T.J. Edwards isn’t making it easy to take him off the field.
When the Eagles this offseason added Kyzir White in free agency and then drafted Nakobe Dean in the third round, it was fair to wonder if Edwards might lose some snaps in 2022.
If this training camp is any indication, that isn’t happening.
Edwards hasn’t just been the Eagles’ best linebacker in training camp. He has arguably been the Eagles’ best player so far this summer.
Not that he’s taking any time to enjoy that just yet.
“Not yet,” Edwards said after Thursday’s practice, one that saw him add a couple more pass breakups to his summer. “Couple practices in and so much more left to do. So much more I want to be better at. So much more I want to continue to grow my game with.
“Obviously, making plays is nice and I want to be consistent with that. That’s the biggest thing. Day in and day out to be counted on. That’s what I want. Keep on going.”
Edwards will turn 26 in a few days and he’s entering his fourth NFL season after joining the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin in 2019.
It’s time to forget about all 32 teams passing on him in the draft. It’s time to forget about that 4.77 time he posted in the 40 as the Wisconsin pro day. It’s time to stop thinking about Edwards like he’s some limited player in the NFL.
It’s time to realize Edwards is the Eagles’ best linebacker. And he deserves all the snaps he gets.
“I think we had a good feel for T.J.,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “And what you saw is he could take the coaching and started getting more comfortable and he is making a lot of plays for us, and that's why you saw him take over the defense, kind of the first third part of the year or whatever. We expect him to do that this year as well.”
It’s no coincidence that when Edwards began to play more last season, the Eagles’ defense got much better. Sure, there were other factors, but his presence in the middle of the field mattered.
The Eagles extended Edwards during last season to avoid his becoming a restricted free agent but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the 2022 season. If he plays well early in 2022, he could be a prime candidate for a real contract extension.
In the first eight games of last season, Edwards played 36.8% of their defensive snaps and the Eagles had a 3-5 record. Over the next eight, he played 94.9% of their defensive snaps and they were 6-2.
But check out what the defense accomplished with him last season:
First eight games: Allowed 344.0 yards per game (10th in NFL), 123.5 rushing yards per game (23rd), 220.6 passing yards per game (9th), 23.9 points (16th).
Next eight games: 295.3 yards per game (6th in NFL), 84.4 rushing yards per game (4th), 210.9 passing yards per game (14th), 17.9 points per game (7th).
Obviously, it wasn’t all Edwards, who was PFF’s No. 10 linebacker in football last year, but his contributions shouldn’t be overlooked.
Especially not now as he enters his second year in this defense and looks even more comfortable. That comfort is the biggest difference, according to Edwards, in Year 2 of Gannon’s scheme.
“Having an idea of what we’re going to call, how [Gannon] and (linebackers coach Nick) Rallis think,” Edwards said. “And also how guys up front and on the back end are going to play it. Obviously been playing with those guys for a couple years now; (Marcus) Epps and Ant (Harris) and having the chemistry of playing next to them has helped a lot.”
The Eagles have a crowded linebacker room, which feels a little surreal. When’s the last time they were stacked at that position? In addition to Edwards and White and Dean, they also have Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley to bolster the depth.
But having Edwards in Year 2 is a true weapon. He’s always been known for his instincts but now that he has a better grasp of the defense, he’s been able to reach new levels in the defense. His familiarity has allowed him to play with ease.
And there’s still room to grow.
“I’ve challenged T.J.,” Rallis said. “I told him, ‘I want you to understand opponents better than I do,’ because at the end of the day I’m not going to be able to prepare him for everything that’s going to happen on that field but if he understands they’re doing this and this and we haven’t seen this yet but this is why teams do this?
“He’s going to play that much faster. He’s already an extremely fast processor, extremely smart, he’s moving really well, he’s playing physical. You guys know T.J. We’re just taking it to the next level. We want to take every aspect of his game up another notch.”
Judging on the first several practices of the summer, Edwards is well on his way.
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