Heading into only his fourth season, Nathan Gerry has to come of age rather quickly, as he is now at the forefront of the Eagles' linebacker corps.
But the question that many fans and pundits have pondered up to this point is why? Why is Gerry, the college safety-turned-linebacker, at the forefront of a group that is already light on experience?
According to Linebackers Coach Ken Flajole, what the Eagles see on gamedays is merely a piece of what Gerry's true value is to the defense, which he showcases in the form of his production and his intelligence, or as Flajole likes to call it, his "high-speed internet." No dial-up modem could handle all of the responsibilities Gerry has, especially when he is the MIKE linebacker, the de-facto quarterback of the defense.
"If you had the privilege of being in our meeting rooms, you would find out that Nate is really one of the smartest football players in terms of being able to think ahead of the problems, being able to manage all of the things that we ask the MIKE linebacker to manage," Flajole recently told reporters about Gerry. "He's got really a good football mind, so that's always been impressive to me."
Flajole even gave examples of how good Gerry is. He recalled one day recently in Training Camp where the Eagles were participating in a third-and-long drill in where Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz put an extra emphasis on man-to-man coverage. According to Flajole, Gerry seamlessly changed his technique multiple times during the drill, depending on the down and distance, which is apparently much easier said than done.
"Those are things that maybe the fans don't appreciate, but I do as a coach that's been doing this for 42 years," Flajole said. "To me, that's a smart football player, so I have Nate in high regard right now. Maybe that's something that if the fans had the opportunity and listened to discussions, they'd come away and say, 'You know what? That's a pretty smart guy.'"
The fact that Gerry impresses Flajole to this extent is rather remarkable considering he entered the league in 2017 as a safety transitioning into a linebacker. Flajole believes Gerry has taken his game – mentally and physically – to a new level ever since.
"I look at the guys we've had here in the past and we've had some good ones. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham did a nice job for us. Nate's right up there with all these guys in terms of giving us that type of mental approach in his ability to manage our front and manage any audibles or any checks that we have for the defense," Flajole said.
With all of that said, Gerry's mental prowess does not make up for the lack of experience amongst the Eagles' linebackers. But what the Eagles may have sacrificed in experience, Flajole believes they make up for with youth, athleticism, and enthusiasm.
"I really like my room," he said. "There's enough of the Nate Gerrys and Duke Rileys and T.J. Edwards now that he's in his second year in our scheme that I think we're going to have great leadership in our room and now we've supplemented that with some draft choices I think that are going to help us."
One way Davion Taylor, a third-round pick, can help during his rookie season is with his athleticism, which makes up for his lack of overall football experience due to him not playing high school football due to his religious beliefs.
"He's been a very diligent guy in our meeting room, he really wants to learn, but he doesn't have the background in our scheme number one, as none of the rookies do, but I like him," Flajole said of Taylor. "He's a great kid. He's got really rare athletic ability, which will make him special as he grows within our defense. He just needs competitive reps."
Although Shaun Bradley, the sixth-round pick out of Temple, is merely months into his first year, he has already shown the kind of leadership necessary to create a successful unit. He routinely rallied the other players during the rookie-only portion of Training Camp. He also brings an intensity to practice that can be a bit much at times, but is a trait Flajole is fond of overall.
"I see them both as really good choices for us, very athletic choices for us, and my job is to make sure that these guys continue to grow in the scheme and progress, and that they eventually become a cog in this defense," Flajole said of Bradley and Taylor.
The pair of rookies are led by a pair of fourth-year linebackers in Gerry and Duke Riley, the latter of which came to Philadelphia last season via a trade. After spending 2019 primarily as a special teams contributor, Riley believes that he and Gerry are ready to assume the leadership role in 2020.
"You see young guys with a lot of raw talent," Riley recently said of the rookies. "Both of those guys have speed. Both of those guys love the game. That's the main thing. Those guys want to be out there. They love to learn. They love to listen."
"You can just tell in everything that they do. They're writing notes down, they're paying attention, and they're in it," he added. "To be honest with you, they got good guys in me and Nate because me and Nate help them with everything that they do."
With leaders like Gerry, Riley, and Edwards, and talented rookies in Taylor and Bradley, the Eagles believe that their linebackers will be just fine in 2020.
Now, they have to prove it to the nonbelievers outside of the NovaCare Complex.