With injuries piling up, Eagles turn to new plan at linebacker

With injuries piling up, Eagles turn to new plan at linebacker

To put this all in perspective, consider this: Nate Gerry is the Eagles’ only healthy linebacker who was on the team last year.

With Nigel Bradham still working his way back, Paul Worrilow again dealing with the knee issues that sidelined him all last year and now Kamu Grugier-Hill out indefinitely with the MCL sprain he suffered on Saturday, Gerry is the last man standing from the 2018 linebacker group.

“It hurts us,” Gerry said. “I came in with Kamu a little bit and we both went through the same situations — smaller guys, bulked up. We put a lot of work into being in this position where we’re at now, and he was having a tremendous camp and it hurts all of us to see him go down. I lot of us were looking up to him, a lot of us were learning from him, so it’s tough to see, but we have a lot of depth in the room.”

Gerry’s steady development from a fifth-round special teamer into a legit linebacker — a path that mirrors Grugier-Hill's — gives him the edge over the field of newcomers as the Eagles try to figure out their starting linebacker corps.

The Eagles hope Bradham is back by opening day, but nothing is certain. He's still rehabbing after undergoing post-season surgery to repair ligaments in his foot, an injury that occurred in the playoff loss to the Saints.

Right now, it looks like Gerry will get the opportunity he’s been waiting for to show he’s more than a special teamer.

“I think no one wants to play special teams their whole career," Gerry said. "Growing up, you always had dreams of playing linebacker in the NFL, but it’s part of the business. Me and Kamu came in at a whole different position, didn’t really understand how the role of LB was played, how things fit up, and it took us a couple years to learn a lot of that stuff. ... I’ve been in the defense for a couple years (and) my individual goal this year is to get more action on the field (on defense). I’m just trying to find my role on this team, but we have a lot of preseason to play so we’ll see what happens.”

 With the Eagles banged up at linebacker late last year, Gerry had a nice stretch against the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys and Rams where he averaged 24 defensive snaps a game, and he played pretty well.

“We won some important games down the stretch last year with Nate Gerry as a starting linebacker for us,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “So we're certainly confident putting him in games, and he has confidence in himself. One thing about him is you know he'll be ready. Nate played a lot of snaps for us in the opener last year when Nigel (was suspended). And then when Jordan (Hicks) got injured down the line, played some really important snaps. We haven’t paid that much of a price for him being on the field. He's helped us win. He's made some big plays. He was a key part of the winning those games down the stretch that was able to get us to the playoffs.”

Eight-year pro Zach Brown, now with his fourth team in five years, is the Eagles’ only healthy linebacker with more than three career starts.

The other healthy linebackers are L.J. Fort, former CFL star Alex Singleton, undrafted rookie T.J. Edwards and recent acquisition Asantay Brown, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad last year.

At the open practice on Sunday night, Schwartz had Brown and Gerry running with the first unit, Fort and Singleton with the second group and Singleton and Edwards with the third team. The Eagles didn’t go three-linebacker in team drills.

Here's Zach Ertz on Nate Gerry: 

Nate Gerry’s a guy we have a lot of trust in. He’s going into his third year … so he’s been in the system a long time. He’s very, very smart. He’s a guy that you know exactly what you’re going to get from him each and every play. Whatever gap he’s supposed to be in, he’s going to be there, so we have a lot of confidence in him.

And here's Ertz on Zach Brown: 

I think he’s going to help us a lot. He’s been a pleasant surprise. You know, I played against for him a long time in Washington, but his athleticism and his strength I think has really shown during training camp. I didn’t realize how strong he was when he was playing in D.C., the way they used him or whatever it was, so I think he’s going to be a big addition, and obviously Nigel coming back whenever he comes back, stud linebacker, so we have a lot of confidence in that room.

All the Eagles’ linebackers are capable of playing inside or out, which gives Schwartz some flexibility.

Over these next few weeks, you’ll see him experiment with a number of different combinations and guys in different places both at practice and in the preseason games as he tries to figure out the best way to line up until the Eagles are back at full strength.

“Kamu was balling, for sure, and we’re all going to do our part to make sure we keep the linebacker corps as one of the best positions on the team,” Fort said. “We’ve got a lot of versatility. It’s going to be exciting to see how we’re able to put the pieces together.”

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Eagles reportedly getting close to hiring Marquand Manuel as DBs coach

Eagles reportedly getting close to hiring Marquand Manuel as DBs coach

The Eagles are reportedly getting close to filling at least one of their four vacant coaching jobs. 

According to ESPN, the Eagles have interviewed former Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel for their defensive backs coach position and “a deal could happen as early as today.” 

The Eagles are looking for a new DBs coach after Cory Undlin, who held the position for five seasons, left to take the defensive coordinator position under Matt Patricia in Detroit. The Eagles’ other vacancies are at offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach and defensive line coach. 

The Eagles have also reportedly interviewed Browns DBs coach DeWayne Walker for the vacant DBs coach position. 

Whoever gets the job is going to have some work ahead of them. The Eagles’ secondary has plenty of questions marks heading into the 2020 season. Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod are all set to be free agents. Malcolm Jenkins wants a new contract. And Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones are former high-round draft picks who couldn’t get on the field in a playoff game. 

Manuel, 40, comes with a relatively impressive resume. He was the Falcons’ defensive coordinator from 2017-18 and before that was their secondary coach from 2015-16. He began his coaching career with the Seahawks as a low-level assistant and was eventually the assistant secondary coach. He also had an eight-year NFL career at safety as a sixth-round pick; Doug Pederson values former players on his coaching staff. 

When Dan Quinn took the Falcons’ head coaching job in 2015, he brought Manuel with him and promoted him to DBs coach. He then promoted him again two years later. So Manuel has been coaching in that Cover 3 scheme for years. The Eagles use many zone concepts. 

Here’s what Quinn said about Manuel before the 2018 season, via Falcons.com: 

From the time I've met him from now, one thing that's cool to see that has stayed consistent is the energy and enthusiasm he has for players. He made the transition from player to coach really seamlessly because he knew the boundaries of coach, but he also stepped across to say, I can push you. That's not easy to do. He's always had mental quickness of a quarterback or someone who gets concepts really quickly. That transferred into this coaching fast. He can communicate concepts and ideas quickly to people on the run, in the moment, that's a really valuable asset as a coach.

During Manuel’s four years in Atlanta, both as DBs coach and defensive coordinator, the Falcons had the 24th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. But in his second season in Atlanta, the Falcons went to the Super Bowl. He was promoted after that season. But after two years as DC, Manuel was fired by the Falcons after the 2018 season and was not in the NFL in 2019 as Quinn took back DC responsibilities. 

This would be an important hire for the Eagles and it sounds like they’re getting close to making it. 

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Brian Westbrook regrets inability to help squash Mcnabb-T.O. beef

Brian Westbrook regrets inability to help squash Mcnabb-T.O. beef

If feels like we’ve all been put in a time machine this week.

First, Andy Reid is heading back to the Super Bowl, so Big Red has been a big topic of discussion again in Philadelphia. We’ve all been thinking about his time here and whether or not Eagles fans should/will root for him to win the championship.

And then there was the rekindling of the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud 15 years after it started.

In case you missed it, McNabb was on Bleacher Report’s Untold Stories and blamed Owens for the Eagles’ collapse after the Super Bowl. As you would expect, T.O. couldn’t let it go. He showed up to a squirt gun fight with a bazooka on Twitter.

In one of his first tweets, Owens alleged that McNabb vouched for Brian Westbrook to get a contract and not him. Well, Westbrook was on FS1’s “First Things First” on Thursday to talk about the never-ending feud.

Westbrook said he’s cool with both guys and regrets that he wasn’t able to squash the beef 15 years ago.

“One of the most disappointing things in my career was that I wasn’t old enough and mature enough to bring two guys I know we needed to be successful together. It was a point, I loved [Owens] and I loved [McNabb], I couldn’t bring them together for the success of our team. That’s one of the biggest failures I had in my career as a player. I wasn’t old enough, wasn’t mature enough at the time."

At the time, Westbrook was just a few years into his nine-year NFL career. He did have some clout, though — 2004 was a huge year for Westbrook; he had 1,515 yards from scrimmage and made his first Pro Bowl. But he was just 25 when the Eagles lost Super Bowl XXXIX.

Fifteen years later, Reid has finally made it back to the Super Bowl just in time for two of his best players from the last one to continue their bickering about why it all went wrong after they lost. It’s childish and petty and it seems like it’s never going to end.

Westbrook said he thought both guys had moved beyond their feud but it’s quite obvious they haven’t; he thinks that is “disappointing.” And Westbrook said he doesn’t expect them to squash it anytime soon.

“I just wish they could come back together,” Westbrook said. “Because, again, we’re talking about two of the best players in Philadelphia Eagles history and now they’re feuding on Twitter? That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

To be fair, it shouldn’t really make sense to anyone. But this won’t be the end of it.

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