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Eagles interested in former Army offensive tackle seeking waiver to play in NFL

Army Black Knights football players celebrate after defeating Boston College 34-31 at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., Oct. 6, 2012. (U.S. Army/Released)

The last time the Eagles signed a West Point graduate, he turned into a two-time Pro Bowler. OK, OK, not for them, but still.

In 2014, Chip Kelly signed 6-foot-9 former Army football player Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva was an offensive tackle and tight end in college. Kelly tried to turn him into a defensive end.

When that didn’t pan out, the Eagles abruptly released him. A week later, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him to their practice squad and moved him to offensive tackle. He has started 58 games for them the last four years and made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and 2018.

The Eagles soon could be signing another former Army player. The team confirmed an ESPN report that Brett Toth, a former offensive tackle for the Knights, is seeking a waiver that would allow him to play for the Eagles.

Military academy graduates are required to serve 24 months of active duty. But President Donald Trump said in May that he would allow academy athletes to get a waiver if they had an opportunity to sign with a professional sports team.

Toth, who graduated in May 2018 with a degree in nuclear engineering, already has fulfilled one year of service.

The Eagles view Toth as a potential practice squad project. But they need the waiver process to move quickly so that they can get him into camp before the start of the season, when the coaches still have time to work with him.

The 6-foot-6, 291-pound Toth attended the 2018 NFL scouting combine. He has 33 3/8-inch arms and 10 ¼-inch hands. By comparison, Eagles rookie first-round pick Andre Dillard has 33 ½-inch arms and 10-inch hands.

Before the 2018 draft, scouts viewed Toth as an athletic guard/tackle prospect who needed to add weight and strength. He was considered a late-round prospect, but with a high ceiling.

Jordan Mailata has been getting all the reps he could possibly want recently in training camp.

The Eagles’ second-year offensive lineman is filling in for right tackle Lane Johnson (knee) on the first team. He’s assuming his regular snaps on the second team, and is thrown in with the third team sometimes as well.

How tired was he by the end of Tuesday’s practice session?

“Can I swear?” He said, laughing. “I feel like the energy that I need to speak, I can’t do it. I’m so drained, I really appreciate all the reps, though. All the reps I can do, I get closer to perfecting that technique. But, man, it is draining on my body, though. I’ll be honest.”

Mailata will be able to catch his breath during Wednesday’s walk-through practice, but will be right back in the fire Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last week against the Titans, Mailata started at right tackle with the first team, and played most of the second half, too.

Johnson will likely miss the rest of the preseason, he is listed as “week-to-week.” Mailata spent time with veterans Jason Kelce and Stefen Wisniewski after practice learning better ways to utilize his hands.

He said he’s working on “my hand placement, and just getting to a spot and assessing the defensive end and knowing how to place my hands in. Identifying a rush and kind of getting to a spot is one of the big takeaways.”

Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday that he and his staff are “still working through’’ whether any of the team’s starters, including quarterback Carson Wentz, will play Thursday night in Jacksonville.

“The coordinators have the play-time charts,’’ Pederson said. “We’ll put that together and discuss that later tonight probably.’’

At least one defensive starter definitely will play Thursday. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who spent the last three seasons with the Jaguars, said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gave him the option of taking the night off, but he said he wants to play at least a couple of series against his former team.

Jags coach Doug Marrone isn’t working through anything. He said Tuesday that he will sit most of his starters against the Eagles, including former Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.

Donnel Pumphrey, who already is a long shot to make the Eagles’ season-opening 53-man roster, has a new position. Pumphrey has been moved from running back to wide receiver.

He said he was informed of the position switch Saturday, after the Eagles’ first preseason game against Tennessee.

Pumphrey had three carries for 11 yards and one catch for zero yards against the Titans. He also has been returning punts and kickoffs. He had a 12-yard punt return against the Titans and a 25-yard kickoff return.


© 2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer