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July 25, 2017

Rookie Nate Gerry gives Eagles another strong coverage linebacker

Eagles NFL

If you take a look around at the rest of the NFC East, you'll see a division with a bunch of good receiving tight ends and running backs.

The Cowboys have longtime stalwart Jason Witten at tight end, and a talented pass catcher in Ezekiel Elliott at running back. The Redskins have a great receiving tight end in Jordan Reed, and a back in Chris Thompson who caught 49 passes last season. The Giants, while behind the Cowboys and Redskins in that area, are trying to get  better, drafting tight end Evan Engram in the first round of this year's draft, and a pair of backs with some receiving ability in the middle rounds in each of the last two drafts in Paul Perkins and Wayne Gallman.

Ideally, as an opposing defense, you can cover guys like that with your linebackers instead of having to rely so heavily on defensive backs in sub-packages.

The Eagles have a great coverage linebacker in Jordan Hicks, and a good one in Nigel Bradham. They hope that rookie fifth-round pick Nate Gerry can be another great coverage linebacker in their defense. Gerry played safety in college at Nebraska, where he was something of a ball hawk, picking off 13 passes his last three years.

In an interview in May of last year, Jim Schwartz stressed the importance of having cover skills as a linebacker in the NFL.

"It's very rare you're going to see people line up with two-back, tight end in the core and two wide receivers," he explained. "Those days are long past. You see that ten snaps a game maybe. A lot of times you're playing three wide receivers, detached tight ends. You better be a multi-dimensional linebacker. You can line up in space, line up in the box, cover man, play zone. If not you're going to be a target for the offensive coordinator. You're going to be a target for the quarterback."

Gerry agreed with Schwartz's assessment of the modern NFL.

"This game is all about speed now," said Gerry. "I think one of my advantages is that I’m very knowledgeable about the game of football, so if I can put the mental and the physical together it’s going to benefit me the most. That’s probably one of the reasons they moved me down there. The game of football is evolving. There’s a lot more passing, so it’s important being able to cover running backs, tight ends."

On Tuesday, Schwartz was asked how Gerry has looks so far through spring practices and the first two days of camp.

"You know, the big thing with him is going to be filling the run inside when the pads come on," said Schwartz. "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."

When Gerry arrived at Eagles rookie camp, he weighed 212 pounds. He is now up to 230. There could be concern that when you add weight, you can lose some of your speed. Gerry does not think that will be an issue.

"I think one of the reasons that when I got drafted and moved to linebacker was because Joe Douglas was at the pro day at Nebraska and I actually weighed in around 225 and I ran a tenth of a second faster than I did at the Combine," Gerry explained. "I ran a 4.48 at my pro day. I went 4.58 at the Combine. But I also was eight pounds heavier at the pro day, so I think that’s what really opened their eyes."

Still, as Schwartz noted, Gerry will have to prove he can be effective against the run as well to get on the field.

"Probably everything we do from a linebacker-coverage standpoint, he's done from a safety standpoint," said Schwartz. "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."

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