Eagles

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

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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."

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

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Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

How do you turn being a home underdog into a good thing? Use it as motivation to win a football game.

How do you turn being a home underdog into a great thing? Raise money for Philadelphia schools and win football games. That’s what Lane Johnson is doing.

After the nation doubted the Eagles against the Falcons, Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks after divisional round win, embracing the role of underdogs. Now, Johnson has his own T-shirt and is raising money. A lot of it, too.

Shirts can be purchased at lj65.shop for just $18 and Johnson tweeted that more than 3,000 have already been sold.

Hopefully, the home dogs continue to eat this weekend against the Vikings.

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

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USA Today Images

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

There were no special instructions. No extraordinary measures taken. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. For the Eagles' defense, it was just another play. The stakes were just incredibly high.

It was 4th-and-goal for the Falcons at the Eagles' 2-yard-line in the final seconds Saturday.

Give up a touchdown, and the season's over. Stop the Falcons and you're one game closer to the Super Bowl.

"Our guys, we don't do a whole lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our guys know what to do, and they have downloaded that software enough that it's a little bit automatic for them.

"We also didn't change. We don't surprise the players. What we practiced in our red-zone period is what we played."

The Falcons had already driven from their own 24-yard-line down to the 2-yard-line.

Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL postseason history, behind Jeff Hostetler and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Bart Starr.

That's what the Eagles' defense was up against.

"At that point, you sort of have to trust the players and the players have to trust the scheme," Schwartz said. "I think you saw a combination of both of those. We didn't feel the need to blitz. Played coverage, played good technique."

The clock showed 1:05.

Ryan’s two favorite receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, both lined up on the right side of the formation, Jones outside with Jalen Mills on him and Sanu in the slot with Malcolm Jenkins covering him in a battle of North Jersey natives.

Ryan took the shotgun snap from center Alex Mack at the 7-yard-line and immediately rolled to his right, retreating to the 10 as he neared the sideline.

Nigel Bradham, lined up as the left linebacker, trampled blocking tight end Levine Tollolo, who had his hands full with Brandon Graham, and ran around guard Wes Schweitzer, giving him an angle on Ryan. 

Meanwhile, Vinny Curry, after getting cut blocked to the ground by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, quickly bounced back up and began pursuing from Ryan’s left. 

Ryan pumped once toward Sanu, who was covered by Jenkins. He quickly looked left but saw only Curry closing in. Thanks to the pressure, he had to quickly backpedal back to the 14-yard-line and finally was forced to unload that lob toward Jones at the right sideline in the end zone.

At that point, it was up to Mills, who had Jones blanketed, and the rest is history.

The ball went through Jones’ hands, his feet came down out of bounds anyway, and after an agonizing moment looking for flags, the play was over.

"A lot gets made of what Jalen did, rightfully so," Schwartz said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver, 1-on-1. But Malcolm playing the seven route to Sanu and Rodney (McLeod’s) ability to help him leverage that, that was because he's looking for Julio Jones first.

"Julio slips, he's looking for Sanu, nowhere to go and now he has to re-rack that thing and by then, Nigel is closing down on him and everything else.

"If Malcolm doesn't get that route that he covered, if he doesn't get that covered, nobody's talking about Jalen Mills right now."

Mills was physical with Jones but not physical enough to draw a flag. Schwartz said Mills has made huge strides this year with his technique, and on the biggest play of his life, his technique was perfect.

"It's one thing to have confidence, but that's just not the sole requirement for the position," Schwartz said.

"There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play, he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

"What the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."

Mills is 23 years old, a second-year pro, a former seventh-round pick, a first-year starter.

To think that he made one of the most historic plays in Eagles postseason history is remarkable.

"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz said.

"(Defensive backs coach Cory) Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."

The bottom line is that this defense has played tremendous football all year.

And with the season on the line, everybody simply went out and did their job. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just think a part of our success is our guys just understand what's asked of them in the schemes," Schwartz said.

"They communicate well. We don't make a lot of mistakes, mental mistakes, and I think that makes it hard to drive the ball on us.

"When you get into those situations where is it's closed quarters and you don't have to defend deep balls, our guys have a good understanding of what opponents are going to do. I was proud of them on that play."