PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles entered training camp with one of the deepest offensive lines in football and when the preseason was all said and done, Brett Toth’s play demanded a spot on the 53-man roster.
The former Army Black Night is just the latest success story for one of the NFL's most successful and high-profile assistant coaches: Eagles offensive line mentor Jeff Stoutland.
The headline when it comes to Stoutland is always going to be Jordan Mailata, the monstrous Aussie who looks like he's on the verge of becoming a high-level left tackle despite arriving in Philadelphia four years ago as a guy who didn't even know how to put on his helmet.
But don't sleep on turning a second lieutenant in the Army with a degree in nuclear engineering into a top-tier player either and Toth also seems to be navigating that path.
Philadelphia has been through hand-wringing before with Toth, an intriguing prospect out of West Point who was a great run-blocker in the triple-option offense before graduating and beginning his military commitment.
Toth finally got the go-ahead to try professional football in August of 2019 when former President Donald Trump established a policy allowing waivers from the Department of Defense for potential professional athletes to pursue their dreams.
Toth quickly signed a three-year deal with the Eagles as a developmental prospect who first needed to add the weight that he lost while fulfilling a year of his military obligation before being granted a deferment.
The plan was to get Toth through waivers and onto the practice squad where Stoutland could mold a player with some really solid natural skills. And it seemed like an easy path because Toth had been out of football for nearly two full years, missed training camp and the first two preseason games.
Whether it was the publicity Toth got for the deferment or his play in the final two preseason games, Arizona threw a monkey wrench into the plans by claiming Toth off waivers. He remained with the Cardinals for 13 months before being waived off injured reserve on Oc. 6 last year.
The Eagles hadn’t forgotten the original plan and Toth was claimed off waivers the next day. Toth ultimately made his NFL debut in Week 6 of last season against Baltimore and started his first game at right tackle, his position in college at Army, in Week 17 against Washington.
He impressed this summer at left tackle and kept playing better and better even when the competition was amped up as the second-team option when Andre Dillard missed time with a knee injury.
When Dillard returned, Toth started getting significant reps at left guard, a clear indication the Eagles were speeding up cross-training to make sure Toth’s spot on the roster was secure.
“[Stoutland] came up and told me that you’re going to be playing left guard,” Toth joked. “... you can’t be someone who’s fixated on one position, especially as a backup. You recognize these things, especially going into a 17-game season.
"Injuries are huge part of it. Your depth is probably the most important piece. And you do yourself a disservice if you try to fixate on one thing. And honestly, it adds value to be able to go to different things.”
Toth is now serving as one of the Eagles’ backup OL, along with Dillard, and interior players Nate Herbig, and second-round rookie Landon Dickerson.
Once Jack Driscoll was placed on injured reserve with a strained pec Thursday, it became clear that Toth might be the team’s best option as the game day swing tackle because Dillard lacks versatility and Toth simply outlasted veteran Le'Raven Clark and Driscoll.
“I’m very tough on myself,” Toth said of his development. “Whenever a play doesn’t go as well as I’d like it to go, I get the job done, but again it’s not to the standard as the guys in front of us. I feel like I’m not improving fast enough.”
Stoutland notices Toth’s drive and pushes even harder.
“Stout, he notices how tough I am on myself and he challenges you as much as possible. Sometimes you feel like it’s overbearing,” Toth said, “but you gotta remember that the next day is a new slate and you start all over.
“Just keep improving.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.