Defensive tackle Aziz Shittu spent this spring in Stanford University classrooms, working toward his degree in psychology, just hoping his NFL dream wasn’t slipping away.
Like third-round pick Isaac Seumalo, Shittu and fellow undrafted rookie Byron Marshall missed all team OTAs and the minicamp because of the arcane NCAA/NFL graduation rule, which preys on schools that operate on quarters systems.
But unlike Seumalo, nothing is guaranteed for Shittu or Marshall.
It’s tough enough to make an NFL roster as an undrafted player. Now, they have to try to do it after missing the bulk of team activities this spring.
“It’s tough,” said Shittu, who earned his degree after taking 19 units at Stanford this spring. “It’s tough to be in two places at once. But I know how important it was for me to get my degree and I couldn’t come here because of the graduation rule.
“I got my degree and was able to focus as much as I could on what they were doing out here. It’s tough to be at two places at once, but I tried my best.”
Earlier this week, Seumalo said while he was at Oregon State this spring, he Skyped with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland four or five times per week for a half hour to an hour at a time.
The undrafted players weren’t afforded that luxury.
Shittu was in contact with defensive line coach Chris Wilson, but “it wasn’t too often.” Marshall, meanwhile, didn’t have any contact with coaches during his time away, but kept in contact with his former Oregon teammates Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff, as well as fellow undrafted running back Cedric O’Neal.
Both Shittu and Marshall said the biggest hurdle for them upon their return to the team is burying themselves in the playbook. They are trying to soak up as much as possible at the NovaCare Complex during the day before retiring to their hotel rooms to study the playbook even more.
They’re playing catch-up.
But don’t tell them that.
“I wouldn’t call it that,” Marshall said. “I know I have a little more work to do, but I wouldn’t call it that.”
“You could say that,” Shittu said, “but it’s just trying to stay focused on what I have to do here at training camp. The past has happened already. Now, I’m just focused on what I have to do in the future.”
Shittu and Marshall said there were other teams interested in them after going undrafted, but thought they fit better with the Eagles.
Shittu was being courted by the Eagles and Houston Texans, but thought the Eagles’ 4-3 scheme (the Texans run a 3-4), along with opportunity to make the team thanks to depth issues, made Philly an obvious choice. This week, in addition to working as a defensive tackle, Shittu has also taken snaps as a defensive end. He said he’s happy to become as versatile as he can.
Marshall cited Doug Pederson’s offense as the main reason he came to the Eagles. He thinks it plays to his strengths. In college, Marshall made a huge impact not only in the run game, but also catching passes out of the backfield and as a receiver. Since he’s been in Philly, the Eagles haven’t talked to him about playing receiver.
While Shittu already finished school, Marshall hopes to earn his degree in journalism and communications from Oregon next spring.
For now, he’s just trying to stick with the Eagles.
“I don’t see it as an audition [for other teams],” Marshall said. “I’m out here trying to make this team. I’m doing everything I can to do that.”