Philadelphia Eagles

After years of missteps, Eagles finally getting big-time linebacker play


We don’t have to remind you of all the lousy linebackers the Eagles have trotted out there over the years.

(Moise Fokou, Jamar Chaney, Joe Mays)

We don’t have to bring up any of the names of the guys the Eagles have brought to play linebacker.

(Brian Rolle, Matt McCoy, LaRoy Reynolds)

Nobody needs to hear about all the linebacker swing and misses.

(Zach Brown, Stephen Tulloch, Emmanuel Acho)

We don’t have to talk about the past because for once the Eagles got it right.

T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White are giving the Eagles something they’ve been missing for most of the past couple decades.

Exceptional play at linebacker.

Edwards, now in his fourth year with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, and White, who the Eagles signed a couple weeks into free agency, have been in the middle of everything the Eagles have done defensively these first few weeks.

Edwards has continued to improve each year and has made himself a versatile, playmaking every-down linebacker. And White has acclimated quickly to a new defense and new scheme and has picked up right where he left off with the Chargers.

Best of all, they’re playing extremely well together.

“Right away when he came in, I could tell we see the game similar and how things fit and how our coaches want certain things to look and be executed,” Edwards said. “And I think right away we kind of understood that, and we’ve just continued to build on it.”

The Eagles got solid linebacker play during the 2017 Super Bowl season with Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill – and Jordan Hicks before he got hurt – but years like that have been the exception, not the rule.

They haven’t had a Pro Bowl off-ball linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter made his fourth Pro Bowl in 2005 and before that in 1996 when William Thomas made his second.

But Edwards and White have both been playing at a high level in their first year together. They're fun to watch.

“We started in OTAs and training camp really putting in extra time studying film, communicating and just trying to be on the same page at all times, and I feel like it’s made the transition really smooth,” White said.

“He’s a smart player, undrafted guy, blue-collar guy, not really that well-known, still earning his respect, but he can do it all, and I feel the same about myself. I feel like we’re both underdogs. I feel like our whole room is underdogs.”

Three games in for the undefeated Eagles, Edwards has a team-high 27 tackles along with one sack, two pass knockdowns and three tackles for loss, and White has 19 tackles and one tackle for loss.

Other than a shaky second half in the opener in Detroit, the Eagles’ defense has been terrific, allowing just 13 points the last two weeks. They’ve been solid across the board, but for a team starving for big-time linebacker play for years, Edwards and White been huge.

“I think what you're seeing right now is they fully understand where they need to be, why calls are called, where they fit into those calls, certain routes or certain runs they can be very aggressive, certain times they can't,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said.

“What I'm really pleased about those guys is they're tackling at a high level right now. They're taking good angles, tackling, physical. When we need them to get downhill, they're downhill. When they can't be downhill, they're not. I like where T.J. and Kyzir are at.”

Linebackers coach Nick Rallis said he loves how Edwards and White have opposite personalities that complement each other.

“T.J.’s a very cerebral player, he doesn’t get too high, too low, he’s extremely start, runs the show,” Rallis said. “Kyzir’s a guy who plays with juice. He’s got a lot of juice. That’s a really good compliment. T.J. even talks about it: ‘Man, Kyzir gets me hyped up out there.’

“And then T.J., on the other hand, is so cerebral: ‘Hey, here comes this play, here comes that play,’ and that helps Kyzir play that much faster, too. So I think they really complement each other.”

Edwards and White are also physical opposites.

Edwards stands a sturdy 6-1, 240 pounds and looks like a traditional middle linebacker, and White is a lankier 6-2, 215, and looks like an old-time weak-side backer.

But they’re both so versatile that they’re interchangeable. Edwards has lost weight and gotten faster and become a solid cover linebacker, and White is crazy physical for a guy who was drafted out of West Virginia as a safety.

“We have so much flexibility because they’re smart,” Rallis said. “You go back to training camp and you teach them both spots and so now you can move pieces around week to week depending on what we’re doing.

"It’s two positions, but they’re very similar. It’s not the old traditional, ‘This is the MIKE, this is the SAM, this is the WILL, one guy’s small, one guy’s big.’ That’s not the game anymore, and these guys can do a lot of different things.”

Because they’re so versatile and playing so consistently, Gannon and Rallis have abandoned the linebacker rotation they used last year.

Edwards has played all but eight of the Eagles’ 207 defensive snaps, and White has played 156 snaps, or 75 percent. But when White leaves the field, it’s because the Eagles are only using one off-ball linebacker.

So they’re as close to full-time players as possible in a modern NFL defense.

“Just the fit of those two playing where they're at right now, I think they complement each other,” Gannon said. “I think they're in their prime-time spots for what we ask those guys to do.

“Nick has done a good job with those guys. That's part of the reason we cross-train all those guys to play different spots with different people.”

Edwards and White have one other thing in common. Like so many key guys on this roster, both are unsigned beyond this year.

But that’s a headache for another day.

For now just enjoy watching two off-ball linebackers who can actually play.

“I don’t think there’s a play that goes by that we’re not talking pre-snap, talking post-snap, making sure we’re getting things fixed on the sideline,” Edwards said.

“He’s been great to play next to and he’s a playmaker, too, and having a guy who’s hungry and wants to go make plays motivates me every day to go do the same.”

(Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews, Kiko Alonso)

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