When Emil Igwenagu takes the field at Gillette Stadium Monday night for the Eagles against the Patriots, one of the people responsible for him appearing in the NFL won’t be there.
“We still have practice Monday night, so I can’t go,” said Holy Name (Worcester) coach Mike Pucko. “This is a test. When you preach no one person is more important than the team all these years and then when you get to a point like this, you have to back it.
“We’ll knock off a little early and get in front of a TV. Wouldn’t miss it.”
Igwenagu, an undrafted fullback/tight end out of UMass, is expected to play on special teams in the first half for the Eagles, and then he’ll get his turn at fullback in the second half.
Fullback? In the NFL? Yup, it’s still around in a few spots, including New England.
“You need a fullback, yeah,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid. “In our offense, yeah, you need a fullback.”
The Eagles have two, after Owen Schmitt left as a free agent. Igwenagu is in a battle with incumbent Stanley Havili, the former Southern Cal standout who spent last season learning the offense on the practice squad.
“I have great confidence in Stanley, and Emil is doing a fine job as well,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. “Stanley has been in this offense for just a little bit longer, so he certainly has that step ahead. There is some excellent competition at the fullback spot with both of them.”
This is already the second position switch for Igwenagu, a Boylston native, in his short stint with the Eagles. He started at fullback, then moved to tight end and H-back when Brent Celek was injured. Igwenagu showed he could handle that position, so the Eagles want to see what he can do just concentrating at fullback.
“You just have to get situated with terminology and all that, and once that happens, everything is fine,” Igwenagu said. “Football is football, so I’ve been pretty good with all the material so far.”
Hopping positions is old hat for Igwenagu.
He was a C-back (right back) in the double wing at Holy Name and finished his high school career with 5,037 yards and 54 touchdowns on 470 carries, being named MVP of two Super Bowls. But he was recruited as a linebacker at UMass.
“Donnie Brown was the head coach at the time — and Donnie ran the defense — he just thought he was the perfect outside linebacker with his size, speed, and athletic ability,” Pucko said. “He was center on the basketball team at 6-1 and he was outjumping kids from Newton North that were going Division 1 [Anthony Gurley and Corey Lowe]. He just ate them up in the states.”
Igwenagu joined UMass’s offense full-time as a junior at H-back and fullback. Now he’s doing the dance again.
“He’s caught in the middle again,” Pucko said. “Fullback isn’t a big position in the NFL, and they’ve got some tight ends. There are some real issues there. So I don’t know. Do I think he’s going to make it somewhere? Absolutely, because he’s just a tremendous overall athlete.
“He was always being the first one in the weight room and the last one to leave. He was just the ultimate team player and he still is. The Eagles ask him to go from fullback to H-back to tight end, he just jumps over in practice and does it. It’s the same thing he did as a kid.”
Pucko and Igwenagu have been working together since Igwenagu showed up at the Pop Warner fields in the sixth grade. He played varsity in the seventh grade when Pucko was coaching at West Boylston. There have been a lot of car rides — with long talks — to and from practice over the years.
“He’s helped me out with everything,” Igwenagu said. “Obviously I went through high school with him and then when it came down to choosing a college, he helped me through that process as well. He’s always been there, back then and even now.”
One person who will be in attendance at Gillette is Igwenagu’s mother, Josephine Chukuzmeca. She raised him and his three brothers as a single mother and is responsible for the tough-minded son who will take the field for the Eagles.
“She’s tough,” Pucko said. “She played the role of making sure he did all the right things and obviously she wants the best for all of them, but Emil was just a different kid. He worked hard all the time.”
Said Igwenagu, “She definitely did a great job with us. My mother has always preached hard work and perseverance, and just having those two things behind has helped me get to this point. Being able to be a hard-working individual is something I’ve definitely learned from her.”
Igwenagu said it would be nice to take a big step toward making the Eagles with a big game against the Patriots, but he knows it’s just part of the process.
“I guess, but at the same time I only do what the coaches ask of me,” he said. “If it’s just blocking, that’s what I’ll be doing Monday night. I have no problem with that. I’m only doing what the coaches ask me to do.”
That’s what he’s been doing to get to this point.
AGENCY UNDER FIRE
Charges aimed at Rosenhaus
Many NFL tongues were sent wagging last week when Rand Getlin and Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported that a suspended high-level employee of Rosenhaus Sports — the leading agency for NFL players —
Rosenhaus Sports vice president Danny Martoe made the claims against Drew and Jason Rosenhaus in an arbitration filing with the NFL Players Association.
Rosenhaus represents eight Patriots — Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes, Donald Thomas, Donte’ Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Visanthe Shiancoe, Marcus Forston, and Will Allen.
Martoe, who is on administrative leave with pay, said in the filing that he contributed to more than 91 players signing with Rosenhaus, including Gronkowski, for whom the agency negotiated a contract extension this offseason.
A fee dispute is at the center of the filing, but Martoe made several allegations that indicate this could be the tip of the iceberg for problems with Rosenhaus.
Martoe alleged that Rosenhaus Sports suggested he introduce players to a financial adviser who would “give Rosenhaus Sports a bigger loan and a better [loan] rate,” which would result in Martoe getting “paid faster.” That would be against NFLPA policies. Agents can’t cut side deals that could be viewed as a conflict of interest.
Martoe made other claims that will be seized on by other agents looking to take down one of the most powerful agencies in the business:
■ In 2009, Drew Rosenhaus had to lend the company $300,000 to cover costs.
■ In 2010, Rosenhaus Sports did not pay employee salaries for two months.
■ In February 2011, “Rosenhaus Sports admitted that paychecks were late one week because the firm was ‘on empty.’ ”
■ The firm’s “financial difficulties are a product of, among other things, the manner in which it recruits and maintains its clients with loans, advances, other payments, i.e. marketing guarantees or reductions in agent fees due to Rosenhaus Sports.”
Regardless of what happens with the NFLPA — and other agents have complained for years that the union has done nothing to Rosenhaus because it is stocked with Rosenhaus loyalists — other agents will consider this blood in the water.
For Rosenhaus, who wrote a book called “A Shark Never Sleeps,” it means he’s likely being circled.
FAST ACTION NEEDED
Officially, it’s crunch time
We’re getting very close to the point where there has to be a breakthrough in the lockout of officials by the NFL, or the season will have to start with replacement officials.
And if you’re a fan of the Patriots, Packers, Saints, or another team that likes to push the envelope of fast-paced offense, you should be hoping the sides end the lockout and get the real officials in place.
Four general managers we talked to last week felt the biggest impact would be felt by teams that like to go no-huddle to keep the defense off-balance.
“No offense to the refs that are out there —
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association are fighting over pay, pensions, and how the NFL’s proposal to introduce three additional full crews — to lessen stress and travel, among other things — would affect things.
The NFLRA maintains that the proposal to increase the number of officials came only last month and is a negotiating tactic.
The NFL also wants to hire seven full-time officials, at each position, to assist in training. The NFLRA wants to be sure they are fairly compensated on the level of other professional sports.
As far as the pension, as with other NFL employees, the league is moving to a 401(k) plan. The NFLRA wants officials to be grandfathered into the current plan.
Whatever the issues, both sides want to resolve this quickly. In 2001, replacement officials were used for one game. This lockout can’t go much further before it starts to affect the playoff race.
The biggest issue is safety. If the lockout doesn’t end soon, the NFL risks looking hypocritical (if it doesn’t already). Commissioner Roger Goodell has preached endlessly about player safety being a priority, yet the men charged with protecting players — NFL officials — won’t be in their usual positions for the start of the season because of money? How is that going to play?
Let’s not forget about the threat of gamblers getting in the ears of replacement officials, saying, “We both know you won’t be working long; want to make some real money by throwing a few calls our way?”
Safety and integrity are supposed to be the pillars of the new NFL.
Sure seems like a lot to risk over what amounts to a drop in the bucket of the billion-dollar NFL.
A wealth of information
One of the must-have books prior to each football season is the FootballOutsiders.com Almanac, from the Boston-based group, and it’s in stores now. There is always a ton of good information through its statistical analysis and the game-charting project it does each season. Football Outsiders puts the Patriots’ mean win total at 12 against a schedule it predicts to rank 28th-most difficult. Here are a few of the most interesting nuggets about the Patriots. No defensive-minded head coach has fielded a defense as bad as the 2011 Patriots in the past 20 years of FO statistics. The saving grace for the defense was that it bent but didn’t break. No team gave up as many yards per drive (37.5) dating back to 1997, but the Patriots were the eighth-best defense in the red zone last season. The Patriots’ “points prevented per drive” statistic was the best of any team the past 15 seasons. Only the Panthers and Rams had more games lost to injury. Rob Gronkowski had the greatest season by a tight end since FO started keeping statistics in 1991. Last season the Patriots threw to the running backs a league-low 9.5 percent of the time. It had been at least 17 percent since FO began tracking it. Zoltan Mesko, despite punting only 57 times, was worth 9.1 points of estimated field position — tied for fourth in the league, according to FO.
1. In the preseason, the NFL is experimenting with synthetic laces on the football instead of the usual leather ones. The league’s pretty boys are not amused. “They’re terrible,” reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers told ESPN Milwaukee. OK, then.
2. Jets linebacker Bart Scott said he expects Mark Sanchez to “take that next step” and be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. He’s in his fourth season after being the fifth overall pick. Glad they’re setting the bar high.
3. And Jets coach Rex Ryan said the defense will be in the top five. Why are the Jets so obsessed with rankings? Just win games, Rex. Nobody cares about style points.
4. Coach Joe Philbin said Chad Johnson’s arrest wasn’t the only reason he was cut by the Dolphins. “Hard Knocks” made that abundantly clear when David Garrard said, “I’m going to have to talk to Chad. He does so much stuff that I don’t know if he’s not getting the plays . . .” Wonder how many times that was said with the Patriots.
5. Patriots fans should definitely be excited to see what speedster Jeff Demps can add. They’ve finally added some actual talent to the return game. But considering that personnel executives polled said he would have been drafted from the fourth to the seventh round (one said late seventh) had he declared, Demps has to prove himself like every rookie.
If you’ve tuned to “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins,” you may have noticed a very thick Boston accent from offensive line coach Jim Turner. Turner was born in Boston and graduated from Braintree High in 1983. He coached from 1994-98 at Northeastern and was the line coach/run-game coordinator at Harvard from 2000-02. Turner also served as an infantry officer in the Marines from 1990-94. Turner came to the Dolphins from Texas A&M, where he served under Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, another Massachusetts native. Philbin said in June that he expected the camera to like his line coach. “Jimmy Turner, the Irish Catholic Marine from Boston, is probably going to be a star,” Philbin said . . . The Bills had an especially ugly preseason opener against the Redskins, with 14 penalties, including eight of the pre-snap variety. “That is just undisciplined,” coach Chan Gailey said. “That is my fault.” . . . Less than a week after coming off PUP following offseason hip surgery, Waltham native Mackenzy Bernadeau had a very solid debut for the Cowboys at right guard Monday night against the Raiders . . . The twin nephews of former NFL linebacker Brian Bosworth are with the Jaguars (Kyle) and Raiders (Korey). Yes, both are linebackers . . . With several veterans — such as Aaron Smith, James Farrior, and Hines Ward — gone from the Steelers, safety Troy Polamalu, 31, has taken more of a leadership role. He decided to take part in offseason practices this year instead of working out in California. Polamalu even spent time at receiver in a drill last week to give the young defensive backs some tips. “Troy realizes he has to take a bigger, not necessarily a more vocal role but a visible one,’’ safety Ryan Mundy said. ‘‘Things that are voluntary, he’s making a point to be at to show that, ‘Hey I am one of the leaders on the team and you’ll see my face.’ ’’
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.