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Eagles Have a New LB1 in T.J. Edwards

The third-year player is proving the doubters wrong

PHILADELPHIA - T.J. Edwards was a star linebacker at Wisconsin, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and a first-team All-American as a junior who left Madison with 37.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 10 interceptions, and 25 pass breakups.

Despite that production, the next level was changing rapidly and 6-foot-1, 240-pound thumpers who ran 4.8 40-yard dashes were no longer in demand as NFL teams searched for hybrids at the second level whose specialty was coverage coupled with the ability to at least show some competency in run support.

Edwards was ultimately pigeonholed as a two-down player and that kind of role wasn't a draftable commodity. Instead, the Illinois native landed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2019.

Edwards quickly caught the eye of both defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp as a rookie, made the opening-day roster, and stuck for the entire 16 games, even showing enough progress to start four games and register an impressive 83.4 ProFootballFocus.com grade despite the limited playing time.

The thought, however, was the more Edwards played, the more exposed he would get. He wasn't supposed to be a starter in 2020 but ended up getting significant snaps, grading out as No. 19 of 83 among NFL linebackers.

Edwards is cognizant of how he's been portrayed early in his career.

"I think people look at my 40-time three years ago and say 'no way he's gotten faster' so you probably can't cover can't play the pass, can't tackle in space," said Edwards on Thursday as the 3-5 Eagles prepare to host the 4-3 Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. (CBS).

"So I mean, I love all that stuff because I know it's things I've worked on for a long time and I don't think there's anything I can't do at the mike linebacker spot."

There's no longer any uncertainty with Edwards.

"I think just confidence-wise, knowing that I can start and play at this level. But at the end of the day, you know, you got to get wins, you got to play good team defense or whatever the coaches feel is best," said Edwards. "... So I think we've done a good job of keeping the rotation strong and keeping people in the right spot. So we are just gonna keep rolling."

The start of this season for Edwards was more rinse and repeat of his previous season, only with new coaches.

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon seemed to want either Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton to team up with second-year speedster Davion Taylor to start before a calf injury to Taylor pressed pause on those plans.

By Week 3, it became clear Wilson wasn't the answer and the move was made to a rotational package with Edwards and Taylor being the run-support LBs and Wilson and Singleton being the nickel options.

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Linebackers Davion Taylor and T.J. Edwards tackle Lions RB D'Andre Swift in Week 8

Davion Taylor and T.J. Edwards team up for a tackle in Detroit

Fast forward to Week 8 in Detroit last Sunday and Wilson was a healthy scratch as Singleton toggled in at times with Edwards and Taylor.

Edwards saw a season-high 41 snaps (66 percent of the defensive total), a number that likely would have been even higher had the game not been a 44-6 blowout in the Eagles' favor, and amassed an eye-opening 13 tackles.

"I think I did well," Edwards said before practice Thursday."Obviously, it's never as good, it's never as bad as you think after watching the tape, but it felt good to be out there. Being in a rhythm and just and just flying around."

By Wednesday of this week, Wilson was waived and a team source confirmed Edwards' role as the so-called LB1 is a more permanent decision or at least as permanent as it gets in the ultra-competitive NFL.

"I'm never one to look at it that way," Edwards said when asked if he's won the job. "You know, I know that in my position I think people don't really know what to expect from me and I love proving every single day that so many things [people] didn't think I could do or just trying to be at my best so I never say that something's mine.

"And I always know that if I'm not playing well it won't be for long."

The goal this week is a much tougher one against the Los Angeles Chargers, who boast second-year star quarterback Justin Herbert and one of the better pass-catching running backs in the league, Austin Ekeler.

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Edwards is sure to be tested in the passing game.

"It's a lot of recognition," Edwards said when discussing pass defense. "Pattern reading and honestly, experience helps a lot with just seeing how things kind of work and offensive schemes are. ... when you're coming in as a rookie, it's difficult to kind of all take in but once you're comfortable in the defensive scheme, you're able to kind of pick out the patterns."

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.