Kamu Grugier-Hill Looks Like a LB Now
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - There is a brass ring dangling in front of the Eagles' young linebackers and Kamu Grugier-Hill feels like his career arc has him in a position to reach for it.
“First year, [I] played special teams. Second year, was a really good special-teamer. This year, I want to move it on to defense," the Honolulu native said after practice on Friday. "Every year I want to grow.”
Philadelphia has an opening at weakside linebacker in the base defense after being forced to release Mychal Kendricks due to salary-cap constraints and losing one of his likely replacements, Paul Worrilow, a player with extensive starting experience in Atlanta and Detroit, to a torn ACL in the spring.
Throughout the first two weeks of camp, three players have been jockeying back and forth at the position, Grugier-Hill, free-agent pickup Corey Nelson, and second-year man Nate Gerry. Add in mike LB Joe Walker, who was taken a handful of snaps with the first team with Jordan Hicks moving over and you have four players fighting for what is typically 25 to 30 percent of the snaps on Jim Schwartz's defense.
Grugier-Hill has made the most splash plays in practice, most notably standing out in a live goal-line period on Thursday, first slicing into the backfield to stop Wendell Smallwood for a loss which ignited a "Kamu" chant and then breaking up a play-action pass designed to go to tight end Richard Rodgers.
Part of Grugier-Hill's early success in camp has to do with bulking up. Originally a sixth-round pick of New England back in 2016, Grugier-Hill popped up on the NFL's radar due to his 4.45 speed.
He was the classic tweener at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds who played a rover role at Eastern Illinois but in the modern NFL players of that size who have displayed coverage skills are often developed as nickel or dime LBs. Gerry, for instance, was a king-sized safety at Nebraska before the Eagles selected him in the fifth-round of the 2017 draft with the intent of making him a LB.
Nigel Bradham, one of Schwartz's two three-down LBs, along with Hicks, shook his head when discussing KGH:
"His speed, man. That guy can just run and now he looks like a LB just like Nate [Gerry}.
Grugier-Hill is now up to 230 pounds and has been able to keep at least most of his speed while adding more power and explosiveness to his personal toolbox.
“I think the days of 250-, 260-pound linebackers is definitely dead," Grugier-Hill said before pivoting. "You still need to be able to be physical in the run game. It’s a lot easier when you’re a little heavier.”
There also is a give and take with special teams because Grugier-Hill has become a core part of Dave Fipp's coverage units, leading the team with 19 ST tackles last season. Sometimes the value there can cause coaches to unfairly stereotype players.
“I kind of put myself in that situation,” Grugier-Hill admitted.
Excelling on special teams is not something any player should regret, however, and the limited work the weakside LB typically sees should mean Grugier-Hill's work on special teams isn't scaled back all that much anyway.
“He’s obviously a tremendous four-core special teams guy for us,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “That role is going to stay the same for him. He’s very valuable there. His weight has gone up this offseason, this training camp. He’s a guy that we can kind of plug and play in that weakside linebacker position."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen