T.J. Edwards Stepping into Starting Role

The second-year UDFA linebacker talked about last year's limited experience, the position group considered a weak link, and whether a veteran LB would help
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PHILADELPHIA – Team drills were about to begin on Monday, so the Eagles first-team defense took the field.

Nathan Gerry trotted out to one linebacker spot, as expected.

Watchful eyes turned to see who would join him at the other linebacker spot. It was T.J. Edwards, perhaps as expected as well.

With the Eagles parting ways with Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill in free agency, then free agent signing Jatavis Brown suddenly deciding to retire last week, the door was suddenly wide open for Edwards.

It appears Edwards will be given a shot to build on the limited defensive reps he got last season as an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin.

And he’s ready.

“I think from last year, the experience really helps me,” said Edwards following the Eagles’ first fully padded practice of training camp on Monday. “Just going out there now, I feel a lot more confident with what I’m doing. Having that time last year to see how guys like Nigel and Kamu and Nate and those guys played in the scheme and the techniques, it helped me learn a lot.

“So, going into this year I feel a lot of confidence. I definitely a lot stronger this year as well. Going back home and working on my body a lot this offseason, so I feel really good.”

Edwards worked out at a facility near the Wisconsin campus this offseason after spending time at his family’s place in Chicago.

He worked on his core strength to get more flexible and more explosive, he said.

“I can feel it,” said Edwards. “I feel a lot (smoother) in what I’m doing. Now, it’s just getting back in the comfort of playing football and getting my reads down and things like that.”

He added that he is not taking anything for granted as far as a roster spot goes.

“Not feeling safe because I do want to prove I deserve to be on this team,” said Edwards. “Nothing is given in this league at all. ... Just going on the field, and even in meetings and walkthroughs, I just have a way, way better understanding of what’s going on.”

Edwards seemed fully aware that the perception is the Eagles’ linebacker group is the weak link in coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defensive chain.

The linebacker gave a wry smile when asked about that perception. Not surprisingly, he didn’t sound at all like he agreed with the notion.

“It’s a very talented group, a very fast group, from top to bottom, the young guys are very athletic and very smart and then have a really good feel for what’s going on,” he said. “I think this group has a lot of talent. I think right now it’s a really big competition that’s only going to raise the level of all of us as well.”

That speed showed up on Monday. Rookie third-round pick Davion Taylor grew wings on a couple of trips to a ballcarrier during 11-on-11, and sixth-rounder Shaun Bradley particularly looked like he belonged.

Still, the veteran leadership is lacking.

The oldest of the group is Alex Singleton at the age of 26, and he’s considered more of a special team player than someone who can collect defensive snaps. He didn’t help his cause any during this truncated training camp, with no preseason games, and with the regular-season kickoff in less than four weeks, when he dropped a sure interception on a high throw from Carson Wentz to Dallas Goedert in team drills.

A name to possibly keep an eye who could lend some experience is Haason Reddick, who, like Bradley, hails from Temple, and was a first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2017.

Reddick looks like a spare part in the desert and his 20 starts and 48 games played are more than anyone on the Eagles. The Cardinals drafted Isaiah Simmons in the first round this past spring and added free agent Devon Kennard, who has 65 career starts.

The Eagles could dangle a low draft pick under the Cardinals’ noses and see if they jump at it or wait until Reddick gets released, which seems like a real possibility.

Edwards didn't sound like someone who thinks a veteran leader is needed.

“I think Nate as well as Alex and myself and Duke (Riley) are going to try to take that leadership role upon ourselves and bring everyone along just because we need everyone,” he said. “We have guys that understand the game very well, so I see us kind of keeping that leadership thing going as well.”

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