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 Assantay 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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