Middle linebacker T.J. Edwards could have been the Eagles’ most overlooked man this offseason.
Despite making 14 starts last season and playing well, Edwards could have been intimidated by the Eagles’ offseason haul of linebackers.
The Eagles, surely and for once, were revamping their linebacking corps and Edwards had to hold his own. Luckily, he has experience doing just that.
Middle linebacker Nakobe Dean was drafted in the third round. Kyzir White was signed as a free agent from the Chargers. Haasan Reddick was signed as a free agent from the Panthers.
Dean, the heralded rookie from Georgia who is considered the steal of the draft, is one spot below Edwards on the depth chart.
Edwards has taken a less glorified path to the roster. He was an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin. He is in his fourth year with the Eagles, making 30 starts and playing in 44 games.
The 6-foot-1, 242-pounder has 230 career tackles and two interceptions.
EDWARDS ‘MAKING A LOT OF PLAYS’
As the preseason unfolds, Edwards clearly has a place in the Eagles’ plans.
- “I think we had a good feel for T.J., and what you saw is he could take the coaching and started getting more comfortable and he is making a lot of plays for us, and that’s why you saw him take over the defense, kind of the first-third part of the year or whatever,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “We expect him to do that this year as well,”
- “I didn’t scout him coming out, but when I got here, you read everything and you talk to different people that looked at him and things like that.
- “I think that if there were a couple negatives on him, they are not negatives with what we’re asking him to do. Actually, they’re positives. Excited to have T.J.”
LONG ROAD TO STARTER STATUS
About 30 percent of NFL rosters consist of undrafted free agents, according to Pro Football Network. So, it’s not impossible, but improbable, to land that NFL job.
Edwards arrived in Philly in 2019 — an undrafted man with a plan. That plan faced a serious roadblock when he found himself a rookie with no cachet, buried at ninth on the linebacker depth chart.
- “I tried not to look at the big picture every time.” Edwards said. “I tried not to look at where I was on the depth chart.
- “I tried to focus on just the things that I could control — which was my play, my reps that I got.
- “I also knew that special teams was going to be my way in. I knew that I had to make an impact there. We had Dave Fipp [special teams coordinator] when we were here and he sat me down and that’s what he told me.
- “I appreciated that, just knowing that I had to be on [special] teams to make the team. I just knew that I had to get better every single day, don’t make the same mistake, come out here with confidence that you belong and that you’re not just a rookie and you come out here and make plays and that’s what I tried to do.”
His methods paid off. Edwards became one of the Eagles’ top special teams players and that led to a starting job at linebacker. He has been on an upward path ever since, starting four games at linebacker in 2019, 12 games in 2020 and 14 games last season.
RARE LINEBACKER DEPTH
The Eagles, for a rare moment in recent times, have legitimate linebacker depth. Edwards is first string along with Reddick and White.
But check these back-ups — Davion Taylor (six starts last year), Shaun Bradley (special-teams ace), second-year player Patrick Johnson (one of the stars of camp) and rookie Kyron Johnson.
- “I think Shaun [Bradley] is taking big-time strides from last year,” Edwards said. “I think the depth we have and the guys who can come out and start Day One is awesome to have.
- “It’s only going to make us better. At the end of the day, we push each other, we’re critical of each other but we’re also giving props when props are due. So it’s a good room.”
EDWARDS THE SAGE
As the undrafted guy, Edwards has mentored other undrafted players or low draft picks. He said when he arrived in Philly, he was mentored by fellow Wisconsin Badger Corey Clement.
Edwards chuckled when asked if he has become something of a guru to these players.
“I have found guys just talking to me in general,” Edwards said. “I always try to ask the rookies how they feel about practice coming up, or the past game coming up, how they’re feeling and stuff like that.
“Everyone’s story is kinda different. Everyone’s confidence level coming in is different. At the end of the day, the most important thing is knowing that you got to go out there and show that you’re supposed to be here and that you deserve a spot on this team.
“That’s really all you can say and all you can try to help them understand. I think that a lot of those guys come out here just fighting and scrapping and doing anything they can to make it and that’s really special to see.”
Edwards talked about Johnson, his locker mate and good friend. “I always joke with him. He went in the seventh [round]. I told him I went in the eighth [round],” Edwards said.