Eli Harold eager to return to his natural defensive end position

Ed Kracz

Eli Harold hasn’t played defensive end since his college days at the University of Virginia earlier in this decade. That’s about to change.

The Eagles traded for Harold at the start of the weekend and will make him put his hand in the dirt once again. And he’s excited about it.

“I love it,” said Harold following his first practice as an Eagle on Sunday. “That’s my natural position, no matter what going forward is always better than dropping in coverage a lot, so I’m excited.”

Harold was with the Buffalo Bills until he got word that he would be heading to Philly in exchange for undrafted free agent offensive tackle Ryan Bates. The news came a few hours after Harold had played in the Bills’ preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Listed as a linebacker, he played 38 snaps against Indy, which was 50 percent of the plays, and was credited with one tackle.

VIDEO: Eli Harold talks about his new team and new role

Originally drafted in the third round, the 79th player taken overall, by the San Francisco 49ers in 2015, Harold was moved to outside linebacker out of college, playing first in a 3-4 then in a 4-3 as the 49ers went through three different coaches in Harold’s three years in the city by the bay.

The 49ers traded him for a seventh-round pick to the Detroit Lions after the 2017 season. Harold recorded four sacks last year for the Lions, but that wasn’t enough to earn him a new contract, so he signed a one-year deal in the offseason with the Bills.

Returning to defensive end could be just what Harold needs to jumpstart his career. It may not happen right away, because he could be a bit underweight at 255, though he is 6-3.

“I think scheme plays a big part into a player’s success,” said Harold. “(The Eagles’) scheme is amazing, it’s nice to be around. First off, it’s nice to feel wanted. I’m excited about the opportunity. I can’t wait to get to work with the guys, man, and really learn and try to mold and build this thing the right way.”

Harold couldn’t quite put a finger on why he didn’t feel wanted in Buffalo, but he was happy to be with the Eagles.

“Obviously it’s a business, but to come to a new place and I already feel it, the guys, I feel like they’ve accepted me already and I haven’t been here 24 hours,” he said. “And being in a room with a lot of veterans plays a big part in that and it’s just a veteran team and they know how to win here. I’m just glad I’m here.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked about Daeshon Hall on Sunday and the description could apply to Harold.

“(Hall) was a 3-4 outside linebacker, and had worked, like, really hard to keep weight off,” said Schwartz. “Then get him halfway through the season, and then he's working to put weight on. It's a tough situation.

“He filled a nice role for us, and not just us on defense, he made a couple plays on special teams last year. Now he's added some weight. You see a little bit bigger physical stature for him. Can do some things.”

Hall had a strong game against the Tennessee Titans in the preseason opener, but has missed both practices since with a shoulder injury that has him listed as day-to-day.

For now, Harold will bring speed and quickness off the edge, as he competes for a role at a wide open defensive spot after Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Vinny Curry.

“Good body for what we are looking for,” said Schwartz, of Harold. “Our scouts had liked him a couple years ago. He has had a little bit of production. He played sort of a hybrid role last year for Detroit, but we are a little bit different. Put his hand in the ground and let him come.

“He’s big, he’s strong and we will add him to the mix and see where it turns out, but he does have a little bit of experience. It’s a little bit different than a rookie coming in. We should get him up to speed pretty quickly.”