Extra Points: Anatomy of the offseason star

By The Sports NetworkJune 24, 2014 at 2:51 PM
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Back in 2002 Minneapolis was my home and my summer was spent covering the Vikings.

That's when I came across a 6-foot-3, 215-pound athlete, straight out of central casting in Kyries Hebert. If God decided to create an NFL safety from scratch, the then-rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette might have been the mold.

In shorts and a T-shirt Hebert looked as physically intimidating as Ronnie Lott and flashed the instincts of Paul Krause, punctuating nearly every offseason practice with a highlight-reel interception.

Many observers at the time were awed by Hebert's perceived playmaking ability and penciled him in the starting lineup for the safety-deprived Vikings, the rare undrafted rookie who would make an impact.

Reality set in during the dog days of July and August when the pads went on and Hebert faltered a little bit day by day. By Week 1 of the NFL season Hebert was like most rookie free agents -- on the waiver wire and looking for work.

To his credit Hebert went on to cobble out a living playing professional football, sandwiching cups of coffee in both Houston and Tampa Bay around a stint north of the border in Ottawa. A two-year run in Winnipeg got him another NFL look with the Cincinnati Bengals before the now 230-pounder migrated north again for stops in Hamilton and Montreal, where he eventually developed into a CFL All-Star with the Alouettes in 2012.

Hebert was just a footnote in my memory until the summer of 2013 when I found myself in Philadelphia, listening to a host of area scribes salivating over Ifeanyi Momah, a massive 6-foot-7, 239-pound Boston College project who was trying to make it as a wide receiver with the Eagles.

Momah never really did all that much on the field in Chestnut Hill, playing sparingly as a true freshman before snaring a nondescript 11 balls for 149 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore. A redshirt year was followed by another ho-hum effort of 19 catches for 296 yards and three more scores before his senior season was derailed by a torn ACL.

In fact, Momah's only real resume-filler at B.C. was the lone game he played as a senior before blowing out the knee, one in which he hauled in eight catches for 171 yards against Northwestern. Momah tried to appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year at Boston College in hopes of showing NFL teams he was healthy but the request was denied.

The lengthy receiver went undrafted and was eventually signed by the Birds where rumors of 4.45 speed were accepted as gospel by some onlookers who marveled at Momah's stature.

To veteran observers who have taken in hundreds of NFL practices, though, Momah's deficiencies were plainly obvious. He lacked short-area quickness, showed no suddenness off the line of scrimmage and ran poor routes, often rounding things off instead of making distinct sharp cuts, the kind which create separation.

"Last year, I just wasn't confident," Momah admitted. "I just felt out of place. I wasn't good out of my breaks. I felt like I was slower than I should have been. I think it was all in my head."

The reality was Momah had no chance to make the Eagles roster and he was eventually released.

"He missed an entire year," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, referring to the ACL injury. "So there's obviously a bit of rust he had to knock off a little bit."

"The one thing I remember is being so tired," Momah added. "Getting acclimated to this pace. Not just the NFL, but this offense. I was kind of like dead- legged and didn't know what the hell was going on."

The hardest part for Momah, though, wasn't getting released, it was the realization that the Eagles nor any other NFL team had a practice-squad spot waiting for him.

"I sat back at home a lot last year just thinking about all the things I could have done," Momah said. "All the things they told me to do that I didn't (do). I was at home and I heard a couple of guys that were let go were re-signed and I was thinking, 'Why didn't I get re-signed?'"

Momah's one undeniable strength as a player -- his size -- was enough to eventually get him his second chance and the Eagles came knocking again, signing him to a futures deal back in January.

"He's not just trying to figure it out (now)," Kelly said. "He already knows where he's going and he's lining up and reading coverages and has a better understanding in terms of how it's supposed to look. I think he feels more comfortable. We have seen a marked improvement from last year to this year."

Momah is trying to become the first 6-7 receiver in Philadelphia since the legendary Harold Carmichael, who is currently the organization's director of player development and is often at practice.

"I always knew about Harold growing up since we were kind of the same unique body type at receiver," Momah said. "When I met him on my visit here with the Eagles, I sat back and thought 'Wow, this is amazing.'"

Amazing or not Momah is figuring out what Carmichael did back in the 1970s and early '80s -- size matters.

"I'm realizing just how big I am and I need to take advantage of that," the young wideout said. "I'm realizing my hands are huge. My body's big. It's like basketball. Go snatch the ball out of the air, stay on your feet, go score some touchdowns."

It's still very early but this time the "offseason star" may finally have a real chance to make some noise and contribute when things count.

"I feel a lot more free because I'm more confident," Momah said. "And because I'm playing freer, I have more energy and I just feel a lot more comfortable as a receiver right now. I feel like it's a big difference from last year." I know I'm going to go out there and kick ass."


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