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 Mailbag: Fletcher Cox, OTA evaluations, Nelson Agholor

Eagles Mailbag: Fletcher Cox, OTA evaluations, Nelson Agholor

The Eagles have completed one round of OTAs and will kick off another next week, starting Tuesday. 

OTAs are basically light practices in shorts and there's not a ton to gain from watching them, but they're not completely worthless. We already learned who some starters are for now and got a chance to see some new players on the field. 

Training camp will be here before you know it. 

To your questions: 

This is an interesting question because I think if I'm his teammate, I'd be a little annoyed. Especially if I'm some backup player making league minimum and the $100 million man doesn't show. 

But it really isn't like that. Even talking to players off the record, they don't seem to be bothered that Fletcher Cox wasn't with the team during a week of OTAs. Basically, players assume if a guy isn't there, they have a reason and are working out on their own. 

Guys especially understand if a player misses because of contract reasons — get paid, fellas. Obviously, that's not the reason Cox is missing. He signed a $100 million deal last offseason. And Cox's absence allows some other guys to get more reps, which is good for younger guys. 

It definitely doesn't look good from the outside that Cox isn't there. And it's pretty obvious Doug Pederson wants him at the facility. But the players inside the locker room? They're more understanding. 

Let's pump the breaks on the Nelson Agholor OTAs praise. Sure, he looked pretty good in the one day we got to watch of practice this week, but Agholor has looked good in shorts before. 

Does he have a shot at being a starter? Maybe a very slim shot. But the chances he actually beats out Torrey Smith for a starting gig seem minuscule. Perhaps you're thinking Smith is completely shot after looking that way in San Francisco, but it's hard to imagine he can't beat out Agholor for the job. 

That said, Agholor will be on the team this year. His contract makes cutting him nonsensical. And it'll be interesting to see how he performs without the pressure of being a starter. To me, it would make sense to occasionally work him into the slot, something the coaching staff hasn't done much of in the last couple years. 

I put these together because I want to make this point first: we have only been allowed to watch one of their three practices, so we don't have a lot to work from. But I'll give you what I can. 

Barnett: He looks impressive in shorts, at times beating Lane Johnson, who is a very good tackle. That bend we've heard so much about was evident really early. Remember Joe Douglas' talking about ankle flexion? Well, it's absolutely there. It's clear Barnett is a technician, but I'll reserve my judgment until training camp when the pads go on. 

Wentz: Thought he looked fine. I saw some folks saying they saw differences in his mechanics ... Eh. Hard to say in one practice. What I did see were a few beautifully tossed balls and some chemistry forming with Alshon Jeffery, who ought to be the team's No. 1 target this year.

NFL Notes: Vikings' Mike Zimmer says he'll coach with 1 eye if necessary

NFL Notes: Vikings' Mike Zimmer says he'll coach with 1 eye if necessary

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has had a lot of time on his hands this week while sitting at home on his Kentucky ranch as his team went through optional practices in the Twin Cities.

Zimmer was under strict orders to leave the team and rest his right eye, which has needed eight surgeries to try to repair a detached retina. The lingering issues have led some to wonder if he would be forced to shorten his career.

Zimmer has heard the speculation all week long. The hard-nosed coach said he has reached out to some of those doubters personally this week.

"I'll be back shortly," Zimmer vowed in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "One eye or two, it doesn't matter. I'll be back. We can put that retiring thing to bed quickly."

Zimmer missed one game last season due to the problems with his eye . He tried to work through the issues, but said on Friday that he was told to skip this week's practices and go home to allow his eye to recover.

"It's not much fun," he said. "Usually I love it down here in my place here. But I don't love it too much this week. It was kind of a forced situation. But for the long run it's the best thing for me."

Giants: Smith trying to resurrect career
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Geno Smith didn't catch a break in his final two seasons with the New York Jets, and it seems his chances of resurrecting his career with the Giants are facing obstacles.

Not only does Smith have to beat out incumbent Josh Johnson for the backup quarterback job to Eli Manning, his prospects of making the team took another hit in the NFL draft when the Giants selected Davis Webb with their third-round draft pick.

The 26-year-old Smith doesn't seem concerned.

Speaking after the Giants organized training activities Thursday, Smith sounded confident for a player who had a promising rookie season four years ago and then regressed, in large part due to inconsistency.

"Honestly, I don't feel like I have to prove anything to anyone other than myself," said Smith, who has played in only three games in the past two seasons, starting one. "I am just trying to be my best every single day, focusing on trying to be perfect. I know that is a far goal to try and reach, but just trying to be perfect every day and understanding what is required of me once I step onto the field, and then trying to get it done."

Redskins: Injured Moreau final draft pick to sign
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins have signed the final member of their 10-player draft class, third-round pick Fabian Moreau.

The team announced the deal Friday.

The cornerback out of UCLA tore a pectoral muscle at his pro day in March. He was projected to be a first- or second-round pick before the injury and went 81st overall to the Redskins.

Moreau says doctors told him it was a five-month recovery, putting him on track to be ready by late in the preseason. The 23-year-old was at Washington's practice facility for rookie minicamp and the first sessions of organized team activities.

Coach Jay Gruden says the team is playing by ear the injury situations of Moreau and fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson and hopes they learn the schemes for the secondary as they rehab.

NFL: Judge tosses lawsuit over cheerleader wages
SAN FRANCISCO -- A lawsuit accusing the NFL and team owners of conspiring to suppress wages for cheerleaders lacks evidence to support that claim, a federal judge said.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the lawsuit by a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader. The suit sought class action status on behalf of all NFL cheerleaders.

"To state an antitrust claim here, plaintiff must plead not only `ultimate facts, such as conspiracy, and legal conclusions,'" Alsup said. "The complaint must answer the basic questions of `who, did what, to whom (or with whom), where, and when?'"

An email to an attorney for the 49ers cheerleader, Drexel Bradshaw, was not immediately returned. The cheerleader was only identified in the suit as "Kelsey K."

Alsup gave her an opportunity to amend the lawsuit and refile it by June 15.

The lawsuit was among a spate of legal actions in recent years accusing NFL teams of failing to pay cheerleaders for hours they spent practicing and making public appearances.