August 07, 2017
If the Philadelphia Eagles move on from linebacker Mychal Kendricks, a player who wants to be traded and who the Eagles would certainly trade for a decent enough offer, they would have to replace him with someone who can be that third linebacker. Yes, this is high-level analysis.
One player who has quietly had a very good training camp, and who the Eagles seem to like quite a bit, is rookie linebacker Nate Gerry, a fifth-round draft pick of the team in the 2017 NFL Draft. In college at Nebraska, Gerry played safety, and had some ball hawking skills, as he intercepted 13 passes his last three years. In the NFL, he'll be a linebacker, and his weight is up to around 230 pounds.
When the Eagles drafted Gerry, they assumed he would be good in coverage at linebacker, seeing as he had background as a defensive back. During the spring and early portion of camp before the pads went on, the Eagles were indeed pleased with what they saw from Gerry in the passing game.
What they didn't know was if he would be able to take on 350-pound offensive guards in the run game.
"You know, the big thing with him is going to be filling the run inside when the pads come on," said Schwartz at the start of training camp. "He was a safety in college. He put the weight on that we wanted [him] to. He's very instinctive in the pass game. You can see a safety in his background. He's got really good eyes for the football. All those things we assumed that we would see. We really haven't been able to evaluate his thump and his ability to step up and fill interior holes yet. Again, when the pads come on, that will be the tell-tale for him.
"The biggest difference is taking on, you know, [a guy as big as] Brandon Brooks. Those guys don't exist on the perimeter. You know, they will step in, take a double team off of a defensive tackle and step up and thump a running back, and doing those kind of things, when he's done that in the past, it's generally been on the perimeter. It hasn't been in the A-gap or B-gap. So that's probably the biggest -- coverage wise, there shouldn't be that big of an adjustment, but run-wise, and interior run-wise, is where [an adjustment] is coming."
After two weeks of training camp, Schwartz has been impressed by Gerry's progress as a run-stopping linebacker.
"Very encouraged," he said. "He’s responded to every challenge we've put in front of him. When we've had some of those live contact practices is when he's shown up the most, and I think there is some 'football player,' in quotation marks, to him. Like I said, you expect him to be good in coverage, but he's played very tough, very physical. You don't get very many live periods in practice, but when it has, he's shown up. He's been assignment sound, and it's going to be a big preseason for him to continue to show that progress. I've been very encouraged by him."
Gerry agreed that he's coming along as a linebacker at the pro level.
"This is a new position for me, so I'm just trying to work on my technique, and put my speed to my advantage," he said. "I'm not like Jordan Hicks, who's 250 pounds. I'm one of those smaller backers, but I'm trying to use my speed to my advantage. Just being able to know my assignment in the overall defensive scheme has been my advantage right now."
When Kendricks was sidelined last week with his yearly training camp soft tissue injury, Gerry got some reps with the first team defense. In my view, for what the Eagles ask their linebackers to do in their scheme, there isn't much (if any) dropoff from Kendricks to Gerry.
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