Eagles rookie linebackers could have big roles to play in 2020

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Military Bowl – North Carolina v Temple
ANNAPOLIS, MD – DECEMBER 27: Temple Owls linebacker Shaun Bradley (5) warms up for the Military Bowl between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Temple Owls at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD on December 27, 2019. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles are coming off of a very interesting offseason and one that is still being discussed. Many boxes were ticked quickly, but the biggest on the checklist somehow only grew larger – linebacker. After letting Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nigel Bradham go, the Birds decided to find their replacement linebackers through the NFL Draft. This left fans scratching their heads, but as Training Camp rolls on, there’s a sense of optimism beginning to brew.

Linebacker limbo

All eyes quickly turned to both Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley – the pair of Eagles rookies drafted by Howie Roseman just a few months ago in the third and sixth rounds respectively. Training Camp is going to be absolutely pivotal to both players. The linebacking corps is light on both talent and depth and while versatile DB’s may help, there’s a real chance the rooks are forced into action.

With preseason and OTA’s ripped away, every rep is vital. For Davion Taylor, who didn’t play a single snap of High School ball due to religious beliefs, it’s even more so. He may be one of the team’s fastest players (4.39 40-yard-dash), but he remains one of the rawest.

As for Taylor, he’s hit the ground running at camp, making big plays in each of the last three days and drawing plenty of praise in the process. A stable tackler in the open field during his days at Temple, Bradley’s hyper-aggressive mentality has been made visible early, which can only mean good things.

Eagles rookies bucking the trend

Jimmy Kempski noted yesterday that only three of the nineteen linebackers drafted by teams inhabiting Jim Schwartz in as many years had 30+ tackles in their rookie season. This in itself is surprising. We know the Eagles aren’t overly willing to invest at the position, but we didn’t know how deep the trend ran, with the majority of rookie linebackers grinding their way up the special teams ladder. That trend may be bucked in 2020.

Nate Gerry and Duke Riley are the team’s most experienced linebackers at 25-years-old. Riley is a special teams standout, while Gerry’s 78 tackles, 2 picks, and 17.8% of missed tackles present a talent who continues to develop as he moves down from Safety but still struggles with basic fundamentals.

If the Eagles really want speed on their defense, then Taylor and Bradley may have to grow into legitimate options at a rapid rate. When asked about the position, Schwartz verged on the side of caution.

I will say this, linebacker and safety are two of the most difficult positions for guys to get up to speed with. That is including having a full offseason program for rookies, OTAs, minicamp and a full preseason schedule and preseason games, so their learning has to be accelerated…

…Now it is just a matter of accumulating as many reps as we can get, and when we do have those heavy contact practices, those are going to be really important in our evaluations. 

Eagles rookies making the jump

The Eagles may well turn to T.J Edwards to be the ‘MIKE’ in base formations, and he looked excellent in the small sample size of snaps we got to see last year. However, his skill-set consists of snuffing the ball out, shooting gaps, and sifting through traffic – not coverage. That just so happens to be an area where Temple’s Bradley, who had 255 career tackles as an Owl, seems to thrive.

Sure, versatile DB’s will help out, but if Bradley continues to leave the world begging for more at the NovaCare Complex, it’s not like there’s much standing between him and a fairly substantial defensive role and the same can be said for Taylor.

Training Camp is absolutely pivotal to the development of both players, but if the rest of the rosters’ lightest position on the team can’t squeeze every last drop of juice out, then they may well break the trend of slow development belts and instead be fast-tracked to playing key roles on defense.

Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire