Villanueva making case for a roster spot

PHILADELPHIA -- It was a nice spring story when the Eagles signed former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva. Now that summer is here, the story gets more complicated and quite a bit more interesting.

It's one thing for Chip Kelly to give a chance to a man who served his country with distinction. But it's quite another thing for a man to make the transition from full-time soldier to professional football player.

"He's doing a real nice job," Kelly said at the end of last week's minicamp. "I think you forget what he's transitioning from. Not only did he spend his stint with the Army, but his last year at West Point, he was a wide receiver, and now he's playing defensive line in the National Football League.

"So, not only is it a transition because he has not played football in a couple years, it's he's playing really a new position. He played some defensive end I think his sophomore, junior year at Army, but then he was moved to offensive line. Then he went from offensive line to wide receiver, so he's had a real varied background."

If Villanueva has a real chance with anyone, it's Kelly. The second-year coach is not exactly married to NFL orthodoxy. And Kelly has been to some international hot spots in support of American troops. He has studied the Navy SEALS and their training methods, as well.

"He's given me the opportunity," Villanueva said of Kelly last week. "For me, it's all uphill. That's the only way I can look at it."

Villanueva said it has been "fun" to work out and practice with the Eagles' defensive linemen.

"The D-line squad that we have here is really fun," Villanueva said. "I love working with [line coach Jerry] Azzinaro. I hope I can stay with the D-line and do some good things."

Kelly doesn't know how it will shake out, but he's intrigued to see if Villanueva can earn a spot on his roster.

"He's a guy that I think you can really keep an eye on just because he's got such an upside," Kelly said. "I really don't know how the whole thing will pan out, but in terms of a work ethic and things like that, his is kind of second to none. He was running five miles a day. We're certainly not asking our defense linemen to run five miles a day. There was one day here, I think he went from here to an Army training session and went out and had a couple PT tests that he had to pass and actually one of them was a five-mile test. He nailed it and came back and didn't miss a day.

"He's been just a guy that you see every day just getting a little bit better, getting a little bit better. As I said the other day, a real intriguing prospect but just amazed at everything that Alejandro does, to be honest with you."

If Villanueva can continue to progress in training camp the way he did through the spring, there's a chance this feel-good story will get even better.