Nate Gerry

Are the 2020 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

Are the 2020 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

Executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman says the Eagles are a better football team after free agency and the draft. We're putting his claim to the test, breaking down the depth chart position by position to examine whether the roster really improved or actually took a step back this offseason.

The series continues with the linebacker position, where Nate Gerry is leading a youth movement.

Better

By releasing Nigel Bradham and choosing not to sign one of the veteran free agents, not only did the Eagles aggressively signal a desire to get younger at linebacker. They also wanted to get faster. They didn't address the position the way they normally do, either, signing a couple undrafted rookies and plucking special teamers and prospects off waivers and opposing teams' practice squads.

They actually invested some draft picks here.

Coming off a solid season and arguably still developing, Nate Gerry is joined by third-round selection Davion Taylor and sixth-rounder Shaun Bradley. The Eagles also dealt for former third-round choice Duke Riley in the middle of last season. Now here's the thing: all four of Gerry, Taylor, Bradley and Riley clocked sub-4.6 times in the 40-yard dash. Even the free agent the club did sign, unheralded Jatavis Brown from the Chargers, once clocked a 4.44 at the combine.

In other words, these guys are fast, whereas Bradham was slowing down from injuries and with a 31st birthday approaching.

Worse

Sometimes there's no accounting for experience, something Bradham brought to the table in the form of eight seasons in the league. Kamu Grugier-Hill was allowed to walk as well, taking four more seasons with him.

The Eagles aren't lacking experience entirely, as Gerry, Riley and Brown all have at least three years under their belts. Just nowhere near Bradham's level. Kinda scary because we don't really know whether any of them will ever be as good as Bradham at the top of his game, either.

The same

Gerry is the only real constant here, and he's coming off a fine season, perhaps even still developing.

A fifth-round pick in 2017, Gerry finished last year with 85 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2 interceptions while playing all 17 games with a core muscle injury. The volume of missed tackles do stand out, though you could attempt to explain that away with the news after the fact he was hurt. Even if you prefer to sleep on Gerry instead, he's entering his fourth season in the defense and possesses sub-4.6 speed, so there's still upside.

Worst-case scenario, Gerry is a competent player who makes some plays and can lead the unit until somebody better comes along.

The unknown

With so many young players, there are a lot of wild cards, but the one who doesn't appear to fit the mold the Eagles are making is T.J. Edwards.

As of now, Edwards projects as a potential starter alongside Gerry. As an undrafted rookie, he looked like a tackling machine, managing to rack up 30 while only playing 11 percent of the defensive snaps, and all of that production coming after Week 5. The thing is, Edwards is on the slow side, reportedly timing in the high 4.7s, so you have to wonder if the Eagles view him as a part-time player used primarily in base defenses.

Speed isn't everything, and Edwards seems to have a natural instinct for the position. But if opponents are going to be able to throw the ball over him and around him, you can understand why the Eagles are kicking the tires on more promising athletes.

Better or worse?

Bradham was a tough, smart player. What he did in 2017 and '18, taking over for Jordan Hicks, undoubtedly gave a lot of people new appreciation for what he brought to the table. He's just getting old and beat up, and clearly the rest of the league feels the way the Eagles do, because he's still a free agent.

Somebody will give Bradham a shot in camp at least, so we probably haven't seen the last of him. At this point though, Gerry and a bunch of unproven or second-chance linebackers is probably an upgrade. Bradham gutted it out last season despite the fact he wasn't 100 percent, but it showed — and who knows if he'll ever be 100 percent again. 

Better

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A dubious distinction for Nelly and more in Roob's Random Eagles Points!

A dubious distinction for Nelly and more in Roob's Random Eagles Points!

Jordan Howard vs. Jay Ajayi. A dubious distinction for Nelly. A remarkable approaching milestone for Zach Ertz.

We’ve got a little bit of everything in this week’s edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Points!

1. Maybe the biggest decision the Eagles will have to make this offseason is what to do with Alshon Jeffery. Much has been made about the massive cap hit — $26 million — the Eagles would have to absorb if they release him. The cap is going to go way up, but that’s an insane amount of dead money. Based on his injuries and production it’s going to be virtually impossible to trade him. But with everything we’ve seen, I don’t know how you keep him. The Eagles have to reshape that entire position and bringing back one of the two guys who really is most representative of the Eagles’ WR malaise is hard to imagine. Guaranteeing his contract was such a monumental mistake. There was no reason to do it. The Eagles can’t keep him. But I don’t’ know how they can get rid of him. Ball’s in your court, Howie.

2. Here’s an odd one: The Eagles have held three straight opponents to less than 300 yards and 17 or fewer points, and they’ve done it without recording an interception in any of those three games. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1950 and only the second time since 1936.

3. Every time Boston Scott touches the football I think he’s going to fumble.

4. The Jay Ajayi - Jordan Howard situation is a fascinating one. If the Eagles are unable to sign Howard or his price tag gets too high or he simply decides to sign elsewhere this spring, the Eagles can exercise an option in Ajayi’s contract to match any offer he gets on the open market. If they re-up Howard, they would let Ajayi go. But if he’s healthy he’s a good fallback. It’s an interesting call. Ajayi and Howard are both former 5th-round picks, both very good ball carriers, both limited as receivers. Similar ages, similar numbers. Both made a Pro Bowl in their first full season with their previous team. Ajayi is a little more dynamic and explosive, Howard’s more durable, although he’s hurt at the moment. For me, the difference in production is minimal enough and the difference in durability significant enough that I would move forward with Howard. I love Ajayi’s game, I just don’t trust his knees. Will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

5. Zach Ertz has played 101 career games and has 492 catches. If he has eight receptions in the next four games — which he will — he’ll become the second-fastest tight end ever to 500. Kellen Winslow did it in 101 games. Next-fastest are Jimmy Graham (106), Jason Witten (107) and Rob Gronkowski (108).

6. Sunday matchup I’m really curious to see is Seahawks running back Chris Carson vs. the Eagles’ run defense. Carson is on pace for nearly 1,400 rushing yards, and the Eagles are allowing only 86 rushing yards per game — their second-lowest figure in the last 25 years. Pete Carroll wants to run the football. The Seahawks are running 31 times per game, 5th-most in the NFL. The only back to really hurt the Eagles this year has been Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 111 yards. Alexander Mattison of the Vikings (63) is the only other one who’s even reached 45 yards. The Eagles have held Sony Michel, Aaron Jones, Le’Veon Bell and Dalvin Cook under 3.5 yards per carry. Huge challenge Sunday with Carson. Key to the game.

7. Jalen Mills has been off the charts since coming back from his year-long layoff, and if he can keep it up it’s going to be huge for this defense. Over the last five weeks, Mills ranks 3rd among all NFL cornerbacks in opposing completion percentage (50 percent) and 5th in opposing QB passer rating (57.4). Even mediocre cornerback play would have been a dramatic improvement over the slop the Eagles were running out there while he was hurt. Mills is playing the best football of his career. In three games with Mills and Ronald Darby holding it down, the Eagles have been statistically the best pass defense in the league. Now, that includes Josh Allen and Mitch Tribusky but also Tom Brady. But it’s more about the way they’re playing than who they’re playing. Mills and Darby have been aggressive, confident, consistent — all things that were missing — and that’s allowed Jim Schwartz to be much more aggressive as a play caller. The Eagles allowed 10 pass plays longer than 30 yards in their first seven games, just one the last three. No coincidence. Russell Wilson and his WRs will be the biggest challenge of the year for the corners. The way they respond will give us a real good sense of just how far that group has come.

8. Nelson Agholor’s 35.3 career yards per game is second-lowest in NFL history by a first-round wide receiver with at least 60 career starts. Only Darrius Heyward-Bey (33.1) is lower.

9. Going to be interesting to see how Nate Gerry’s role evolves with Nigel Bradham due back Sunday after missing four games with an ankle injury. Gerry has played all but two snaps in these last four games, and that missed tackle on Rex Burkhead not withstanding he’s been solid. Gerry is exactly what Jim Schwartz wants in a linebacker — smart, athletic, fast. Gerry is around the ball and makes plays — two INTs and two sacks so far. He has to tackle more consistently, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Considering he’s a 5th-round pick who was exclusively a special teamer his first two seasons Gerry has come a long way.

10. I would take Andre Dillard with zero experience at right tackle over Big V roughly 100 out of 100 times.

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How Eagles' Nate Gerry is moving on from costly blown tackle vs. Patriots

How Eagles' Nate Gerry is moving on from costly blown tackle vs. Patriots

Nate Gerry actually played well Sunday.

Except one play.

That play.

Gerry had a game-high 10 tackles, a tackle for loss, a QB hurry and a sack in the Eagles’ 17-10 loss to the Patriots Sunday.

And a blown tackle.

A really, really, really ugly one.

That whiff was responsible for the game’s pivotal play, Rex Burkhead’s 30-yard catch and run that set up the Patriots’ only touchdown, the game-winner.

Gerry was in perfect position to bring Burkhead down for no gain, maybe a yard, but Burkhead broke free and raced down the left sideline before Avonte Maddox finally brought him down at the Eagles’ 30-yard-line.

Six plays later, Julian Edelman’s TD pass to Phillip Dorsett gave the Patriots their only touchdown.

Ballgame.

I tried to use my left hand to wrap him up and I grabbed a lot of his towel and not much of his leg, so I didn’t really have much support to anchor down, and he got out of it,” Gerry said. “I just couldn’t finish the play is all it was. … I should have shot higher instead of trying to shoot low. A lot more thinking in tackling nowadays, I feel like. I’ve just got to play fast. I was a little hesitant.

With Kamu Grugier-Hill missing three games and Nigel Bradham four, Gerry has played a lot this year, and it hasn’t been all bad.

He’s played a career-high 391 defensive snaps and played a career-high 73 on Sunday.

He leads the Eagles with two interceptions and also has two sacks, including one of Tom Brady Sunday.

Gerry is one of only five players in the NFL with two sacks and two interceptions and only the third Eagles linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter in 2001 with two sacks and two INTs in the same season. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks both did in 2013.

But ask anybody who watched Eagles-Patriots about Gerry and they'll only remember one play.

Which is understandable.

It’s a tackle he has to make.

Burkhead, who preceeded Gerry by four years at Nebraska, is 5-10, 215 and not exactly a big-time playmaker. That was only his second career reception of 30 yards or more in seven NFL seasons.

Gerry took the loss particularly hard.

If he simply makes a routine tackle, the Patriots would have had 2nd-and-10 on their own 40-yard-line in a 10-10 game. And who knows.

The 30-yarder was the Patriots’ longest offensive play of the game by eight yards.

It’s hard,” Gerry said. “That drive turned into the only touchdown for them. Obviously, it hurts. You don’t ever want to say one play wins or loses you a game, but sometimes it does come down to that and that may have been one of those times. Obviously, it hurts me deep down to see how many yards I gave up. But I just have to learn from it and move on.

You know watching film with the other linebackers Tuesday wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience.

You have to watch the good and the bad,” he said. “Don’t try to be too hard on yourself sometimes, but at the end of the day it’s hard not to be.

At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Gerry really should be a situational linebacker playing primarily in clear passing situations. He’s had to play too many snaps out of necessity.

He’s 7th on the defense is snaps but 4th in tackles. But he knows it’s the one tackle he didn’t make that everybody will remember.

Until he gives them a reason not to.

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