No one was more motivated to make an impact at Philadelphia Eagles training camp than T.J. Edwards. Coming off his best year in midnight green, Edwards watched the team load up on competition at the linebacker spot.
The Eagles signed veteran linebacker Kyzir White in free agency, then used a third-round pick on Nakobe Dean. These guys were added to strengthen what was widely viewed as a weak position, one anchored by Edwards in 2021. Disheartened? Never. He’s emboldened to “be the guy.”
“I want to be the guy,” Edwards told reporters. “I want to be the guy in the middle.”
Edwards has been flying around at summer practices, a disruptive force at middle linebacker and a guy who is always around the football. He put his physicality on full display on July 27 when he jammed up A.J. Brown to force an incompletion. Or fumble, depending on if it was a completed pass. Rules are rather lax at camp.
Either way, Edwards turned heads with the way he ripped the ball out. He’s been arguably the best linebacker on the roster through six practices. Edwards and White are the first-team linebackers. And it’s not by accident.
“Couple of practices in, there’s so much more I want to be better at, so much more I want to continue to grow my game with,” Edwards said. “And, obviously, making plays is nice, and I want to be consistent with that. That’s the biggest thing, day in and day out, to be a guy that’s counted on to make plays. And that’s what I want. So, I just want to keep growing, and also make sure as a a whole, as a unit – especially the linebacker unit – that we’re steady improving.”
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Edwards Committed to Route Recognition
Edwards has worked his tail off to earn starter’s reps since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin in 2019. He has started 30 games over three seasons while turning into a key playmaker on special teams.
The Eagles rewarded him with a one-year, $3.2 million extension last year. The contract came one day after he recorded 10 tackles against New Orleans, plus a fumble recovery and interception. He finished second on the team in total tackles (130) behind Alex Singleton.
His arrow is very much trending up, even with rookies Nakobe Dean and Kyron Johnson pushing him for snaps. Those guys have had quiet camps, proving they have much to learn, especially when dropping back in coverage. Edwards’ feel for guarding receivers might be his biggest asset.
“I kind of have a good feel for route recognition, and now going into Year 4, I’ve seen a lot in terms of routes and where everyone should fit,” Edwards said. “I work my tail off in the books, man. I’m studying as much as I can, and it’s really giving me an edge because I think instincts are everything in this game and being able to do that is something I pride myself on.”
Crowded Linebackers Room in Philly
Pro Football Focus called the Eagles linebacking corps “historically bad” in 2021 and ranked them No. 29 out of 32 NFL teams. Not this year.
The analytics-driven website bumped the Birds up to No. 15 while citing Edwards and his “breakout 2021 season.” Seth Galina wrote:
A position of weakness for the Eagles in 2021 might turn into a position of strength in 2022 with the additions of rookie Nakobe Dean and veteran Kyzir White to pair alongside T.J. Edwards, who had a breakout 2021 season. Edwards has posted 75.0 grades or better in two of his three NFL seasons and is one of the more underrated players in the league.
The Eagles depth chart at linebacker lists Edwards (middle), White (weakside), and Haason Reddick (strongside) as the starters. That’s a bit of a misnomer since Reddick is going to be used as a “weapon of mass destruction,” or hybrid linebacker and pass rusher. Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley are the next backers up, with Nakobe Dean, Kyron Johnson, and JaCoby Stevens fighting for the scraps. Patrick Johnson and Christian Elliss are likely to be cut.