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Past tip-toeing, can Elliss still make push for starting gig?


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Past tip-toeing, can Elliss still make push for starting gig?

There's a competition for the linebacker spot next to Nakobe Dean and you shouldn't sleep on Christian Elliss

By Dave Zangaro  Published August 20, 2023


When Christian Elliss was asked earlier this summer if he’s a better player now than he was at this time last year, he started to laugh at first. Then he said yes.

He’s way better.

And the reason for that jump really boils down to one word: Comfort.

"Last year, I felt like I was tip-toeing,” Elliss said. "I felt like I was still getting used to being here in the NFL. But every day that goes by, every week, every year, I just get more comfortable. The game is slowing down. It’s been helpful. 

"I still have a long ways to go. I want to be one of the best. I want to be one of the greats, but it starts with today, it starts with this next step.”

Sure, the Eagles have a new defensive coordinator, a new linebackers coach and plenty of new verbiage to sort through, but Elliss got a taste of the NFL last season and he feels like he belongs. This summer, he’s been making a strong push for a starting spot in Sean Desai’s defense.

Even after the additions of veterans Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham.

It’s well established that Nakobe Dean will take one of the two starting linebacker positions. Dean is the MIKE linebacker and the Eagles haven’t hid the fact that he’s a big part of the defense in 2023. 

As for that other spot?

The Eagles brought in Nicholas Morrow as a free agent this offseason but his contract didn’t include any guaranteed money. And they brought in Jack and Cunningham on Aug. 6 to bolster the competition in the room.

But I still wouldn’t sleep on Elliss, who continues to get some first-team reps as the Eagles try to figure out that spot. It might just come down to Cunningham vs. Elliss.

Even though Elliss didn’t start on Thursday against the Browns in the second preseason game — it was Cunningham with Dean — he had a strong showing. In 27 snaps, Elliss had 5 combined tackles, 2 TFLs and a pass breakup.

It doesn’t seem like the Eagles are in any kind of rush to name their starters either, so Elliss still has plenty of time to prove himself.

"I mean, Patriots week is still three, four weeks away,” Desai said recently. "That's the time frame. We don't need to make any decisions up until then, and we're going to keep finding the best combination and make sure our guys keep competing.”

It’s easy to root for the 24-year-old Elliss. After going undrafted out of Minnesota in 2021, Elliss initially signed with the Vikings but eventually joined the Eagles’ practice squad as a rookie on a couple different stints.

Elliss was a COVID replacement elevation for the final game of the 2021 season and got his first NFL action but that wasn’t exactly a springboard. He got cut again by the Eagles last summer and ended up back on the practice squad. But he kept working and eventually earned his first elevation last year in Week 12 and made an immediate impact on special teams, eventually getting signed to the active roster.

From Week 12 on last season, Elliss played a major role on special teams. That experience meant a lot to Elliss.

"It was everything,” Elliss said. "I think it was only by God’s grace that I was able to play against the Titans. And that game kind of set this all in motion. Luckily, I had just been preparing with (Special teams coordinator Michael) Clay, with (assistant special teams coordinator) Joe [Pannunzio], a lot of our coaches who have faith in me. And so they put me out there and luckily I was able to help. But I’m only one brick in the whole wall of guys. I’m only one part of it. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”

This spring, there was Elliss working with the first-team defense at OTAs and intercepting passes on both practices open to reporters. He kept it going with an interception on the first day of training camp.

Of course, it’s notable that the Eagles still added Jack and Cunningham after watching the first six practices of training camp. But Elliss welcomed those additions.

"I was happy,” Elliss said. "I talked to Howie (Roseman) and them and they were like, we want more competition. I said, ‘Let’s go!’ They’re only going to increase my game, I’m only going to increase their game. They’re 7, 8-year vets and they have so much knowledge and wisdom. Anything I can learn from them, anything I can take from them is a blessing to me.”

No matter what happens at the spot next to Dean, the linebacker position is going to be a question mark going into the 2023 season. Even though Dean has a starting spot locked up, he has played a grand total of 34 defensive snaps in the NFL and the third-round pick is still an unknown as a pro.

Perhaps that lack of experience will temp the Eagles to pair him with a more experienced player like Morrow, Jack or Cunningham, at least to start the season. 

But Elliss still has some time to take ownership of that start job. And it’s amazing that he’s come this far in just a year.

"It’s been a huge blessing. All glory to God,” Elliss said. "My first year in the league, I was bouncing around from team-to-team, though a lot of hard work and through a lot of gifts that God has given me, I’ve been able to work and thankfully the coaches have been great. I have amazing teammates so thankfully they make my job easier. And it’s been a lot of fun this training camp.”


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