‘Just in Case’ is Here for T.J. Edwards
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In the wake of Kamu Grugier Hill's season-ending back surgery, the Eagles need a third linebacker for Sunday's NFC East showdown with Dallas.
Considering the effect Ezekiel Elliott has had on Philadelphia in the past the most likely candidate is T.J. Edwards, the 6-foot-1, 242-pound undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin.
Grugier-Hill, like fellow starter Nate Gerry, is more of a modern NFL LB, a souped-up 230-pounder who starred in college at Eastern Illinois as a rover. Gerry himself was a safety at Nebraska before making the transition at the pro level and typically having second-level defenders who can run and hold up in pass coverage is more important than ever in this league.
Everything is life is situational, however. And the situation on Sunday will likely call for more of a downhill run defender.
Elliott has always been the foundation of the explosive top-ranked Cowboys offense and his impact should only increase during a late-season game in the Northeast in which Dak Prescott is dealing with a painful shoulder injury and there is little chance the Dallas quarterback will be at 100 percent.
The Cowboys will need to lean on Elliott even more against a team that has never beaten Dallas when the Ohio State product has been on the field. And if that's the case the Eagles defense could be in more base 4-3 than usual with Nigel Bradham, Gerry and Edwards on the field.
“My role definitely will be increased a little bit," Edwards said earlier this week. "You can expect a little more from me on defense."
In another era, Edwards would have likely been a premium draft pick as a production Big Ten player with 52 starts and 367 tackles, ninth on a Badgers' all-time list which also includes former NFL players like Tim Krumrie and Chris Borland. Edwards was a first-team All-American in 2017 and All-Big Ten in both 2017 and 2018.
These days NFL teams aren't necessarily looking for the old-school downhill LB, at least until the situation arises. Edwards ended up as a targeted undrafted signing by the Eagles and his ascent began in the offseason with LB coach Ken Flajole embarking on a cross-training plan that forced Edwards and his peers to learn each position -- Mike, Will and Sam.
"Coming in here Flajole made sure we knew all the spots just in case," Edwards said. "For any situation, just in case. So I think it definitely helps knowing where everyone fits in the defense and things like that. It's also helped me expand my knowledge of our defense in general."
Just in case is here.
It's not a coincidence that Edwards' high-water mark for playing time in his rookie season was 22 snaps against Elliott and Dallas back on Oct. 20 where he recorded three tackles. Expect even more playing time on Sunday.
"I don't really know schematically what I'll be doing but I know I'll be ready for it," Edwards said. "... I'm really comfortable. I think for me I needed some reps. I really needed to see it with my own eyes, kinds watch these guys [the defensive linemen] in front of me, see how they were attacking things. As time went on, it helped me feel a lot more comfortable in this defense."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen