PHILADELPHIA — When Eli Harold was growing up in Virginia Beach, Va., in the 2000s, he was self-described huge Washington Redskins fan. He said he had former Redskins players Phillip Daniels, Andre Carter and Lorenzo Alexander on his wall. At one point, he met those players at the Virginia Beach Pavilion.
Now, he’s learning from them. Carter coached Harold with the San Francisco 49ers earlier in his career. And after the Philadelphia Eagles acquired Harold from the Buffalo Bills in a trade Friday evening, Daniels will be his position coach.
“I was talking to Phillip yesterday,” Harold said Sunday. “I’m like, ‘Yo, this is amazing.’ Like, I’ve now played for two of my former favorite players.”
Harold has other reasons to be excited after the trade, too. In addition to getting the chance to learn from Daniels, who is in his first year as the defensive line coach, Harold thinks he’s going to get a real chance to compete for a roster spot and showcase his ability as a pass rusher.
“It’s nice to feel wanted,” Harold said.
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Harold is the second veteran defensive end the Eagles have added in the past week. When training camp standout Joe Ostman went on injured reserve, the team signed Kasim Edebali. Harold was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for undrafted free agent offensive lineman Ryan Bates.
The top of the defensive end depth chart — Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry — feels set for the Eagles. Second-year pro Josh Sweat, rookie Shareef Miller and third-year pro Daeshon Hall are competing behind them, and the addition of Harold and Edebali should boost the level of that group.
Harold spent the first four seasons of his NFL career as an outside linebacker with the 49ers, who selected him in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and Detroit Lions. Under Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Harold will return putting his hand on the ground as a defensive end for the first time since college at Virginia.
“I love it, man,” Harold said. “That’s my natural position. No matter what, going forward is always better than dropping into coverage a lot, so I’m excited.”
It’s unlikely that Graham, Barnett and Curry will play much the rest of the way in the preseason — if it all — so there are plenty of available reps for the rest of the depth chart, and Harold could use the next three games as a sort of showcase to the Eagles and the other 31 teams.
“I’m just going to take one day at a time, man, and attack it, give all I got and just try to be me every day,” Harold said. “Whether it’s enough time or not, I’m going to just do what I do and try to impress the best way I can and control what I can control, and that’s just to go all out every time I’m on the field.”
Even with a truncated schedule — the Eagles had their 13th day of training camp Sunday — both Schwartz and Harold expect him to be in the flow of things quickly.
“Good body for what we are looking for,” Schwartz said. “Our scouts had liked him a couple years ago. He has had a little bit of production. He played sort of a hybrid role last year for Detroit, but we are a little bit different. Put his hand in the ground and let him come. He’s big, he’s strong and we will add him to the mix and see where it turns out, but he does have a little bit of experience. It’s a little bit different than a rookie coming in. We should get him up to speed pretty quickly.”
Harold brings a bit of a track record to the Eagles. He has nine sacks in four seasons, including a career-high four last season. He got off to a hot start for the Lions with three sacks in his first three games, including two of Tom Brady in an upset win over the New England Patriots.
Harold played at least 23 percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps in three of the first four games, but his playing time soon plummeted. He had a seven-game stretch where he was inactive twice — once was because of the birth of his daughter — didn’t play once and saw just nine defensive snaps. He had a couple games where he played more than half the snaps down the stretch, but it was clear his future wasn’t in Detroit.
“Um, I really don’t like talking about the past, but I’ll touch on it a little bit,” Harold said. “Just the opportunity wasn’t there, I feel like. A guy had got hurt, and my playing time had went up, and then when I had my daughter — my daughter was born the fourth week, fifth week of the year — then after that, I feel like it just fell off.
“I was still doing everything I could. I was doing my best and I would talk to the coaches, and they would say that nothing was wrong and I was doing everything I was supposed to do, so I don’t know what happened. I guess they were telling me one thing, but saying another thing in meetings or whatever, but I went to work every day, tried to be better and that’s all I can do. It just didn’t work out.”
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Harold told The Detroit News at the time that Lions coach Matt Patricia was “100 percent supportive” of Harold during a complicated childbirth process.
Harold has some familiarity with the Eagles because safety Rodney McLeod is also a Virginia alum, and Harold described former Eagles defensive end Chris Long as a “big brother.” He also played with cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc in Detroit, and LeBlanc, a hero for the Eagles down the stretch and in the playoffs last season, has shared a similar sentiment as Harold about getting a fair chance to make an impact in Philadelphia.
Harold wants to make the most of it. He’s on a tight timeframe, and there’s already a talented group of players on the depth chart. But Harold already feels comfortable with the Eagles, and he wants to take the next step of his career in South Philly.
“It’s a business, but to come to a new place, and I already feel it,” Harold said. “The guys, I feel like they’ve accepted me already, and I haven’t even been here 24 hours, and being in a room with a lot of veterans plays a big part in that, and it’s just a veteran team and they know how to win here, and I’m just glad I’m here.”