Matt Pryor is good with his hands. At age 5, he was changing diapers. By his senior season at Texas Christian, there wasn't a defensive lineman that could penetrate past him if he got his punch off first.
But hands can be a liability for NFL offensive linemen, especially if you show your cards too fast.
"During my combine training, my coach would always say, 'D-linemen see your hands like pieces of candy,' " Pryor said. "They're waiting for you to throw them so they can snatch them."
It's been the hardest lesson for the Eagles' sixth-round draft pick – knowing when to punch and how to counter. But considering how well he's performed in a short span of time, it's a minor concern. Pryor's early showing in training camp has many on the team predicting the Eagles, at the least, found themselves a keeper.
"I think he's going to be really good," guard Brandon Brooks said this week.
When Pryor faced Fletcher Cox for the first time this summer, the all pro swatted the guard's hands away, stuck his other arm into his chest and drove him back. Pryor hasn't had as many opportunities against the starters – he's currently at second team right guard behind Brooks – but his next few repetitions against Cox were better.
"I think he can play. He's got some fight in him," Cox said. "Guys like that, once they figure out what to do, it's just about how fast can you play."
Pryor is immense. He's listed at 6-foot-7, which is tall for a guard. But at 332 pounds, he has the necessary power for the interior. And he's more athletic than his pro day numbers would suggest. But tall trees tip over.
"Size always helps, but with height comes a little disadvantage on leverage," Pryor said. "It's something I've been working on – trying to keep my pad level down."
He has given up little during team drills, matched up mostly against second-year defensive tackle Elijah Qualls. But Pryor has shined most under the spotlight of one-on-one drills.
On Wednesday, for instance, he drove Aziz Shittu to the ground on successive rushes. He stonewalled Winston Craig. And when he kicked out to tackle and Joe Ostman tried a spin move, he shuffled his feet and fended off the rookie defensive end, which drew a high five from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
"I really like where he's at," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "Obviously, he's learning. He's a big guy playing the guard spot. He's hard to throw over. … He's getting better. [I'm] encouraged. Just these [preseason] games now in a week are really going to be important for guys like that."
At TCU, Pryor could dominate because he towered over his opponents and used his 36-inch arms to ward off rushers. But at this level, defensive line coaches spend many hours running their charges through drills designed to simulate the hand motions of offensive linemen.
"At this level, it's all hands," Brooks said. "As a young dude, you came from college and you're the … man. He was probably whipping [butt] out there. You come to the league and everybody's … good and you're not just going to put your hands on somebody. They work that [stuff] all day."
Bennett has some of the best coaches and teammates to help him break those bad habits. Stoutland is one of the best around. And Brooks, coming off a Pro Bowl season, has been helpful. But Pryor is also lucky to have defensive linemen like Cox and Michael Bennett, who have offered tips.
The Eagles have complimented Pryor's footwork, which has allowed him to cross-train at guard and tackle. He played at guard through most of college, but alternated between positions during his senior season. His versatility, for now, should help land him a spot on the Eagles' 53-man roster.
"We love his position flexibility," Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. He continued: He "brings his lunch pail to work every day. He's quiet. He's smart. He's picking it up. He can articulate the offense when asked questions."
Pryor struggled through some weight problems in college, which is probably why he dropped into the sixth round. He said after the draft that he weighed 380 pounds as a freshman but dropped about 15 pounds each successive year.
He was a chunky kid and didn't play organized football until his freshman year at San Pedro High in Long Beach, Calif. Pryor said he followed his cousin to the tryout and when the coach saw him from across the field, he called him over and handed him a pair of cleats.
Pryor said he didn't have much time for sports before that moment. His mother, Brandi Calandrino, was a single parent and he was responsible for helping to raise his three younger siblings. The first, brother Josh, came five years after he was born.
"It was tough. You know, a single mom situation," Pryor said. "So I had to always help out around the house, watch my three siblings, change diapers, what not."
When his mother married his step-father, Pryor transferred to Lakewood High and started receiving more recruitment letters. He didn't get an official offer until two weeks after national signing day because he was a late qualifier.
"It was TCU, and I liked the idea of moving away," Pryor said. "My family – we're real tight knit. I didn't really hang out with friends growing up. But I knew it was time."