Igwenagu hopes to follow Cruz blueprint
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – If you are going to make an NFL roster, especially if you are an undrafted free agent, it helps to be versatile. The more things you can do, the more reasons the coaches have to keep you around.
That’s why Emil Igwenagu (pronounced ig-wen-AH-goo) didn’t mind at all this week when the Eagles’ coaches told him to line up at tight end and take some reps while Brent Celek recovers from his knee sprain.
Igwenagu was primarily a fullback in the spring camp and he is wearing a fullback’s number (41), but if offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tells him he is a tight end, well, he is a tight end.
“Wherever they want me, that’s where I’ll be,” Igwenagu said following another long afternoon practice at Lehigh. “I just want to play.”
Actually, this moving around stuff is nothing new for Igwenagu. He played fullback and tight end at the University of Massachusetts. Some scouts listed him as an H-back, that’s a hybrid role that combines the two positions. It is becoming more popular in today’s pro game.
The traditional fullback is now an endangered species. Many pro teams don’t even carry one. Owen Schmitt was the Eagles’ fullback last year and he was hardly ever on the field. He wasn’t even invited to camp this season. But someone with more versatility, someone who can play a little fullback if necessary and also line up at tight end gives a team good flexibility.
That’s where the 6-2, 245-pound Igwenagu hopes to fit in. He is getting more reps with Celek sidelined and he is making the most of them. Clay Harbor is playing with the first unit and Igwenagu and fellow rookie Brett Brackett are splitting time behind him.
As a blocker, Igwenagu shows good pop coming out of his stance. He locks onto his man and drives. In the 9-on-7 drill, he did a good job sealing the edge allowing LeSean McCoy to turn the corner. He also looked comfortable running routes and catching the football.
But what probably impressed the coaches most was the fact that Igwenagu did not make any mental mistakes. He didn’t go the wrong way or block the wrong man or miss a blitz pick-up, and that’s pretty good considering how much information he is processing on the fly.
“We have a big playbook and we’re not even halfway through it,” Igwenagu said. “It’s definitely a lot more (detailed) than what I’m used to but it’s a process. Every day you learn something new. You just have to keep up.
“Learning two positions is a challenge, but I did it in college so it’s not like the first time. And I think it helps in the long run because you get to know the whole offense. You see the big picture.”
Igwenagu played mostly tight end last season at UMass, finishing with 38 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. He was recruited out of high school as a running back, a two-time state MVP who rushed for more than 5,000 yards and scored 54 touchdowns at Holy Name Catholic High School. In college, they moved him to linebacker and later tight end and fullback.
Igwenagu has good tools, a thick frame with long arms and quick feet. He is smooth in and out of his cuts and as a blocker he is strong enough to hold the point of attack. He is facing a stiff challenge to make the final roster. Celek will be back soon and is set as the starter. Harbor has two years’ experience in this offense, which counts for a lot. Brackett is having a good camp.
So where does an undrafted free agent from Division I-AA UMass fit in?
Well, Igwenagu can find encouragement in Victor Cruz, his former college teammate. Cruz also went undrafted and signed with the New York Giants as a free agent. He made the practice squad in 2010 and last season when he got a chance to play, he exploded with 82 catches for 1,536 yards (a team record) and nine touchdowns. Cruz is now a star and a Super Bowl champion.
“We all knew what kind of player Victor was,” Igwenagu said. “He has a lot of ability. It was just a matter of him getting a chance to show what he could do. I’m happy for him. I was just hoping for the same opportunity (to play in the NFL). Now I have it so, really, it is up to me.”