The Preseason is ‘Do or Die’ for Rookies like T.J. Edwards
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Uncertainty is one of the themes of the Eagles' linebacking corps right now with three veterans dealing with injury problems, projected starters Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill, as well as Paul Worrilow.
Grugier-Hill, one of the stars of training camp until going down with a Grade 3 MCL sprain on Saturday, is likely going to be sidelined into the regular season with what is typically a six- to eight-week injury, while Bradham and Worrilow are both fighting their way back from surgeries, the former from a toe injury suffered in the divisional-round playoff loss in New Orleans, and the latter from an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2018.
All of that could put undrafted rookie T.J. Edwards in the mix for a roster spot.
Incredibly productive at Wisconsin, the 6-foot-1, 242-pound Edwards was graded by most as a draftable commodity and was probably the biggest name in the Eagles' 2019 undrafted class.
"[The Eagles} were in contact with me in the sixth round and they told me they were out of picks and they really wanted me and things like that," Edwards told 973espn.com when asked why he picked Philadelphia. "So that's probably the first thing that they contacted me and then as the draft went on, I just kind of gravitated to them and you know, talking to [former Wisconsin teammate] Corey [Clement] and everything like that. With Corey being here and things like that. I was just kind of excited to get to this culture and I thought -- I still do think -- I fit in so I'm excited to see kind of where that goes."
Since KGH's injury and with Bradham still working only in individual drills, Jim Schwartz has turned to Nate Gerry and Zach Brown as the first-team options in the nickel with L.J. Fort mixing in at MIKE LB went the Eagles are in the base defense. Edwards has been prominent on the second-team often getting reps with former CFL star Alex Singleton or Fort.
"Every day, I think is a battle just in terms of trying to get better and trying to get that 1 percent better as cliche as it sounds," Edwards explained. "I think I've done a good job of that so far."
Edwards already feels a bit more comfortable than he did in the spring when all rookies are thrown into the deep end of the pool.
"It's light years different," he said. "It feels like just kind of seeing the bigger picture [on defense] and things. It's kind of been the real difference for me, instead of being locked in on one key the whole time, I'm able to kind of see everything and I think it's only going to get better as the reps continue and things like that."
Edwards' first big test comes Thursday night against Tennessee in the preseason opener where he is expected to garner significant playing time.
"I'm antsy man," Edwards admitted. "... I'm very excited to kind of go out there and let it loose play ball again."
Known as an instinctive run stuffer with the Badgers, Edwards understands the microscope will be on his pass coverage in an attempt to evaluate if he can succeed in the modern spread-and-shred NFL.
"It's definitely different. I think the game is moving faster," Edwards assessed. "So you got to have guys that can, you know, move fast as well. And you got guys who can cover tight ends running back especially in the middle and also be able to fit the run so I'm really just trying to do my best to kind of show that I can do both."
Getting to practice against star tight ends like Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert only helps.
"It helps a lot. Obviously that whole [tight end] room is very talented," Edwards said. "It's the NFL, so everyone's good. And you really got to be, you know, rise up to that competition every day."
Against the Titans, Edwards will get the opportunity to implement what he's learned for the first time and understands what's at stake.
"It's kind of do or die," he said. "It's the big boys game now so either kind of make plays or you don't. Even on special teams as well. You know, you kind of got to be out there assignment sound and also making plays to earn a roster spot. So I'm going to try to do whatever I can to make sure I do that."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen