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.

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"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."

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