This is Year 3 for Nathan Gerry in an Eagles uniform, in a position totally foreign to him from his collegiate days, and he feels at home. With the Eagles. In this defense. As a linebacker.
Gerry, all built up to 235 pounds after weighing 212 pounds when the Eagles used a fifth-round pick on him in the 2017 NFL Draft, says he's ready to play his best football.
The timing is perfect, right? Nobody knows exactly how this is going to play out, but with the Eagles set to open the preseason schedule on Thursday night against visiting Tennessee (7:30 p.m., NBC10, full coverage on PhiladelphiaEagles.com and official app at 7 p.m. with the Kickoff Show presented by Axalta), Gerry is the team's middle linebacker and, yeah, he sees this as an opportunity to audition for the vacant position.
"I feel like I'm able to make the calls out there and I feel like I'm trusted to play with confidence and play faster," Gerry said after the team's practice on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex. "I've put in a lot of work in the film room and in the weight room to earn that trust. The thing about the NFL is that you have to be consistent and do the right things over and over and over again. I think a lot of my teammates can see that. I've learned a lot about that from those guys, so they see the work I've put in.
"I'm looking forward to playing Tennessee. I've seen enough of our offense and our guys. It's time to see something different."
Gerry knows that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is looking for him to make the right verbal calls to the rest of the defense and to make sure everyone is lined up correctly and is on the same page. The pre-snap challenges are, then, significant.
Once the play is live, Gerry has to get to the football. His added weight and strength have helped him shed blockers and free himself to make plays. Against Tennessee, which employs a power running game, Gerry is going to have to play some downhill football.
He can't wait for the whistle to blow.
"I want to be 'the guy.' I've always been the guy to make the calls on defense in my career. I've been one of those 'leader' guys who has lined everybody up and taken that responsibility, so this is no different," Gerry said. "It's an audition for me. I look at it that way every day, really. I have to be confident in what I'm seeing and trust my eyes. I've worked hard at this. I'm ready for this opportunity."
Middle linebacker is an unsettled position for the Eagles with Jordan Hicks having signed in Arizona as an unrestricted free agent in March. The Eagles addressed the linebacker corps by signing Zach Brown and L.J. Fort in free agency, and while it would be ideal to have all three positions locked and loaded with the preseason opening, that's not the case.
Kamu Grugier-Hill is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury suffered over the weekend in practice. Nigel Bradham, the incumbent SAM linebacker, hasn't yet gone 100 percent in Training Camp as he recovers from a toe injury suffered in last year's postseason. Brown is working to establish himself as a starter. Fort has worked across the board learning all three positions.
These preseason games really do matter, especially when you consider the Eagles have had only two "live" days of contact in camp. How in the world can Schwartz accurately assess his defense with so little hitting?
"We're going to find out a lot," Gerry said. "We've all been pushing each other and that makes us better. It's just good to see another offense on the other side of the ball. I've figured out a lot in my three years. I sure hope the coaching staff trusts me. They've asked me to do a lot of things and I love that. I need to get out there and show them what I can do, so the more they ask me to do, the better."
Nathan Gerry as the team's middle linebacker? He's in that position for the preseason opener, and Gerry intends to take full advantage of the moment.
"With Nate, it gives him a great opportunity to really crack in there with the ones (starters) and show his ability," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He's a very smart football player, he's athletic, he's a core special teams player. He's going to get a lot of opportunities. Yeah, he's filled in nicely."
Said Gerry: "Thursday night is a football game, whether it's preseason or not. I love football and I understand what's at stake here, so this is extremely important for me. I'm going to treat it that way. I want to play my best football and earn my place. It starts against the Titans for me. I'm fired up for this."