August 30, 2016
The nameplate above Jake Metz's locker didn't have his name on it. Instead, it read "Philadelphia Eagles."
But for the 25-year-old defensive end, the fact that he had a spot in an NFL locker room – and not just any locker room, but the one of the team for which he grew up rooting – was probably good enough for him.
On Tuesday, only a few days removed from helping the Soul to an ArenaBowl title, the Souderton High School alum was out on the field practicing and preparing with the rest of the Eagles ahead of Thursday night's preseason finale against the Jets.
Metz is still a long shot to make the team, but he's not approaching this opportunity like he's just another body being brought in to give some depth before the rosters are trimmed down to 53 players. In fact, he felt like he should have made a team last year and thinks he has just as good a chance to make this team as some of the guys who have been here since the beginning of camp.
"I think they give everybody a fair shot," he said following his first practice with the Birds. "I think my play on Thursday will show [what I can do] and depending on how good I do will dictate whether I'm on the team or not."
After leading the Soul with eight sacks in his second AFL season, Metz caught the attention of not just the Eagles, but a few other teams as well, something that may not have otherwise happened being that he played college ball at a school as small as Shippensburg. But when you're hometown team comes calling, it's a pretty easy decision to make.
So what specifically was it about the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Metz that caught the attention of rookie head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz?
"The coaches are taking me under [their wings]. And also the players as well; the older guys are teaching me everything they know. And they're basically telling me not to stress the scheme and basically go out there and be the guy I am, which really takes a load off me."
"I love his length, his size. He’s got good athleticism," Pederson said. "He’s coming off a championship season so he’s in shape and he’s ready to go. And obviously, with Alex McAllister going down, we needed some depth there and he gives us that rotation we’re looking for up front and it gives him an opportunity to give his opportunity on film."
And that's important. Essentially, what Pederson is saying is that even if Metz is just an extra body and doesn't make the 53-man roster or practice squad, he'll now have film of himself playing in an NFL game. And if he plays well, that could go a long way in helping him land a job with one of the other 31 teams.
With such a limited time – just Tuesday's practice and Wednesday's walkthrough – to prepare for his first NFL action, he will have to shift gears from arena football back to the traditional game. The main difference, according to Metz, is the faster pace of the indoor game. He also added that they don't run the ball nearly as much as they do in the NFL, another adjustment the young defensive end will have to make.
But he isn't alone in making this transition. He's already gotten plenty of advice from some of his coaches and new teammates.
"The coaches are taking me under [their wings]. And also the players as well; the older guys are teaching me everything they know," said Metz, who later pointed to Conor Barwin and Brandon Graham as being among those veterans to reach out. "And they're basically telling me not to stress the scheme and basically go out there and be the guy I am, which really takes a load off me."
That, however, doesn't mean he's free of the anxiety that comes with an opportunity like this.
"I didn't get much sleep last night, that's for sure," Metz added. "I was up until two or three, just staring at the ceiling excited to practice. I got here pretty early today and plan on doing the same tomorrow."
And when he takes the field at the Linc on Thursday night, there are going to be plenty of Jake Metz fans in attendance.
"Oh, you have no idea [what the fan section is going to look like]," he said with a laugh. "I have so many friends and family that have already said they're getting tickets to the game, and they're going to be there. You'll see them for sure."
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin