Eagles

How Eagles rookie Ajene Harris played in a game two days after signing

How Eagles rookie Ajene Harris played in a game two days after signing

Ajene Harris had a decision to make. 

As he boarded a five-hour red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract, he had two options. Harris could either sleep or study his months-old notes to get ready for a practice he might not even make. 

The answer was easy. 

“I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t have time to sleep!’” Harris said. 

While he was working out in Southern California last Monday, Harris got a call from the Eagles around 4 p.m. and was on a red-eye to Philly by 9. He landed at about 6 a.m. on Tuesday, passed his physical and got on the field at about 9:50 a.m. with practice already underway. He stretched quickly with an assistant coach and jumped right in for a few reps. 

Just two days later, the undrafted rookie cornerback from USC played 17 snaps in his first-ever NFL game. 

It was a crazy week. 

“I was just excited,” Harris said. “I was tired a little bit. I was more thinking, ‘Man, I’m blessed with this opportunity.' I want to take advantage of it.”

Back in mid-May, Harris was one of 29 tryout players at the Eagles’ rookie minicamp, but he failed to earn a roster spot. The team made him turn in his playbook after the camp ended, but he was allowed to keep his notes. Those were the same notes he studied on his way back to Philly Monday night into Tuesday morning. 

Before the game, the Eagles held a walkthrough Wednesday, which allowed Harris to catch his breath while keeping his nose in the playbook. He said he actually felt pretty prepared for the game despite his late arrival. And he actually performed well in the game, picking up three tackles and a sack. 

Back in May, after minicamp ended without a contract, Harris returned to L.A. and waited patiently for a phone call that took three months. 

During those three months, he stayed in shape at USC and even worked briefly parking cars for Alamo Rent A Car at the airport. 

“It is kind of tough because you don’t know when the phone call is going to come,” Harris said. “But you have to keep faith, man. I just kept faith in myself. I would say I was kind of down, but I kept seeing the light and I didn’t quit on myself.”

Harris hopes to stand out the rest of the summer and in the preseason, but there just isn’t much opportunity with the Eagles for an undrafted corner. They have Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Cre’Von LeBlanc and a few younger players who have been here longer than Harris. 

But he’s not worried about all that. He’s already feeling more comfortable at the NovaCare Complex and is just focusing on performing well in practice and getting ready for the next preseason game on Thursday in Jacksonville. 

Harris thought Saturday’s practice went very well. 

“I got to sleep last night,” he said with a smile. 

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Greg Ward is the receiver Malcolm Jenkins wanted all along

Greg Ward is the receiver Malcolm Jenkins wanted all along

While the Eagles were busy trying to cobble together a wide receiver corps with Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews, Malcolm Jenkins was campaigning for somebody else to get a shot.

Greg Ward.

“I’ve been calling for him to get called up to the active roster since training camp,” Jenkins said Thursday.

Nobody listened.

Instead, Ward spent nine of the first 10 weeks of the season on the practice squad. The one week he was on the active roster, against the Lions, he only got two snaps on offense. 

Then it was back to the practice squad.

Once Ward finally landed on the 53-man roster for good and actually got a chance to play and the Eagles saw what he could do, the Eagles released both Hollins and Matthews in the span of nine days.

Hollins played 473 snaps and had 10 catches in 11 games. That's a catch every 47.3 snaps.

Matthews played 137 snaps and had four catches in two games. That's a catch every 34.3 snaps.

Ward has played 145 snaps in three games and already has 11 receptions. That's a catch every 13.2 snaps.

Ward's eight-yard catch in overtime Monday night got the Eagles down to the two-yard-line, setting up Carson Wentz's game-winning TD pass to Zach Ertz.

How did the Eagles not realize for 2 1/2 months that Ward was a better option than Hollins or Matthews?

It’s not like he’s new here. Ward was on the practice squad all year in 2017 and in training camp in 2018 as well before leading the ill-fated AAF in receiving.

Boston Scott, Josh Perkins and Ward, who were all on the practice squad for a good chunk of this season, had 15 catches for 140 yards (and 59 rushing yards and a TD) in the Eagles’ win over the Giants.

Hollins? Hasn't caught a pass since September. 

Matthews? He's back with the 49ers, who've already cut him twice this year (without a catch).

Scott, like Ward, was buried on the depth chart while the Eagles went out and got Jay Ajayi, who is averaging 3.0 yards on 10 carries. Not until Miles Sanders had to leave the game briefly Monday night did the Eagles finally let Scott play. And that was the last we saw of Ajayi.

On the one hand, it’s good that these practice squad guys are contributing because it shows that the Eagles at least liked them enough to sign them and keep them around.

But why they stuck with guys like Ajayi, Hollins and Matthews for so long before finally letting Scott, Perkins and Ward play remains a mystery.

How could they not tell they could play?

“Not necessarily surprised because we see it every day,” Jenkins said. “These are guys who make us better and challenge us. I’m just excited to see them, No. 1, have the opportunity but to take full advantage of it and really help us get a win. I don’t think we get the win without them. To see them get the opportunity, I’m definitely proud.

“It does create some energy when you see them make plays. When guys you expect to make plays make plays, it’s one thing. But all of a sudden you have Perkins and Boston and G. Ward making plays, it adds a little juice to the team.” 

You just have to wonder why it took so long for them to even get the opportunity to add a little juice to the team.

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Kamu Grugier-Hill admits to lying about concussion to stay in game

Kamu Grugier-Hill admits to lying about concussion to stay in game

Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill on Thursday admitted that when he suffered his concussion in Miami two weeks ago, he lied to medical personnel to stay in the game.

He told them he hurt his shoulder.

“I just basically lied to them,” Grugier-Hill said. “I thought it would just go away. Just didn’t really say anything about it. It got to the point where I really couldn’t lie to them anymore.”

The concussion happened on the first play from scrimmage in the game against the Dolphins, when the starting linebacker collided with receiver DeVante Parker. That means he played a total of 54 combined defensive and special teams snaps with a concussion that game.

Eventually, when the headaches didn’t subside, Grugier-Hill reported the concussion symptoms to trainers on Thursday, four days after the head shot. He was put in the NFL’s concussion protocol and missed the Giants game. He has since been cleared and will return to action in Washington this weekend.

Grugier-Hill, 25, said he had never had a concussion before and didn’t know exactly what it felt like. Last week, head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles encourage all their players to report concussion symptoms and self police.

Does Grugier-Hil regret his decision?

“No,” he said. “I mean, I wish we would have at least got a win.”

There’s no questioning Grugier-Hill’s loyalty but lying to medical staff about a brain injury is nothing to be praised; it’s dangerous. But at least Grugier-Hill was honest about his decision — plenty of players aren’t.

And this certainly wasn’t the first time — nor will it be the last — that a player decides to stay in a game even though they know they might be concussed.

Back in 2015, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins admitted he played through more than an entire half against the Cowboys with a concussion. After eventually getting through the protocol, Jenkins said he felt “foggy” for the entire second half.

That’s the hole in the NFL’s concussion policy. The league has concussion spotters in the press box at every game and has made strides to prevent and detect these head injuries earlier, but players are still willing to put their long-term health on the line to stay in games. And Eagles medical personnel can’t treat a concussion they don’t know exists. It’s a hard problem to fix.

As far as the league has come, concussions are still far too normalized in the sport.

“I think it’s just part of the game,” Grugier-Hill said. “You get rocked a little bit every once in a while.”

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