Nick Rallis excited for Year 2 from Eagles’ linebackers originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
It’s Year 2 in this defense for TJ Edwards and Davion Taylor. And to Eagles linebackers coach Nick Rallis, it feels like Year 2 for Nakobe Dean and Kyzir White, as well.
The Eagles have four starting-caliber off-ball linebackers, and Rallis, the Eagles’ 29-year-old linebacker coach, said this group is light years ahead of last year. And that shouldn’t be surprising.
A year ago, the Eagles’ off-ball linebacker corps consisted of Edwards, Taylor, Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton. Wilson and Singleton are gone, Edwards and Taylor now have a year in Jonathan Gannon’s defense, Dean is a promising rookie and White is an established veteran with 37 NFL starts under his belt.
Yes, it seems like the team that never has good linebackers just may have a bunch of good linebackers.
Who could have imagined.
“Year 2 is phenomenal just to see the comfort of guys in the defense,” Rallis said after practice Monday.
“Not just knowing their assignment within a call, but understanding what the rest of the defense looks like, where are the stress points in this call and how can we combat those stress points, and I’ve seen it from every guy in the group .”
Edwards, now in his fourth year undrafted out of Wisconsin, is the dean of the group. He’s gotten better every year he’s been here and played more every year he’s been here, and he’s looked terrific the first handful of practices. Taylor is a third-year, third-round pick out of Colorado who is one of the most improved players in camp so far.
The Eagles signed White to a one-year deal in March and then drafted Dean out of Georgia in the third round in April.
White is 26, Edwards 25, Taylor 24 and Dean 21.
“Everyone returning and then the two guys that I have new are extremely smart players and it’s almost like they’re in Year 2 as well,” Rallis said. “There’s a huge difference in Year 2, which has got me excited. You see the difference, no doubt.”
There’s been a huge emphasis on versatility and multiplicity in this linebacker corps. Howie Roseman was tasked with getting rid of one-dimensional players and bringing in linebackers who could play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 and line up in various positions along the way.
A huge part of the preseason is getting these guys comfortable working in different combinations so by the time the season starts they have a comfort level in every imaginable front or formation.
“A lot of these guys are very interchangeable, which you want them to be during the year,” Rallis said. “You work different groups, different pairings, get them used to playing this guy with this guy, this guy with this guy. It’s good for their growth as a position together. Give them either or. … Every linebacker in the room, everybody’s fast, everybody’s smart and they can process.”
There are other linebackers here.
Third-year pro Shaun Bradley from Rancocas Valley is considered mainly a special teamer, but he’s looked much improved on defense this summer. JaCoby Stevens was a 6th-round pick last year, Ali Fayad is an undrafted rookie from Western Michigan and undrafted Christian Ellis is back after two stints last year on the practice squad.
The SAM linebacker spot, with Haason Reddick, Kyron Johnson and Patrick Johnson, is really an entirely different position with no crossover with the off-ball linebackers.
“It’s a great room,” Rallis said. “I’ve got an eager room top to bottom and it makes my job easier just having a great group of professionals.”
Here’s what Rallis had to say about Dean, Edwards, Taylor and White:
On Davion Taylor: “Davion works extremely hard, and he is constantly meeting with me, he’s constantly watching film, and you’ve seen him take huge strides when he’s been out here at practice. He’s executing at a high level. You talk about instincts. All that is what they are seeing with their eyes and what they are processing and right now he’s doing a tremendous job and the game has slowed down for him, extremely. He’s ahead of it. He understands offense, and you can see he’s taking huge strides as a football player.”
On TJ Edwards: “I’ve challenged TJ I told him, ‘I want you to understand opponents better than I do,’ because at the end of the day I’m not going to be able to prepare him for everything that’s going to happen on that field but if he understands they’re doing this and this and we haven’t seen this yet but this is why teams do this? He’s going to play that much faster. He’s already an extremely fast processor, extremely smart, he’s moving really well, he’s playing physically. You guys know TJ We’re just taking it to the next level. We want to take every aspect of his game up another notch.”
On Kyzir White: “Kyzer is just like everybody in the room – he’s fast, he’s smart, he’s started NFL football (games) for a while now, and he just adds competition to that room. It’s a great room top to bottom and he showed up and he’s competing extremely hard and doing a great job. Picks up things very well, first year in this defense, played in a similar defense and it’s a smooth transition. You can tell, hey, this guy’s a vet, he’s extremely smart, it’s like he’s been here (before).”
On Nakobe Dean: “You’re getting what you thought. He’s extremely smart and gifted. … He’s doing a great job. As he starts to execute at a high level, he’s executing what you want to, you start to slowly pile (more positions) on. And you give a player what he can manage, and he’s doing a great job of managing a lot. … We knew he was a great player in college and he’s been getting better every single day. We just one-day-at-a-time strive to keep improving. If you make a mistake, don’t make it again. Keep being productive. Make plays on the football. Strive to get better every day.”