Nate Gerry Could Take on Bigger Role for Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Mychal Kendricks is in Cleveland and Paul Worrilow is on injured reserve, developments that make linebacker perhaps the one position you look at on the reigning Super Bowl champions and question whether or not the Philadelphia Eagles have enough.
The answer to that probably lies in the health of Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham.
In the modern-day NFL, only two LBs play all the time and both of Philadelphia's nickel options have proven themselves time and time again. Bradham, however, is the only one who has been able to stay healthy while two of Hicks' three professional seasons have been cut short by injuries: a pec tear during his rookie campaign and a torn Achilles' which forced the Eagles to go on the street late last season to bring in a veteran like Dannell Ellerbe for depth.
Kendricks proved to be an excellent insurance policy as the third LB and stepped in admirably for Hicks in the run toward Super Bowl LII but Howie Roseman understood Kendricks' contract was no longer viable if he was back in a sub-package role and playing only 25 percent of the time.
That's why veterans with some special-teams acumen like Worrilow and Corey Nelson were targeted in free agency, to take over the Will LB position in the base defense while also providing some insurance in case of injury.
Worrilow, however, never made it through his first OTA practice after colliding with Nelson in the NovaCare Complex practice bubble.
Nelson remains standing and the ex-Denver Bronco is the odds-on favorite to take over the Kendricks' role but another option seemed to emerge during the spring, second-year player Nate Gerry, the former Nebraska safety who is trying to make the switch to LB at the professional level.
A fifth-round pick in 2017, the Eagles saw something in Gerry and wanted him to bulk up from the 212 pounds he played at in Lincoln to the 231 pounds he now carries on a 6-foot-2 frame in Philadelphia.
In other words, Gerry was always going to be a developmental project and now that he's remade his body the Eagles are hoping his coverage skills can turn him into a potential three-down LB.
“Last year it took me a while to get going,” Gerry admitted. “... I was able to have a lot of practice time and the transition got easier and easier. I think it went kind of smoothly for me. Now I am much more comfortable and understands things better."
Gerry credits Bradham, who took over the leadership role on a Super Bowl defense seamlessly after Hicks went down last season, as the player who's helped him most.
"Nigel is quiet so many people don't know how smart a player he is," Gerry explained. "He has been there for me. Any question I have he is always willing to help."
With Hicks still rehabbing his Achilles and not working in team drills this spring and Bradham getting a few days off to welcome his daughter to the world Gerry got plenty of opportunities to work with the first-team defense in OTAs, an important step for the young player.
"It really is important," LB coach Ken Flajole said. "Getting those kind of reps is going to help any young player and Nate did a really good job with them.
"... All the young guys, the Kamus [Grugier-Hill], the Nate Gerrys, the Joe Walkers, they’re all in the mix and I think any time that you lose a starter, I think they see it as an opportunity for them to maybe get a chance to get on the field."
In Gerry's case, like Grugier-Hill, another undersized LB who played more of a rover role in college at Eastern Illinois, Flajole understands August and the pads will be important because while athleticism and coverage skills are important, physicality often trumps everything at LB.
“Training camp will really be the litmus test for us — when we put the pads on through training camp and through the preseason," Flajole admitted. "When we actually play tackle football. We’ll get a better idea of who’s going to emerge as a starter at the Will position for us in the base 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
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