For 165 hours each week last season, the life of Eagles linebacker Travis Long was not much different from that of the players on the active roster. He participated in every practice. He attended every meeting. He traveled on every road trip.
The only difference was those three hours during the game, when his teammates wore uniforms and Long wore a warm-up suit with the other practice-squad players.
"In every meeting, traveling, doing everything the same, it did make me feel a part of the team," Long said. "What I did helped on Sundays."
This year, he might be able to play on Sundays. Long, a 22-year-old from Washington State, is an under-the-radar player generating buzz at the NovaCare Complex this spring after spending his first season on the practice squad. He played in a variety of roles Tuesday, the first day of the Eagles' three-day mandatory minicamp.
"He's really improved," coach Chip Kelly said. "He has really made some great strides and is a guy that's really pushing hard to make this football team. I think he'll be able to contribute from a special-teams standpoint, obviously adding some depth at the outside linebacker spot. So he's definitely a guy you have to keep an eye on right now."
Long's body lives up to his surname, and he has filled his 6-foot-4 frame with 255 pounds - 15 more than last July, when the Eagles signed him as an undrafted rookie during training camp. Long was still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was hurt in November 2012, keeping him out of the predraft process.
Kelly mentioned Long as a player he was eager to see before the team reported in April. When general manager Howie Roseman spoke before the draft about the team's search for edge rushers, he singled out Long as someone "in the building who can do the job."
Long, who played in a 3-4 defense during his senior year in college, worked on his pass drops with outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern before each game last season. He had 91/2 sacks as a senior at Washington State, but Long pointed to his 42 tackles for losses in his college career as evidence of his all-around game. He said he pursues the ball, not just the quarterback.
Long has worked behind Connor Barwin and Trent Cole, and is able to play both outside linebacker spots. During Tuesday's practice, he was seen rushing with his hand in the ground, dropping into coverage, and setting the edge.
"I don't think I'm making too many mistakes," Long said. "I'm being where I'm supposed to be. That's kind of one of the main things that they're pleased with."
The dilemma, as is always the case for undrafted players, is roster space. Barwin and Cole are the starters at outside linebacker with major financial commitments. Marcus Smith was the team's first-round pick. Brandon Graham is a former first-round pick, a distinction that often prolongs shelf life. Bryan Braman was a free-agent acquisition who was guaranteed $1 million. That's already five linebackers and does not even include others vying for spots.
Long said he cannot spend his time worrying about what will happen. He already made an impression on the coaching staff last season and this spring. If it continues, he could finally leave an impression with fans on Sundays.
"I feel like if I do what I'm supposed to, I have a chance to make the roster," Long said. "I need to show them I'm consistent. I'm consistent on special teams, on defense; I need to be consistent with the play calls and be where I'm supposed to be."
Safety Ed Reynolds, a fifth-round pick, returned to the Eagles last week after completing his term at Stanford. Reynolds watched video of practices, listened to podcasts of meetings, and had Skype sessions with coaches during his absence. . . . Kelly said receiver Jeremy Maclin has "not missed anything" this spring in his recovery from a torn ACL. Maclin said he is just as fast and can make every cut he did a year ago. The next big test comes with tackling in the summer.