The Practice Squad: Eagles' unheralded skill group hits center stage

PHILADELPHIA -- Boston Scott's mom has always stressed the importance of having a plan, so when the Philadelphia Eagles running back found himself stuck on the fringe of the NFL as a practice squad player earlier this season, he mulled life after football.

"If I did end up, whatever, I'd go to work. I have a degree in kinesiology, so I wanted to get into PT [physical therapy] and stuff like that," Scott said. "My thought process went there sometimes. But mainly, I was focused on the task at hand."

Good thing. Scott was elevated to the Eagles' active roster in October, and thanks to a rash of injuries, he now finds himself as a primary option on offense as the Eagles get set to host the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round of the playoffs Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET (NBC). Scott is coming off a three-touchdown performance in Week 17 against the New York Giants that secured the NFC East for the Eagles and led to Scott being named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

"How cool is that?" quarterback Carson Wentz asked.

Pretty cool. But for the Eagles, this type of story has become almost commonplace. Wentz enters the playoffs operating with five skill-position players who were called up from the practice squad: Scott, receivers Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett and Rob Davis, and tight end Josh Perkins.

Philadelphia closed out the regular season with four consecutive wins to capture the division title. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, 48% of the Eagles' receptions during that four-game win streak came from players who weren't on the active roster at the start of the 2019 season.

"Shoot, guys have been making plays," Wentz said. "I've said that over and over now: It's someone different every week."

Ward started 2019 with the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football. He was fourth(!) among Commanders wideouts in receiving yards prior to the AAF folding, at which point he signed with the Eagles, only to be waived during final roster cuts and then placed on the practice squad. He is now Wentz's top wide receiver option following injuries to DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.

Burnett has been on three teams since August -- he was cut by the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers before landing with the Eagles in December. He was called up to the 53-man roster on Dec. 24, and he had two catches for 48 yards in the division clincher against New York.

Davis was signed to the practice squad in October. He thought his NFL career might be over after tearing multiple knee ligaments and breaking a tibia on Aug. 11, 2018 (he has the date memorized), during a preseason game while with the Washington Redskins. Like Scott, he was readying for life after football. He earned his master's degree in exercise science while he was recovering from his injuries, prepping for a career as a strength and conditioning coach as a backup plan after football. He played 78% of the snaps last week.

Perkins suffered a knee injury in 2018 and spent most of this season on the Eagles' practice squad before being called up to the active roster in late November. He had four catches for 50 yards in the Week 17 win, including a 24-yard touchdown on a cross-field pass from Wentz.

"You definitely have a little doubt sometimes," Perkins said of life at the bottom of the roster. "You think like, 'Damn, I feel like I did everything I could and I still am not at the point I want to be.' You have a little doubt. But that subsided, and you have to just keep believing in yourself."

The group of five (no one in the locker room seems to have come up with a nickname yet, though QB Josh McCown said it's a must) forged a bond during their time together on the practice squad. It's a unique existence, being so close to your dream without being able to touch it, and they leaned on one another for support and encouragement.

"Just keeping each other motivated, having faith that opportunity is coming, not in our time but in God's time," Scott said. "We're out there at practice together, pushing each other, like, 'C'mon, man, keep it going, give [the first team] a good look.'"

Scott grew close with Ward. The two drive to and from work together, spend extra time out on the practice field with one another, and served as each other's support systems. Scott said he fell into a funk right before being called up this season. Ward was mentioned by several of the players as a source of strength, reminding them that, "Bro, I was at home last year," as Perkins put it, only to climb into a prominent role.

"I can remember having conversations with him when we were both on the practice squad, and he would always tell me, 'It's not always going to be like this. Eventually, that rock is going to crack,'" Davis said. "And sure enough, it did, and now we're able to go out there and help the team win games, and it's a really good feeling."

The surge of attention is new to the group of former practice squad members. On Wednesday, Scott sat at his locker for close to a half-hour as wave after wave of media crashed ashore. Afterward, a member of Eagles media relations came to him with several national interview requests. "Don't get overwhelmed," the staffer said. It was noted that the television broadcast wanted to speak with him for their pre-production work. "OK," Scott replied. "What's that?"

Five fringe players have ascended to the big stage, and on Sunday, they will each have a chance to make their marks.

"We're all just grateful to be in our position," Perkins said. "We can't take anything for granted. Nothing was handed to us. We had to earn everything we've got."