WHEN CAREY SPEAR kicked at Vanderbilt, he would lift weights alongside the wide receivers and running backs. According to receiver Jordan Matthews, his teammate in college and now as a professional, Spear put up as many as 16 or 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
"He's not your regular kicker," said Matthews, the Eagles' recent second-round pick, "not your regular special-teams guy."
Spear - or as folks on the Internet have taken to calling him, "Murderleg" - is the undrafted placekicker the Eagles signed in the hours following the draft, presumably to push incumbent kicker Alex Henery in training camp. When word leaked out that a player with Spear's moniker was joining the Eagles, social-media channels were ablaze with intrigue, as well as links to his highlight-reel hits on kickoff coverage.
Spear, a built 5-9, 194 pounds, prides himself on being a football player, more so than just a kicker. In his mind, on kickoffs he's supposed to react to what occurs in front of him and try to make a football play, and he won't hesitate to do so. Larry Pinto, his coach at Mayfield High in Ohio, said, "If he wasn't our kicker, he'd probably have been our starting strong safety." James Franklin, Spear's coach at Vanderbilt who's now at Penn State, last week described his former three-time captain as "a football player who happens to kick."
That's exactly how Spear likes it.
"I think it has to do with just embracing the mission," Spear said this week at the NovaCare Complex. "With coach Franklin, it was having a positive attitude, great work ethic, competing in everything you do and being willing to sacrifice. When it comes to that, it's just about buying in, being all in. That's what coach [Chip] Kelly speaks of, too, being all-in as an Eagle."
Spear, who in high school made a 61-yard field goal, joined the Eagles on the heels of a collegiate career in which he converted 39 of 50 field-goal attempts, 35 of 43 over the last two seasons. His 20 field goals (on 24 attempts) as a junior set a single-season Vanderbilt record, his .833 percentage pacing the SEC that fall. He set a single-season school record last year with 99 points and also recorded touchbacks on 47 of 73 kickoffs.
Apparently, the Eagles took notice. Before the draft, special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp put Spear through a workout at Vanderbilt. The staff kept open the line of communication throughout the predraft process, to the point where Spear said he "wanted to end up in Philly."
Now that he's here, Spear is expected to compete with Henery, the former fourth-round pick whose 82 percent field-goal rate ranked 22nd in the NFL last season. Speaking this week about soaking up as much knowledge as possible from Henery, punter Donnie Jones and long snapper Jon Dorenbos, Spear went out of his way to single out Henery, whom he said has taken him under his wing.
"My mission right now," Spear said, "is to make Al better, make Donnie better, make Jon better and just make the Eagles organization better."
The kicking competition is one to keep an eye on throughout training camp and the preseason. Until then, the legend of "Murderleg" will continue to grow as the YouTube videos spread.
The best of his hits is the 2012 tackle of former Tennessee star Cordarrelle Patterson, a play impressive enough to make "SportsCenter's" Top 10. Patterson, who 5 months later became the Vikings' first-round draft pick, receives the kickoff at the 9-yard line, starts up the middle of the field and then cuts to his right. As he nears the 30-yard line, Spear levels him.
"If you watch the replay, you can't see the sidelines. We were going crazy," Matthews said. "Right when you heard it, we knew it was Carey."
"It was a good one," admitted Spear, who recorded 21 tackles in college. "Obviously, Cordarrelle's very talented, probably the most talented returner I went up against. People don't know that the one before that I completely whiffed on him.
"It's hit-or-miss with that, especially with these guys in the league. I know if there's an opportunity, I'm going to take my shot. But again, these guys are special back there."
If you watch the video, Spear is slow to get up after the helmet-to-helmet hit. He had actually sustained a mild concussion.
"But hey," he said, "it was worth it. Stopped him, so . . . "
Believe it or not, "Murderleg" was not a nickname Spear heard in college. Anchor of Gold, a Vanderbilt blog run by SBNation, gave Spear the moniker in a scouting report published May 2, just before the draft. Once those in Philadelphia caught wind days later, the new handle took off.
While Spear doesn't have much of an opinion of it - "I'm just focusing on doing my job," he said - the fans have certainly taken to "Murderleg." Spear said his new teammates have brought it up here and there.