Long, strange journeys for Braman and Maragos

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Long, strange journeys for Braman and Maragos

They were introduced together. One is tall and big and has long sand-colored hair and a growth of scruffy beard covering his face. The other is short and stocky and arrived with a fresh shave and a tight haircut. It was somewhat startling to see them standing there next to each other -- not because of how physically different they are, but because of the long odds they both beat to make it that far.

On Thursday, the Eagles introduced two new free-agent acquisitions: special teamers Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos. The Eagles signed Braman to a two-year deal and Maragos to a three-year contract. Braman, who was with Houston, hopes to see some snaps at linebacker. Maragos, who was with Seattle, would like to compete for the Eagles' ever-uncertain safety situation. At the least, both figure to play heavily on special teams. Considering the disparate but equally difficult paths they've traveled as football players, that is remarkable.

We will start with Braman, who is a hulk of a man (6-foot-5, 241 pounds) in a long line of them (he said his grandfather was 7-foot-4, 365 pounds). Out of high school, he played a year of football for the University of Idaho.

“Unfortunately,” Braman said, “I didn’t realize you had to go to class and get good grades in order to play football. I had to learn that the hard way.”

He took some time off after that. Braman said he comes from a “humble, blue-collar” family, and so he got a humble, blue-collar job making concrete railroad ties for a company called CXT. He lasted about three months.

“It was backbreaking work for $10 an hour, and it was about 75 hours a week,” Braman said. “I decided I deserved an education over a broken back.”

Braman returned to school and played two years at Long Beach City College. From there, he jumped to the Texas panhandle and landed at West Texas A&M.

“Unfortunately, my senior year, got into some trouble,” Braman said. “There were some character issues that people were questioning coming out my senior year.”

Braman was kicked out of West Texas A&M and later pled guilty to misdemeanor possession of psilocybin (halucinogenic mushrooms). He paid a $2,000 fine and the prosecutor terminated the one-year probation after 30 days, but the initial damage was done. He went undrafted and worked as a bouncer in Amarillo and College Station, Texas. He was also an Abercrombie & Fitch model for a while before the Texans called and offered him a job.

“That’s why Houston sits close to my heart,” Braman said, “because they did kind of give me a shot when no one else was batting an eyelash.”

The 26-year-old became a special teams monster with Houston and was named a Pro Bowl alternate two years ago. He had 31 special teams tackles with the Texans, including one that became a YouTube sensation when he made a crushing hit without the benefit of his helmet. Braman -- who said he once accidently tackled a fire hydrant with his face while playing playground football with his mom’s ex-boyfriend -- said he “wouldn’t advise” making a tackle without headgear. Those kinds of stories are why Donnie Jones, who played with Braman in Houston, called him a “war daddy” for his “will-sacrifice-body mentality.”

“It was a long road,” Braman said, “but I ended up where I wanted to be.”

Maragos managed to avoid backbreaking labor and mushroom possession and face collisions with fire hydrants, but his path wasn’t much easier. Maragos, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, didn’t receive any recruiting attention coming out of high school. Western Michigan gave him a chance to walk on, and he spent two years there before sending a Facebook message to Luke Swan, a receiver at Wisconsin who was also a walk-on. Maragos asked Swan to look at his tape and bring it to the head coach. Swan obliged.

Maragos got a call, transferred, walked on, and switched to defense for the Badgers. He became a team captain for Wisconsin and was put on scholarship in his fifth year. Then he went undrafted. Maragos signed with the 49ers in 2010. He spent the last three years in Seattle where he played 43 games for the Seahawks and earned a Super Bowl ring. Maragos played 51 snaps on defense for Seattle this past season but was on the field for 80 percent of the special teams reps.

“It was kind of real similar,” Maragos said about the unlikely way he and Braman ended up with NFL careers. “And here we are today.”

Eagles camp Day 4 notes: Brandon Brooks out; starting O & D

Eagles camp Day 4 notes: Brandon Brooks out; starting O & D

As the Eagles kicked off their first full-squad practice in the bubble on Thursday afternoon, a big part of the offense was missing. 

Starting right guard Brandon Brooks was nowhere to be found. In his place, with the first-team offense, was veteran Stefen Wisniewski. 

Brooks, who signed a five-year, $40 million deal to join the Eagles this offseason, missed practice with a hamstring injury and is listed by the team as day-to-day. 

The only other player that missed practice is running back Ryan Mathews, who is on the Active/Non-football Injury list with an ankle injury he suffered while training last week. 

Offensive starters
Thursday’s light afternoon practice was what Andy Reid used to call a “10-10-10” practice. The term is back under Doug Pederson. Basically, it’s a light practice that goes continually through offense, defense and special teams. But it’s not very conducive for observations because of the format, which is meant to allow the offense or defense to look good. 

But we did get a chance to see the starting units. 

Here’s what the first-team offense (they came out in 11 personnel) looked like to start practice: 

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Darren Sproles (Mathews was out)
TE: Zach Ertz
WR1: Nelson Agholor
WR2: Chris Givens
Slot: Jordan Matthews
LT: Jason Peters
LG: Allen Barbre
C: Jason Kelce
RG Stefen Wisniewski (Brooks was out)
RT: Lane Johnson

Notes: It’s worth noting that Matthews is still working in the slot way more than he is outside. And Givens, after a nice spring, got the nod to work outside with the first team.

Defensive starters
The defense first came onto the field in the nickel package, so we’ll start there: 

LDE: Vinny Curry
RDE: Connor Barwin
LDT: Fletcher Cox
RDT: Bennie Logan
LB: Jordan Hicks
LB: Mychal Kendricks
LCB: Leodis McKelvin
RCB: Nolan Carroll
Slot: Ron Brooks
S: Malcolm Jenkins
S: Rodney McLeod

Notes: We listed the defense in nickel, but when the Eagles were in base, Nigel Bradham was on the field as the strongside linebacker. The most important thing to note is that when the team was in base, Ron Brooks stayed on the field and moved outside. That’s what the team did most of the spring and it hasn’t changed yet. We’ll have to keep an eye on that. 

North Dakota’s hero
Earlier this week, there were several reporters and a TV crew from North Dakota to watch the progress of their hometown hero Carson Wentz. Wentz said it was cool to see some familiar media faces, especially because he knows how closely fans in his home state are still following his career. 

The rookie hasn’t been home much recently, so he wasn’t sure if the buzz has died down at all since the draft, but he suspects there are many more Eagles fans at home now. 

“I know now that football season is starting to kick up, it’s starting to heat up back home,” he said. “Everyone’s all interested in the Eagles, more than just the local teams around there. It’s pretty exciting. Exciting time for the state of North Dakota, for sure.” 

Odds and ends
• We’ll start with Wentz, who made a great toss on Thursday down the field about 40 yards to shifty wideout Paul Turner. Just a beautiful ball from the rookie. 

• Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Jalen Mills made another play. This time, he was able to get between the ball and Jordan Matthews near the right sideline. Perfect coverage. If he keeps this up once the pads go on Saturday, he’ll earn some playing time this season. 

• Jason Peters spoke for the first time this year after Thursday’s practice. We’ll have plenty on his thoughts and comments, but here’s what stuck out to me: he really didn’t like the way Chip Kelly did some things. He clearly didn’t like the tempo offense or Kelly’s management style. When asked, Peters agreed that Pederson’s staff is way more veteran player-friendly. 

“Any vet that stood up and had something to say, we got rid of him,” Peters said. Yikes. 

• Sproles, Agholor and Rueben Randle worked as the punt returners on Thursday. Obviously, Sproles is the guy, but this gives us an idea of the depth there. 

• Pads go on Saturday. 

• The first open practice (of two) is this Sunday at the Linc at 10 a.m. No tickets needed, just show up. 

Nelson Agholor: 'I fell short of my mission' to represent Eagles, family

Nelson Agholor: 'I fell short of my mission' to represent Eagles, family

When the allegations were first made public on June 10, Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor feared for his football career.

“To be honest with you,” he said, “there were points I thought an opportunity that was given to me to play for this organization and to have the life I have could have been taken from me.”

Agholor last month was accused by an exotic dancer of sexual assault during a visit Agholor made to a gentleman’s club in South Philadelphia in early June.

It wasn’t until about a month later — July 18 — that Agholor was cleared when the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office announced that no charges would be filed against the 23-year-old second-year pro.

On Thursday, after his first practice of training camp, Agholor spoke for the first time about the allegations.

“I put myself in a poor situation, and the most important thing for me was to realize that no matter what’s going on, if I make the right decision, I won’t be there,” he said after an afternoon practice in the Eagles’ indoor bubble.

“I put myself in that position going there, and to be honest with you, as I look at it, at the end of the day, it’s either neutral or negative consequences being in a place like that. So I made the wrong decision being there. …

“It definitely puts me in a position where I truly have to re-center my focus and remind myself who I am. You know? Being associated with anything like that is not who I am as a man. Falling short and even being associated with that, you’ve got to make sure you find yourself again and be yourself. Truly be yourself. And that’s what I’m going to do from here on out.”

Agholor declined to talk specifically about what happened at the strip club that day in June, but he did say the first few days, especially after the allegations came out, were very difficult for him and his family.

“Tough. Tough,” he said. “For a few days I sat back and I was in shock. But after a while I had to realize, I put myself in that position and all I can do is grow and find ways to get closer to my family and get closer to the people that had my back and just continue to grow and also train because I couldn’t let it defeat me twice.

“If I had just sat around moping, I wouldn’t be prepared to perform today. So I continued to train, stay with my family and get myself ready.”

Agholor said after the allegations came out, he returned home to Tampa to reconnect with his family and start the process of deciding exactly what kind of changes he had to make in his life to be the person he wanted to be.

“My parents were disappointed,” he said. “But they also understand that the best I could do is respond the right way. The actions were the actions. But what was I going to do after that from here on out?

“[Becoming] closer to my younger brother, taking care of my little sister, being there every day, being there for my family, making the right decisions. And they were proud of the way I responded.”

Agholor, the 20th pick in last year’s draft, had a disappointing rookie year, with just 23 catches for 283 yards and one touchdown.

So even before these allegations were made public, a lot of Eagles fans were disappointed in Agholor.

Now he has more to overcome to win the fans back. Because even though there won’t be any charges against Agholor, his reputation has definitely taken a major hit.

“At the end of the day, what I did gives everybody enough to say, ‘Hey, man, you did something wrong,’” he said. “At the end of the day, they have every right to do that.

“But as a man, I’ve got to do stuff from here on out to show who I am as a person and the type of man I’ll be.

“You never wish for negative things to happen to you, but they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I swear I feel way stronger. I do.”

It’s hard to imagine anybody coming across more genuine in such circumstances than Agholor Thursday.

His voice shook as he spoke of the faith that Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Jeff Lurie had in him and how he let them down.

“I fell short of my mission and I understand I should have done a better job,” he said. “From here on out, I have an obligation to do the right thing and to be the right person for this organization.

“What’s going to change? Understanding that every day I have an opportunity to take care of the life I have and to be a good person.

“I made a [poor] decision. I wish I didn’t. But at the end of the day, I have to make a conscious effort every day when I wake up to feed myself the right stuff and be around the right people and make the right decisions and hold myself accountable. So that’s what I’m going to do.”

Nigel Bradham expects name to be cleared, apologizes for distraction

Nigel Bradham expects name to be cleared, apologizes for distraction

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham, who was recently arrested for his involvement in an assault of a Miami hotel worker, was back on the practice field for the team's first full-squad practice of training camp on Thursday afternoon in the bubble.

The 26-year-old declined to give his side of the story, citing the ongoing police investigation, but said several times that he “most definitely” expects his name to be cleared.

“I can’t really speak on that part because it’s ongoing,” Bradham said when asked if he made a mistake, “but I am confident my name will be cleared.”

The alleged assault on the Miami beach reportedly stemmed from the length of time it took 50-year-old hotel worker Jean Courtois to bring Bradham’s group of six an umbrella for which they had already paid.

The arrest report obtained by NBC claims Bradham punched Courtois without being provoked. Several reports, meanwhile, have claimed Courtois provoked the attack by hitting Bradham’s girlfriend. Courtois told NJ.com the attack was unprovoked

Bradham disagreed on Thursday: “How many times you’ve heard my name, going around doing something to somebody? That makes no sense.”

Bradham also declined to say whether or not he’ll be filing counter-charges against Courtois.

On Tuesday night, the day before reporting to his first training camp with the Eagles, Bradham had a conversation with head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson said the conversation was “great” and said he didn’t foresee a scenario where Bradham will be cut from the team because of this. Bradham, on Thursday, admitted he was and is worried about discipline that might stem from the incident.

“I just pretty much told [Pederson] what happened,” Bradham said. “Like I said, I can’t really put it out in the public yet because it’s still an ongoing investigation. But we had a heart-to-heart conversation about everything and we’re pretty much on the same page about what things I need to do. And I also apologized for being a distraction to the team and everything like that.”

Bradham said this is the first time he has ever been arrested – he was charged with marijuana possession in 2013. While he continually declined to disclose the specifics of this incident, he did express remorse that anything like this happened at all.

“Most definitely,” Bradham said. “You don’t want that to be part of your legacy at any time throughout your career and it’s my first year here. I just started and I definitely didn’t want to start out with that being in the news and everything.”

The Eagles signed Bradham to a two-year, $7 million ($4.5M guaranteed) deal this offseason and plugged him in as the team’s starting strongside linebacker. It was a natural fit because he had his best season playing under Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in 2014.

Now, before he has even played a game for the Eagles, his name has been at least somewhat tarnished.

“Your first impression is everything, especially to the fans,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate for me that I didn’t get the chance to play, at least let them see me play before they get an opinion about me.”