PHILADELPHIA - It went largely unnoticed because Genard Avery is hardly a headliner on the Eagles defense, but the new coaching staff in Philadelphia has shifted plans for the undersized edge rusher, moving him away from defensive end position and into a new role at linebacker, presumably SAM LB.
That news was broken by Rischad Whitfield earlier this month. The so-called "Footwork King," Whitfield works with Avery and many other NFL players as a personal coach when it comes to the fundamentals.
Avery is the reason the Eagles don't have a fourth-round pick in this spring's draft, with GM Howie Roseman trading it to Cleveland at the 2019 trade deadline in order to acquire the undersized DE.
To date, there hasn't been a great return on investment for a player regarded as a tweener coming out of Memphis in the 2018 draft. Philadelphia liked Avery's upside as a rusher back then and was considering taking Avery but the Browns got there first.
Avery, 25, played sparingly for the Eagles on the edge where he was behind Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, and Vinny Curry, amassing 1.5 sacks and 12 tackles over 19 games with limited reps.
Former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz tried Avery as an edge rusher at times as well as a stand-up inside joker option and the Mississippi native flashed some juice at times, but it was always hard to imagine him holding up in run support and the Eagles were simply too deep at DE to be handing out reps to an unproven commodity.
The new DC, Jonathan Gannon, has a history with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, as does new LBs coach Nick Rallis.
From there, the tea leaves take you to Zimmer's reputation as the King of A-gap pressure where the two nickel LBs - the talented Antony Barr and Eric Kendricks with the Vikings - line up on either side of the center on the line of scrimmage where they can wither blitz or bail out into coverage.
The look forces both the quarterback and OC to guess where the pressure is coming from and, when sugaring the A-gaps is really cooking, Zimmer employs straight pressure, overload blitzes off the edges, and even drops off everyone into coverage, something that has helped turn Kendricks into one of the best coverage LBs in football.
We know Avery can go straight ahead, so the questions will be about handling coverage responsibilities because the Eagles aren't likely moving to many 3-4 fronts.
For Avery himself, the move means one of two things - a legitimate effort to unlock his potential as a situational player or a last-ditch try to garner something for a player who has cost the Eagles a draft pick this spring.
At LB, Rallis will be inheriting Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, and 2020 rookies Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley with both Nate Gerry and Duke Riley scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March.
For now, pencil in Edwards as the starting MIKE in the 4-3 base with Singleton as the WILL and Avery as the SAM with the athletic Taylor and Bradley pushing for playing time.
In the nickel, Singleton is the only de facto starter with Edwards as more of a two-down run-stuffer, and Taylor and Bradley both raw prospects learning as they go. That's the pressure point for Avery to press when it comes to getting on the field.
The 2021 season is also the final year on Avery's rookie contract making this move make or break for him.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.