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With Injuries Mounting, The Time Is Now For Eagles Young Linebackers

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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Last week, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill suffered an injury. Although the news was not so bad as to mean that he will be out for the season, he will miss time and likely not be ready for the season opener.

A veteran linebacker who is far from guaranteed a spot, Paul Worrilow, is suffering from knee injuries once again. His chances of making the team fall which each practice he misses.

Nigel Bradham is still recovering from offseason surgery. While he will likely be ready for the start of the season, his injury along with that of KGH is an opportunity for the Eagles young linebackers to show they belong.

Among the linebackers other than the three previously mentioned are Zach Brown, LJ Fort, Nathan Gerry, TJ Edwards, Alex Singleton and Asantay Brown.

Of those, Brown is probably the only player that should feel fairly secure in getting a roster spot. The others have something to prove.

LJ Fort is by far the oldest of the remaining players at 29. He will be playing in his fifth season this year, but he has been in the league for seven seasons already. Fort spent three season on practice squads unable to make rosters after playing with the Browns in 2012. He carved a place for himself as a depth and special teams player with Pittsburgh the past few seasons, but was still bounced between the practice squad and the 53-man roster until 2018. His contract with the Eagles is the first "big" deal he has signed. He was a Pro Football Focus darling last season, but with a fourth-round compensatory pick being cancelled out because of his deal he's far from a sure thing to make the roster.

Enter the young guns.

The Eagles are hoping to be impressed by Alex Singleton (25), Asantay Brown (24), Nathan Gerry (24) and TJ Edwards (22).

Nathan Gerry is the incumbent and has the best odds to make the roster of the four.

Gerry was drafted by the Eagles in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. Although he did not make the initial roster, Gerry was signed to the practice squad and was called up to the 53-man roster in October. He remained with the team through their Super Bowl win and the 2018 season. He took a big leap forward and held his own well with Jordan Hicks once again missing time in 2018.

He knows the system, he plays special teams and he is coming off a season in which he recorded 23 tackles and an interception as a backup in just 13 games. He is also a converted safety who has some skill in coverage.

The fan favorite of the bunch is probably TJ Edwards. An undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, he seems to be the undrafted free agent that fans have seemed to place their hopes in. There is one each year, with Corey Clement and Jordan Mailata being the two most recent. Edwards will be the next on that list.

After an extremely productive career in the Big 10 (366 tackles, eight sacks, 15 interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery) it is surprising that Edwards did not get drafted. Despite projecting as a fourth to sixth-round pick, his name was never called and the Eagles scooped him up.

He is not the fastest linebacker around and isn't great at shedding blocks, which may be why he wasn't drafted.

That said, Edwards is a football guy and his knowledge of the game is incredible. If you watch great linebackers like Luke Keuchly, what makes them so great is his ability to read plays before they happen and counter them. Edwards may not have the physical abilities to become that level of player, but he is a competent linebacker with advanced knowledge.

He has potential and Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 12th best linebacker in this draft while NFCBeast points out that Edwards had 15% solo tackle market share in college - a stat that often translates to success in the NFL.

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Singleton is a former CFL star. He comes to the Eagles after having been named an All-Star twice, won the Grey Cup (the CFL championship) and having been named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2017.

While he was unable to stick with a team in his first attempt to make the NFL, he was able to become a superstar in the Canadian Football League. He was able to hone his skills and develop his craft before attempting this transition. With top players such as Cameron Wake coming from the CFL, there is reason to believe his skill set could make him a valuable contributor.

Singleton has looked good in training camp. The biggest threat he may face is that he has not had as much time in the system as Gerry and Asantay Brown have.

Asantay Brown would seem to have the lowest odds of cracking the roster. He was brought in just days ago following Kamu's injury and, although he spent time on the practice squad last season, the team chose to release him toward the end of the season to give his practice squad spot to someone else. The team did not sign Brown to a future's contract, either.

He was a fairly productive linebacker at Central Michigan and converted from safety partway through his college career. Combine that with his previous knowledge of the defense and he has a shot.

When the Eagles first preseason game comes around on Thursday night, linebacker will be a position to watch and these are the names you should be on the lookout for.

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