Humbled Momah out to capitalize on 2nd chance

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Humbled Momah out to capitalize on 2nd chance

Ifeanyi Momah was humbled. 

After being among the Eagles' final cuts last year, Momah is suiting up for his second attempt with the team with a new outlook.

“You go from having a lot of attention and doing well to not playing so well and you get cut,” Momah said after practice at minicamp last week. “Everybody forgets who you are, so it humbles you real quick.”

Momah was an intriguing prospect last year after the Eagles picked him up in March 2013 as an undrafted free agent. His size -- 6-foot-7 and 239 pounds -- was as huge of a talking point as he is. He towered over defenders and showed promise, but the wide receiver from Boston College didn't stand out enough in training camp to earn a roster spot.

“The one thing I remember [from last year] is being so tired -- getting acclimated to this pace, not only just the NFL level, but this offense,” Momah said.

He said he felt “dead-legged” and didn't have a grasp of Chip Kelly's scheme. 

“I feel like I’m more comfortable going in and out of the routes and just overall receiving,” Momah said. “There’s a big difference from last year. I’m ready.”

Despite the departures of DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, the numbers are still working against Momah, who left minicamp as one of 13 wideouts on the roster. Last year, the Eagles finished the season with six wide receivers on the roster. Veterans Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper and draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff are likely locks for four of those spots. Momah's top competition comes from versatile veteran Brad Smith, a special teams standout who was signed during last season, and Arrelious Benn, a second-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2010 whom the Eagles acquired via trade but missed last season with a torn ACL.

That said, the Eagles remain curious about Momah's upside. After cutting him last year, they told him they wanted him to return. He'd drawn interest from the Patriots and Steelers -- "The Steelers were always on me," he said -- but felt the Eagles were the best fit.

“They told me they wanted me here, but because they felt I wasn’t ready yet, they wanted to keep me around," he said.

"Nothing about Pittsburgh that wasn’t a fit. It was just I’m comfortable as a receiver here with the offense and also with the coaches."

So while he waited to return for another shot with the Eagles, Momah helped open a youth football camp in Long Island, where he's from, with friend James Brady, a quarterback from the University of New Hampshire. Brady played for Kelly at UNH, and working with him helped Momah improve.

"He knows his offense," Momah said of Brady. "Some days we go in and I’ll be running routes with him, cause he’s my quarterback, and he'll just throw up a sign and I'll know what it is and we’re running. It helps a lot."

As does something else. Like Cooper did last year, Momah has also discovered how to best use his most valuable asset: his physique.

“Last year I was playing down, as just a regular receiver, but now I’m trying to use my size,” Momah said. “If anybody’s around me, it doesn’t matter -- I’m the biggest guy out there.

“It’s kind of like basketball -- box them out, take the ball and stay up and score.”

Momah's attitude toward training camp has changed too. He admitted last year he sometimes tried to “just get through it." Now, he’s “out [there] to get better.”

“It’s a professional league,” Momah said. “They’re going to tell you what to do and if you don’t take it, listen and try to do it, then you’re going to get cut.”

Momah’s improved performance this time hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaches either.

"I think he feels more comfortable here. There's not a newness in terms of, 'This is not my first time doing this, and what does this look like, where am I supposed to be, how does that work?'" Kelly said. "We've seen a marked improvement from last year to this year."

During minicamp last Wednesday, Momah made a few good catches during drills that showcased the advantages of his size, even making an attempt to leap over a defender at an errant throw that sailed too high.

“I sat back a lot last year at home, thinking of all the things I could have done and all the things they told me to do that I didn’t,” he said. “I heard a couple of guys got re-signed and I was thinking to myself, ‘Why didn’t I get re-signed?’”

No more sitting back this time around.

“I’m just excited for the opportunity,” Momah said. “I’m ready to take advantage of it and make the team this year.”

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

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Carson Wentz named NFC Offensive Player of the Week

Carson Wentz named NFC Offensive Player of the Week

Another week, another award for Carson Wentz.

This time, the Eagles' electrifying rookie has been named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Steelers.

In the 34-3 win over Pittsburgh, Wentz completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 125.9. It was the first 300-yard game of his very young career.

Wentz is the first rookie in Eagles history to win an Offensive Player of the Week award, and the first Eagle to win the award since Jeremy Maclin in Week 9 of the 2014 season.

Through three games, the 23-year-old Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards and five touchdowns. He's the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to achieve those stats in the first three games of a career. He still hasn't thrown an interception in 102 passing attempts, a record for rookies.

It looks like Wentz will have plenty more opportunities for awards this season.

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