From street free agent to Eagles' starting LB in 6 weeks

Photo: NBCSP

From street free agent to Eagles' starting LB in 6 weeks

In a matter of six weeks, Dannell Ellerbe appears to have gone from street free agent to the Eagles' starting middle linebacker.

After lining up for all of one defensive snap in his first five games with the Eagles, Ellerbe popped up in a prominent role in the 19-10 win Monday over the Raiders. The veteran made the start at MIKE and was on the field for 39 percent of the plays.

From the sound of things, this wasn't a one-off, either. The middle linebacker job appears to be Ellerbe's.

"It's probably more the way we're leaning going forward," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Wednesday.

While Ellerbe's expanded role was somewhat unexpected, Schwartz indicated the move had been in the works for some time.

"He had a lot of things we liked, it just wasn't an overnight thing getting him in there," Schwartz said. "But he's worked really hard at it, and I think it showed in the game."

The Eagles have been searching for a solution in the middle since Jordan Hicks was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles in Week 7.

Nigel Bradham has taken on Hicks' play-calling responsibilities, but he and fellow starter Mychal Kendricks are natural outside linebackers. Second-year player Joe Walker auditioned in the middle but had not played since suffering a stinger against the Bears in November. Special teams ace Najee Goode got some looks as well.

Yet it seems Ellerbe was being groomed to take over from the beginning. Signed during the Eagles' bye week, the 32-year-old just needed time to get up to speed.

"Just like any other player," Schwartz said, "he's still got a long way to go, but I like the way he's trending, and we think that he can help us going forward."

Ellerbe wasn't with an NFL team during training camp or OTAs, and he likely needed time just to get back into football shape. Schwartz's scheme was also new to Ellerbe, who primarily played weakside linebacker in stops with the Saints, Dolphins and Raiders.

With the playoffs quickly creeping up, it was time to see what the Eagles' new toy could do vs. the Raiders.

"He's a tough, inside-run defender," Schwartz said, "used his hands well, was active, stepped up, and made a big tackle for a loss in that game."

In what was essentially his Eagles debut, Ellerbe finished with four tackles in 27 snaps and played four snaps on special teams as well.

Despite being named the starter, Ellerbe may not play as prominent a role every week. Bradham and Kendricks remained the linebackers in the Eagles' nickel package, which means Ellerbe's workload will hinge on how opposing offenses choose to attack.

Even in a limited capacity, Ellerbe brings something to the MIKE spot his competition did not: experience.

Ellerbe has appeared in 89 games, including playoffs, making 50 starts. He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2012 and has been a productive player in the league for a long time. Injuries were the only reason he was on the street in the first place.

Apparently healthy and up to speed, Ellerbe is ready to make an impact for the Eagles, exactly as Bradham predicted at the time of the signing.

"For us following the game for some time, we've all seen him play," Bradham said back in November. "He's a physical, hard-nosed linebacker. He has speed. He's going to be a great addition for us, and he added depth. We're even deeper now."

As Bradham re-signs, he lauds a teammate no longer here

AP Images

As Bradham re-signs, he lauds a teammate no longer here

After getting the opportunity to stay with the Super Bowl champions, Nigel Bradham spoke at length and quite passionately about someone who didn’t get the same opportunity.
Brent Celek.
Bradham, the veteran linebacker, spent the last two years with Celek, who the Eagles released earlier this week after 11 seasons.
“That’s obviously devastating, man,” Bradham said. “Taking about a guy who was here his whole career and the way he came every day and his character every day.
“He really … me and a lot of guys on our team what it takes to win a Super Bowl, and he let us know it doesn’t come easy, it takes work, and he came in and worked every day. Like no other.”
Celek was due to earn $5 million in 2018 but is counting only $1 million in dead money against the 2018 cap, so the Eagles gained $4 million under the cap by releasing him.
That cap space certainly helped them find room to re-sign Bradham, who enjoyed a career-best season in 2017 for the Super Bowl champs.
But Bradham was effusive in his praise for the veteran tight end, who has played the fourth-most games in Eagles history.
“You would never know he was (11) years in because of the way he worked,” Bradham said. “So when you lose a guy like that it obviously takes a toll on your team.
“You hate to lose guys like that that meant so much and impacted this team so much. His leadership was on another level. He went over and beyond the things he could have done as a leader. Obviously, wish he could be here still.”

Should the Eagles take a RB at 32?

USA Today Images

Should the Eagles take a RB at 32?

The Eagles on Friday reportedly hosted a formal visit with LSU running back Derrius Guice.

If the Eagles have real interest in Guice, they know he won’t be there beyond pick 32. He might not even be there at pick 32. So would the Eagles seriously consider taking a running back with their first-round pick?

The Eagles’ running back situation is murky going forward. LeGarrette Blount has found a new home. Jay Ajayi will have an enormous role in this offense, but is only signed through 2018. Corey Clement will likely take on a bigger role after he proved himself as a pass catcher and, more importantly, a pass protector. Kenjon Barner’s value is strictly as a returner, a need the Eagles may look to address elsewhere. Then there’s former mid-round picks Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey who I mention in this space simply because they have roster spots as of today. And don’t forget about Darren Sproles, who’s still lingering in free agency.

The free agent market is less than inspiring. Adrian Peterson is out there but he’s not going to play for free. Do you want to bring back former Eagle DeMarco Murray or (almost former Eagle) Frank Gore? Didn’t think so. You could take a chance on an Eddie Lacy or a Matt Jones, guys who showed promise but lost their way. But, again … meh.

Last year’s running back draft class was crazy deep and talented. So much so that the Eagles were able to pick up Clement off the street after he didn’t get selected. This year’s class isn’t far behind it.

There’s an obvious RB1: Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. No, Eagles fans. It’s not happening. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, focus on the guys the Eagles have an actual shot at getting. Guice, for one, would be an excellent addition as a lead back. There’s also USC’s Ronald Jones, a Jamaal Charles clone that would fit like a glove in this offense. Then there’s Georgia’s dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb is more of a bell cow while Michel is more dynamic.

The history of the Eagles drafting running backs high is not illustrious. Since they made one of the worst decisions in franchise history by selecting Michael Haddix No. 8 overall in the loaded 1983 draft, it’s been a somewhat mixed bag. They took Keith Byars No. 10 overall and Anthony Toney in the second round in 1986. Byars was OK, but Toney was a bust. They took Siran Stacy in the second (48th overall) in 1992 who never logged a single NFL carry. They did better in 1994, selecting Charlie Garner in the second round (42nd overall), and hit it out of the park in 2009, selecting their all-time leading rusher LeSean McCoy at pick 53.

The Eagles clearly have running backs on their radar in this draft. Though their history isn’t great with drafting them high, this would be the year to do it.