Ifeanyi Momah had just wrapped up his first workout as an Eagles wide receiver and headed for the locker room when the most recognizable pair of hands in team history reached out and yanked him into an office.
There, staring across from the freakishly towering 6-foot-7 wideout, stood Harold Carmichael, the only person in the NovaCare Complex capable of seeing eye-to-eye with Momah.
Carmichael, who towers around 6-foot-8, has presided over alumni relations and player development for the Eagles for the past 14 years. His office is the first players pass en route to the locker room.
He also holds the title of best receiver in team history. Carmichael ranked sixth all-time in the NFL for receptions when his career ended in 1984. For obvious reasons - the height and legacy - Momah had heard of him.
“I always knew about him, but I didn’t know he was physically here,” Momah said. “First day I got here, he grabbed me and was telling me all about the things that I could work on after my workout. So that was very exciting. That’s when I realized this is a very, very good connection to have.”
In watching Momah, Carmichael caught a flashback of when he first arrived in Philadelphia in 1971. He was 22 and fresh off being drafted 161st overall in the seventh round out of obscure Southern University (La.).
Not even Carmichael could have forecasted that he would make four Pro Bowls, collect three 1,000-yard seasons during a run-first time period in the sport and catch 79 touchdowns to set team records that still stand today.
Carmichael observed the same raw potential in Momah, who didn’t play receiver full-time until his senior year at Boston College. Momah in his first game suffered a knee injury that required season-ending surgery and then sidelined him for all of 2012.
Despite his height and athleticism, no team drafted or signed Momah last year. He was still rehabbing and not ready to play.
When he ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day this past March, Momah suddenly popped up on radars. He clocked a 4.39 at his private Eagles workout, which caught Carmichael’s attention.
“They told me they had a guy this size, and I said, ‘Let’s see what you have,’” Carmichael recalled. “I think he’s going to be pretty good. I can almost see myself, about 40-something years ago, coming into the team, that lanky guy coming in. [Momah] is built much better than I was. That guy is really built, and he looks very strong.”
Momah is a no-risk, high-reward proposition for the Eagles. If he manages to make the team or practice squad, that’s a feather in the cap of general manager Howie Roseman. If he doesn’t, Momah cost the team $75,000, just a little more guaranteed money than usually reserved for rookie free agents.
If his career ends up being half as good as Carmichael’s, Momah will be considered the steal of the century.
“I’m quite sure once he gets going, he can run,” Carmichael said. “A guy that size, the first three steps he’s got to explode. But I think he’s going to be good. I’d like to see them work a lot in that red zone with this guy because you’re not going to stop him if he works on it enough and gets it down pat.”
Momah, from the Long Island town of Greenlawn, N.Y., has obstacles to overcome just to make the 53-man roster.
For starters, he’s still extremely raw. Boston College recruited him as an “athlete” and jostled him from linebacker to defensive end and occasional receiver before finally cementing him at wide receiver for his senior season.
In his first game as a senior, Momah caught eight passes for 171 yards. The breakout game turned into a career after he ripped up a knee ligament that would end his season.
Momah still hadn’t fully recovered by last offseason, so he didn’t garner any looks during the pre-draft process and took the year off. Last month’s pre-draft minicamp was his first football action since his last college game.
“There definitely was rust,” Momah said. “Just the tempo, especially with this kind of offense, it’s a little different. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a full up-tempo mode. So that was kind of hard for me at first, but I feel like I’m back into my own right now.”
Momah sees his long legs and rangy wingspan as tremendous advantages, especially on a roster with several wideouts who hover around six feet, but Carmichael recalled the challenges he faced in being the NFL’s tallest wideout.
“It’s not an easy thing to be that size, trying to run patterns a lot of times,” Carmichael said. “I did it a couple times, trying to pattern like these short guys. I tell those guys, ‘Use your long strides as an advantage.’ Because if you do it that way, you get up on a defensive back and you look like you’re going slow because you get up on him so quickly. The first three steps is always very important.
"It’s just the fact that you want to get the mindset right. You can’t run patterns like shorter guys. You’ve got to do it a little different way."
Momah had hoped to have the position down pat by last offseason, after a full year of coaching from the BC staff. The knee injury not only cost him that invaluable experience but perhaps also millions of dollars.
Several scouts had come to watch Momah’s first game after they found out Boston College had a 6-foot-7 wide receiver who ran as fast the other wideouts.
“I felt like I was going to do good that year and get a lot of looks and respect and hopefully get drafted sometime early,” he said. “But after that first game, all that kind of changed with the injury, so I fell off the radar pretty hard.
“I heard stuff from first day, maybe first round, second round. That was before even the first game. I came out with that first game and that really showed a lot of my potential. It was looking like I could have really been up there my senior year. It would have been great to see what could have happened, but that stuff passed and I’m here now.”
Momah took visits to New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Cleveland before signing with the Eagles. The Browns and Steelers aren’t as skilled at receiver as the Eagles are, but Momah still believed that the Eagles offered him the best chance to learn the position and flourish.
He chose upside over immediacy.
“I wasn’t looking at the amount of receivers we had here,” he said. “I didn’t want that to be in my decision. I wanted to look [at the] future and the offense and how I could grow in the offense. Just seeing the kind of offense they are running here, I felt like I could grow and reach my full potential here.”
Two in, two out
The Eagles on Monday signed tryout rookies wide receiver Will Murphy and defensive end Daryell Walker (see story).
The team released wide receiver DeMarco Sampson and defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron.