Opportunity Knocks for Don Cherry
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It’s not the way Don Cherry wanted to make it happen but the little-known former Villanova linebacker has an opportunity to open some eyes over the next couple of weeks as he tries to become perhaps the unlikeliest member of the Eagles’ final 53-man roster.
The season-ending ACL injury to seventh-round pick Joe Walker, who had been impressing as the backup in the middle to Jordan Hicks, has elevated Cherry on the depth chart less than a month after he was brought back to Philadelphia.
“It sucks to see one of your teammates get hurt like that,” Cherry said before practice on Saturday, “but I just have to step up and play the role. I’ve been patiently waiting and preparing. Now I just have to do whatever I can to help the team.”
The former All-CAA selection originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears but was released after their offseason program, leaving him waiting for a phone call.
It eventually came from the Eagles, who desperately need depth at the linebacker position after starters Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham.
“I have just been trying to get better every single practice and every single rep whether it’s in a game or on the practice field,” Cherry said. “Just trying to prove myself and show coach I’m able to play on game day.”
Najee Goode and Walker were the two options virtually assured to be on the sidelines come Sept. 11 with undrafted rookies Quentin Gause and Myke Tavarres, as well as Deontae Skinner in the mix.
As a late signing Cherry was probably last on that list but as one of the few natural mike linebackers left standing on the team, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Cherry figures to get plenty of reps over the next few weeks as he attempts to change the long-shot narrative.
“[At the] linebacker spot, especially in the middle, right now Don Cherry is on the roster and he gets to fill that spot, and that’s where we’re at,” head coach Doug Pederson said before admitting, “I think we’re going to continue to look at (LB depth). Obviously, that’s been a spot that we’ve looked at all offseason and also in training camp.
“I know [Eagles executive vice president of football operations] Howie [Roseman] and his team are out there looking, and with the loss now to Joe, obviously something is going to have to be done.”
The Eagles have already been linked to veteran free agent linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who has a long history with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in both Tennessee and Detroit.
At 31, though, Tulloch isn’t going to be able to help on special teams, something Cherry understands is likely the key to shocking the world and making this football team.
“Obviously, that’s going to be the defining thing for me,” Cherry said. “Just getting on special teams and trying to do as much as I can there.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen