THE FIRST THING you notice about Bill Sampy is the skinny legs.
There's no getting around it; Sampy, otherwise a lithe and muscular wideout at 5-11, 192, has calves that can only be classified as Pinkstonian. This is particularly noticeable when the players are wearing short pants and no pads, as they are in the minicamp for rookies and select vets that continues through this week.
The second thing you notice is that Sampy accelerates and cuts smoothly, catches the ball pretty effortlessly.
"He's a talented player. He'll be competing and fighting for a roster spot," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said this week. "I think he's a very good player. He's at that point in his career when he feels very comfortable with us, he makes very few mistakes. He'll be right in there."
Of course, that's easy to say 2 months before training camp. The truth is, there is a big logjam of players ahead of Sampy, who spent last season on the practice squad after signing as an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette. You figure Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown are the starters, Hank Baskett and Jason Avant compete for the slot role, with the loser working as the fourth guy, and either free-agent signee Bethel Johnson or 2006 fifth-rounder Jeremy Bloom - who also is doing very well in minicamp - will be the fifth receiver, the choice probably coming down to whichever of those guys wins the kick-return job. That leaves veteran Greg Lewis out of a spot, not to mention Sampy, unless someone gets injured and changes the equation.
When you're an undrafted guy coming off the practice squad, though, the focus is on the process, not the result. Sampy will play in preseason games, other teams will see him. There is a job out there somewhere, if not here.
"I know there's a chance I could get cut. It's in your head, but you can't think about it," Sampy said. "You just go out and give it your best effort . . . at the end of everything, I just want everybody to know - coaches, other players, even my family - that I gave it my best effort I can, and let the cards fall where they may."
Practice-squad projects like Sampy are often good athletes whose careers took a detour or two. Sampy said he got Division I attention coming out of Carencro (La.) High, but didn't qualify under Proposition 48. He didn't want to go to junior college and then transfer, so he accepted an offer at nearby Division I-AA Louisiana-Lafayette, where his mother, Dorothy, worked as a food-service cashier (he has her name tattooed on the back of his right shoulder; it's unclear whether that netted him extra dessert at dinnertime). The whole thing seemed to be working out pretty well through Sampy's junior year, when he caught 57 passes for 776 yards and six touchdowns and was named second-team All-Sun Belt Conference. Since he was a fourth-year junior, NFL teams seemed very interested in whether he was coming out for the draft, Sampy recalls.
Sampy decided to stay in school, but he didn't exactly help himself. First he was suspended for the season opener after a drug arrest, something he says was uncharacteristic of him and won't happen again. Then the returning quarterback was injured, forcing a freshman into the lineup and a switch to an option attack. The Ragin' Cajuns became the sort of team that would make Andy Reid break out in hives - they ran the ball more than 77 percent of the time and managed just three touchdown passes all year, all in the same game, while averaging just 132 yards per game through the air. Sampy amazingly kept his streak of games with at least one catch going, finishing his career with 40, but he caught just 29 passes as a senior.
That, the drug thing and a 4.5 time in the 40 (for a guy Eagles teammate Ryan Moats, formerly of Louisiana Tech, remembers as a speedster), combined to knock Sampy right out of the draft.
"It didn't go so great, my senior year, but I feel I'm still blessed just to get the opportunity," Sampy said.
Watching Sampy practice, the 40 time seems incongruous. This guy is plenty fast, coaches and teammates agree. The problem, Sampy said, was that his sprint technique was crude. He said if he had it to do over again, he would emphasize that part of draft preparation much more.
"I think he's got excellent speed and quickness," Mornhinweg said. "He appears to be a pretty natural [fluid and instinctive] player, and that's important, as well. He's catching the ball well."
In the current minicamp, special-teams coordinator Rory Segrest has been looking at Sampy as a punt returner, along with Bloom. Sampy returned punts and kicks his first 2 years at Louisiana-Lafayette.
"He's got a good burst. Obviously, for punt return, that's a good attribute to have," Segrest said. "He's got the ability to make the first guy miss and get us a few yards. He's a guy we feel like can at least have a shot back there."
The Eagles liked Sampy's athleticism right off the bat last year, but that option offense was not much of a preparation for Reid's West Coast high-wire act. Sampy said he learned just one of the three wideout roles as a rookie; now, in his second time through, he and wide-receivers coach David Culley figure he can handle lining up in the other spots.
"I'm starting to catch on to the offense a lot more," Sampy said. "My rookie year, it was very, very hard to adjust."
The practice-squad year helped, mostly through giving Sampy time to study his playbook. On the field, Sampy noted, practice-squad members usually do scout-team work, running the other team's plays. "It is hard; it's up to you, stay after practice with a quarterback, get extra work in, stay in your playbook," he said. "It is a tough situation. It's better than nothing, though . . . This year, I'm hoping I have a better chance of making the active roster."
The Eagles seem to be trying to set a record for fastest signing of draftees. Yesterday, fifth-round tight end Brent Celek, from Cincinnati, and sixth-round corner Rashad Barksdale, from Albany, agreed to terms on 4-year deals, bringing the total to five of the eight draftees now in the fold. Barksdale, who originally played baseball at Albany and was never on full scholarship, said paying off student loans would be a priority . . . The only unsigned rookies are top pick Kevin Kolb, a second-round quarterback from Houston, fellow second-round selection Victor Abiamiri, a defensive end from Notre Dame, and Hawaii seventh-round running back Nate Ilaoa. *