Kamu Grugier-Hill was primed for a breakout season in 2019 and he was playing so well in training camp it looked like he was well on his way.
Then he went down in a heap during practice in early August.
“He was playing great,” fellow linebacker Nigel Bradham said this week. “It’s always tough to see one of your guys go down, especially after he had so much success. He’s getting back now. He has to continue to build his confidence.”
Thankfully, Grugier-Hill’s injury wasn’t a season-ender. He suffered an MCL sprain and missed just the first three games of the season, making his 2019 debut last week.
He’s getting a rare second chance at a breakout season.
That’s why the 25-year-old was so relieved after his prognosis in August. Even though it was difficult to suffer his first significant football injury on the doorstep of what he hoped would be a huge season, he knew he would return. And his recovery went very well.
On Thursday night, Krugier-Hill played just 13 defensive snaps and four special teams snaps against the Packers. He was on a pitch count and that will be the case going forward as well.
“Every week, we give him a little bit more,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “He’s coming along. Hopefully as the season progresses and stuff, he’ll give us a little bit more wrinkles.”
Before the injury, Grugier-Hill was set to be a huge piece of the Eagles’ defense. While Bradham rarely leaves the field, Grugier-Hill was the other linebacker in the Eagles’ nickel package — and they’re in nickel the majority of the time. That role in the first quarter of the season has been assumed by free agent pickup Zach Brown. For now, Grugier-Hill is just going to mix in, along with Nathan Gerry.
“I really have no idea,” he said. “I’m just trying to get back to where I was.”
So Grugier-Hill wasn’t sure if his post-injury role will become what it was before the injury and Flajole wouldn’t say either. But having him back could be huge for the Eagles.
And it could be huge for Grugier-Hill’s career. A former sixth-round pick in 2016, this is a contract season for him. After starting 10 games last season, this is another chance for Grugier-Hill to shed that special teams-only label and show he can be an impact player on defense.
At 6-2, 230 pounds, Grugier-Hill is definitely a modern-day linebacker. He’s athletic, rangy. But he also put on plenty of weight since his college days and his frame has supported it. The Eagles claimed him off waivers before the 2016 season at the same time they claimed Bryce Treggs and Terrence Brooks; Grugier-Hill was the only one who stuck.
There’s always a balance with a player like Grugier-Hill. He’s the Eagles’ special teams captain, but the Eagles have to balance his playing time on special teams with his playing time on defense. They don’t want to run him into the ground, especially after he worked his way back from injury. In 2018, he played 32 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and also took on 344 special teams snaps, second-most on the team. Every week, there’s a conversation between defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp to try to figure out his role. Schwartz tries to predict the his formation usage for the upcoming game, which then dictates how much he’ll need Grugier-Hill.
On top of all that, there’s the pitch count coming back from injury.
“They’re taking care of me, helping me get back into condition and stuff like that,” Grugier-Hill said. “They’re not going to throw me into the fire. Every week is just going to be building up.”
There’s still 12 games left in the regular season and then possibly playoffs after that. Still plenty of time for Grugier-Hill to have his breakout season after all.
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