the Eagles, Toohill is in the defensive line room, learning how to play defensive end. At Stanford, Toohill was an outside linebacker, but the outside ‘backers in that defense become like ends in a four-man rush in their nickel package, so he has some experience.
“Now, he’s just gotta get used to doing it every single down, where you gotta be able to line up and knock a guy back and set a great edge, be able to stuff the run,” Anderson said.
Anderson made sure to point out that Toohill’s size and athleticism should make him a good special teams player. That’ll be important, especially early in his career. If Toohill has a shot to make the roster — the odds are stacked against him — it’ll be because he flashes on special teams and shows his value there too.
“What I’d love to see from Casey, because he does have so much athleticism and potential, and I think he has that work ethic, that drive, that desire to do it,” Anderson said. “What I’d love to see from him is just embrace that work ethic, get bigger, get stronger and be able to have a nice, long career playing at defensive end.”
It won’t be easy, especially not starting out like this. But don’t expect to hear any excuses, especially not from Toohill.
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