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Sirianni: LB signings not a reflection of confidence in Dean


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Sirianni: LB signings not a reflection of confidence in Dean

The Eagles signed a couple linebackers on Sunday but does it have anything to do with Nakobe Dean?

By Dave Zangaro  Published August 7, 2023


The Eagles on Sunday revamped their linebacker room, signing veterans Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham to one-year deals.

But head coach Nick Sirianni claims those signings are not a reflection of the Eagles’ confidence level in Nakobe Dean.

"Shoot, no,” Sirianni said.

There’s no reason not to take Sirianni for his word on this one. The Eagles gave Dean every first-team rep in practice until he suffered a minor ankle injury a few days ago and the fact that he has had the green dot in Sean Desai’s new defense from Day 1 is telling. The third-round pick from 2022 is still very likely a starter in this defense in 2023.

In fact, Sirianni on Sunday said Dean has "done a great job” so far this summer and reiterated that the team has a lot of confidence in the second-year linebacker.

"I feel really good about Nakobe,” Sirianni said. "When he was out there, he was doing a nice job running the defense, being in position to make plays. Had a really big splash play, knocking that ball out, and has done really good as far as just in coverage and just being around the football and knowing what to do. So really pleased with where Nakobe is right now.”

Dean has missed two full practices with his ankle injury but is considered day-to-day by the Eagles. Expect him to be back with the first team whenever he returns.

So why did the Eagles sign Jack and Cunningham?

For one thing, the numbers at the position were noticeably low, especially after the Eagles released former third-round pick Davion Taylor on Sunday. They had just four healthy off-ball linebackers dressed for the public practice at the Linc on Sunday night.

But the biggest reason seems pretty simple: That position next to Dean is in up in the air.

The Eagles have mostly rotated Nicholas Morrow and Christian Ellis at that WILL position this summer and it was clear that linebacker is the weak spot on a strong roster.

Morrow was a free agent signing this spring and he has some starting experience but the $0 guaranteed in his contract told you the Eagles weren’t committed to him. And as good as Elliss has looked at times, he’s still a relative unknown after mostly playing special teams in his career. The only other true off-ball linebackers on the roster are special teamer Shaun Bradley and UDFA Ben VanSumeren.

An even though the Eagles have played guys like Nolan Smith and Kyron Johnson at linebacker a bit this summer, don’t expect any full-time moves.

By signing Jack and Cunningham, the Eagles are probably just hoping one of them pays off. If either becomes a competent starter next to Dean in this defense, then it was worth it. It’s also fair to think this doesn’t preclude GM Howie Roseman from making another move if he deems it necessary.

"We are low, a little bit low, at that position as far as the amount of guys,” Sirianni said on Sunday before practice. "We really do feel good about the room. We just wanted to bring in some extra competition to let things shake out and see. At the end of the day the best guys will play.”

The Eagles lost both of their starting linebackers from the 2022 season when T.J. Edwards signed with the Bears and Kyzir White signed with the Cardinals in the spring. The Eagles then didn’t use a draft pick on an off-ball ‘backer and the only veteran free agent signing was Morrow.

Before adding Jack and Cunningham on Sunday, the Eagles’ most experienced linebacker was Morrow. The other four linebackers on the roster before Sunday have a total of one career NFL start between them and that belongs to Bradley. Dean has yet to start a game as a pro after playing special teams as a rookie in 2022.

While Jack and Cunningham have had ups and downs in their careers — and there’s a reason why they were available in August — they have experience. Jack has started 95 games in the NFL and Cunningham has started 76.

"Nick (Morrow) has some experience, but other than that we're down some experience there,” Sirianni said. "That's a good thing to have. Again, like I said, no indication on the room itself. Pleased with the room. We were low at numbers there and we wanted to bring in some competition to further drive the level up. That's all that competition does. That's why it's one of our core values. And like you said, they have experience and that's a good thing.”

Both Jack and Cunningham were observers at Sunday night’s practice and will presumably begin to practice this week. We’ll keep an eye on how this linebacker rotation plays out the rest of camp.

The Eagles have already practiced seven times this summer but they still have plenty of sessions left, including two joint practices with the Browns and one with the Colts. And they still have the three preseason games too for evaluation.

"Linebacker is a position that they have to know what everyone is doing,” Sirianni said. "It's going to be a work in progress to get these guys up to speed. We are confident in the studies that we have done on these guys that they are smart football players that should be able to get caught up to speed.”


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