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The 'optimistic realist' Nakobe Dean eyes his return to the field 

Nakobe Dean meets with reporters during the offseason training program.
Nakobe Dean meets with reporters during the offseason training program.

Nakobe Dean's 2023 season officially ended on November 16 when he was placed on Injured Reserve with a foot injury.

At the same time, his 2024 season kicked off.

Dean, the third-year linebacker who has the presence of an esteemed veteran, isn't wasting energy on looking back into the past, pondering what could have been. A National Champion and a team captain at Georgia, the alpha dawg, Dean was selected by the Eagles in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a mainstay on special teams as a rookie for the NFC Champions. Pegged to be the anchor in the middle of the defense in his second season, injuries curtailed Dean's ascension to the top of the depth chart.

"The mental side is always hard, but we talk about having a dawg mentality all the time and I feel like it starts with being mentally strong," Dean said. "I'm an optimistic realist, so I'm always real about my situation, but I'm always optimistic. So, the only thing I continue to do is work and everything else will take care of itself."

Dean was out of a walking boot in February. He's nearly all the way back. Dean credited the training staff that knew when to let the dawg out of the cage and when to rein him in.

As he nears complete physical health, Dean begins the mental challenge of absorbing a defense led by new coordinator Vic Fangio.

"You watch film and you see his defenses over the years and how they evolved and different things they do," Dean said. "Of course, we haven't been able to talk ball yet, but just knowing the type of coach he is, I'm just excited to get ready to work with him, excited to get ready to just learn the scheme, and take it as my own."

The position group is also different with several new veterans, including former first-round pick and Super Bowl Champion Devin White, who tried to recruit Dean to LSU. Dean isn't concerned in mid-April about where he is going to line up. He just wants to ball.

"We [are] all kind of high energy guys who love ball, who [are] going to take whatever is thrown at us and we don't complain about it," Dean said. "We're just going to take it for what it is and push through it. We're going to be oak trees and not pine trees. We're going to stand strong in the wind."

After getting a taste of defensive action last year, it would be natural for Dean to have statistical goals for the 2024 season. But Dean's benchmark is to "push to be the absolute best version of myself. And for me, that's my definition of greatness."

Dean doesn't expect anything to be handed to him this year. He's motivated to "earn the respect and trust of all the guys – new guys, guys that's been here, everybody who knows me – continue to just work on myself. I feel like that's the biggest thing is just work on myself.

"I know I may have been out of sight, out of mind because of the injuries, so I'm here now."

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