Grant Calcaterra was off and running the first 2 ½ days of training camp, catching everything, getting in the end zone, looking for all the world like a polished NFL tight end as a rookie 6th-round pick.
On July 30, during just the third practice of the summer, Calcaterra pulled up.
He didn’t practice again until Aug. 19.
In all, Calcaterra missed 20 days of work, including 10 full practices, four walkthroughs and two games.
That's most of training camp, invaluable time for a rookie.
“This was new for me,” he said. “I’ve never really had a hamstring (injury) before.”
With Calcaterra on the sideline for three weeks and Noah Togiai enjoying a solid camp, there were some very real questions whether the Eagles would IR Calcaterra before final cuts – ending his season – and keep Togiai as the third tight end behind Dallas Goedert and Jack Stoll.
Then Calcaterra came back for Day 2 of joint practices with the Browns, and somehow it looked like he hadn’t missed a day.
“I felt like I was doing well in camp to start, and injuries are just kind of part of the game,” he said. “I was able to get healthy and practice this week and play in a game, and when it comes down to it that’s all you can ask for.”
After missing the Jets and Browns games, Calcaterra made his NFL debut Saturday night in the Eagles’ preseason finale against the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, and he was one of the few positives to come out of the game for the Eagles.
On a 2nd-and-10 on the final play of the first quarter, Calcaterra got himself wide open on a shallow cross, extended up in the air to reel in a short Reid Sinnett pass that was thrown too high, turned the corner to the right sideline (behind a block from Togiai) and plowed down the field for a 24-yard pickup, including 22 yards after the catch, before he was finally tackled by 2015 Eagles 2nd-round pick Eric Rowe.
It was the Eagles' only pass play of the game of at least 20 yards.
“I thought he had a good week of practice this week and good to see him back on the field,” Nick Sirianni said. “And then today I'll have to watch (the film), but he made a nice catch on that shallow and showed some acceleration after that, which was good to see.”
Calcaterra finished his first NFL game with two catches for 30 yards. Not bad for a guy who’s only had three practices coming off a three-week layoff.
“I think I’m learning every day,” he said. “I think I did a good job at taking mental reps (during his layoff), taking advantage of watching film, watching our other tight ends play and then this week taking advantage of my playing time.”
We knew Calcaterra could catch the football, but he was never really asked to do much blocking at Oklahoma and then at SMU.
And nobody expects Calcaterra to become a Goedert type of blocker, but to play in the NFL you have to at least be able to make an effort along the line of scrimmage and get in someone’s way.
“Yeah, with some of the ‘F’ (receiving) tight ends who’ve been more receiving threats in college, that’s an adjustment they have to make,” Sirianni said. “They can’t be a liability in the running game. They have to be able to go in there and execute. You limit what you ask them to do (but) that’s just something we’re always going to be working on to get better with him because he doesn’t have a lot of experience with it right now.”
Calcaterra played 32 snaps Saturday night in Miami – plus 17 on special teams – and a lot of that time was devoted to getting live run blocking reps.
Which was an entirely new experience for him.
“It’s definitely been challenging,” he told reporters after the game. “But you know, I feel like with every rep I get I’m getting better. Coach (Jason) Michael’s been helping me out a ton. I’ve been able to watch obviously guys like Dallas block so that’s helped me a lot. And the guys in the room have been talking to me and have been helping me. So it’s been great.
“I do feel like I have a high football IQ and I’m able to adjust well. And, yeah, we have great coaches here and so I always feel prepared in practice and in games."
Final cuts must be made by 4 p.m. Tuesday, but now healthy and productive, Calcaterra appears to have the team made.
Which is impressive considering how much time he missed.
“My coach specifically told me they know what I could do in the pass game," he said. "They obviously wanted to see what I can do in the run game. So I did a little bit of everything tonight.”