CLIFTON GEATHERS has traveled some rough road in the 3 years since leaving the University of South Carolina to pursue an NFL career.
The sun-blotting, 6-8, 340-pound defensive lineman, who was acquired by the Eagles in a late-March trade with the Indianapolis Colts, is on his sixth NFL team - that's right, sixth - since being selected by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 2010 draft.
Five times, he has been told his services were no longer needed, first by the Browns, then by the Miami Dolphins, then by the Seattle Seahawks, then by the Dallas Cowboys twice.
He thought he finally had found a home with the Colts last season after they signed him in early October. He played 146 defensive snaps in eight games and notched his first career sack in their final regular-season game against Houston. Even played five defensive snaps in their 24-9, wild-card playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
"They picked me up after I got cut by Dallas and I played the next week against the Jets,'' he said. "It was a good experience there. I got to play some. I got to 2-gap, which is what I do best.
"I still didn't get to play as many snaps as I thought I deserved. But it's not up to me. It's up to them. All I can do is come out to practice every day and give everything I have."
He thought he might have a future in Indy, but that future ended on March 29, when Colts general manager Ryan Grigson phoned and informed him that he had been traded to the Eagles in exchange for fullback Stanley Havili.
"It was hard," he said. "I woke up and the GM is calling and coach [Chuck] Pagano is calling. I liked it there. It was a really good organization. I was disappointed initially. The Colts were my fifth team and now I was going to my sixth."
Geathers' disappointment has turned to hope, though; hope that his latest NFL address might finally be where the merry-go-round stops.
The Eagles are switching from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4 and need all of the capable, big-bodied, 2-gap linemen they can get their hands on.
They certainly don't come any bigger-bodied than Geathers, who, besides being the tallest and heaviest defensive lineman on the training-camp roster, has arms that are 40 inches long. By comparison, Eagles rookie defensive linemen Bennie Logan and Joe Kruger have arms that are 34 and 34 1/2 inches long, respectively.
"He's a really good fit for a 3-4," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "He's really coming along. Obviously, he's got to continue to go. But he's a huge guy. A mountain of a man. Maybe the biggest guy we've had on defense since I've been here.
"He's playing really well with his hands. He's got some quickness and athletic ability. You're looking for the same thing in him as everybody else - consistency."
Geathers, 25, is listed as the backup left defensive end behind Cedric Thornton on the unofficial depth chart. He played 15 snaps in Friday's preseason game against the Patriots, lining up at both end and nose tackle. Didn't have any tackles, but that doesn't mean much for a 2-gap lineman in a 3-4 whose primary job is to occupy blockers so the linebackers can make plays.
"I'm very excited to see what's going to happen," Geathers said. "I feel I'm having my best camp yet and am getting better and better.
"I've been used as a 2-gap end my whole [pro] career. Coming out of college, after playing in a 4-3 [at South Carolina], I wasn't used to it. I jumped gaps. I did things. But I feel I've matured a lot as a player with the great coaches I've had.
"Many players and coaches, people like [Cowboys nose tackle] Jay Ratliff and [Cowboys defensive assistant] Leon Lett, taught me the ropes, taught me the 2-gap. It paid off."
Geathers comes from a football family. His father, Robert Sr., was a 1981 Buffalo Bills draft pick whose career was cut short by injuries. His uncle, Jumpy Geathers, played 13 years in the league.
His older brother, Robert Sr., is in his 10th season with the Cincinnati Bengals. His younger brother, Kwame, is an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers. All have been defensive linemen.
His Uncle Jumpy, who played for four teams, prepared him for the uncertain NFL life.
"He told me, 'It's a cold league, man. It's cutthroat. You gotta be a dog to live in it,' " Geathers said. "That's what I've done. I've been a dog, man. Always kept my head up, everywhere I've been.
"Being cut five times and being traded once, man, those days when you need somebody to talk to, it's nice having an uncle who's been through it [getting released], a dad who's been through it, a brother who, maybe he hasn't been through it yet, but plays in the NFL. So he knows what it takes and how you're feeling those days when you get let down.
"I've had to prove myself six different times with six different teams. It didn't work out in those other places. But it is what it is. I don't hold my head down. I keep it high."
Geathers weighed just 299 pounds when he came out of college. Said he has put on about 15 pounds of muscle each of the last 3 years.
"I lose a lot of weight in practice each day," he said. "I have to gain it back. The first [training camp] practice we had, I lost 13 pounds. We used IVs and some other things to put it back on. I wasn't used to the fast pace. The pace of practice, it's game-speed, man. It's moving, moving, moving."
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