This is his fourth season here, so the T.J. Edwards who is now patrolling the Eagles' defense from his middle linebacker position is a player entrenched as a leader and a playmaker. He is not the rookie who came into the league after the 2019 NFL Draft, nor is he the young player who earned extended playing time in larger gulps each season after.
He is a player who Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon relies upon in so many ways as kind of, in a lot of ways, the guy in the Eagles' defense.
"I think we had a good feel for T.J. (when the coaching staff arrived in 2021), and what you saw is he could take the coaching and started getting more comfortable and he is making a lot of plays for us, and that's why you saw him take over the defense, kind of the first third part of the year or whatever. We expect him to do that this year as well," Gannon said early in this 2022 Training Camp. "I didn't scout him coming out, but when I got here, you read everything and you talk to different people that looked at him and things like that. I think that if there were a couple negatives on him, they are not negatives with what we're asking him to do. Actually, they're positives. Excited to have T.J."
"… you saw him take over the defense … We expect him to do that this year as well."
This is heady praise and it's honest praise from a coaching staff that doesn't throw around bouquets unless they are merited. And on a defense with the likes of Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Brandon Graham up front, Haason Reddick on the edge, and star power in the secondary, it's Edwards who is here to "take over the defense?"
"I just play my role and I understand what the coaches want me to do," said Edwards, who became a starter in 2020 and who last season in this defense registered a career-high 125 total tackles and five passes defensed. Only five players in the league had at least 125 total tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery – Edwards was one of them. "We all have our roles. We all have our jobs. The thinking here is that we all focus on our jobs and what we need to do within the defense. If we all do our jobs, we're going to have success."
Edwards is the one who takes the defensive calls from Gannon, so the connection is obviously very strong. They have to be on the same page with what they see and what they anticipate will happen from the offense when the ball is snapped, so that requires an intense amount of film study and institutional knowledge.
As good as Edwards has become physically in the NFL – and he's gained strength, speed, and instincts in his three-plus seasons – the recognition and awareness have taken his game to a new level. And the Eagles want more. Always more.
Nobody is content.
"I'm challenged T.J. I've said, 'Hey, I want you to understand opponents better than I do,'" Linebackers Coach Nick Rallis said. "At the end of the day, I'm not going to be able to prepare him for everything that's going to happen on that field, but if he understands, 'Hey, they're doing this,' and 'We haven't seen see them do this, but this is why teams do this,' he's going to play that much faster and he's already playing fast.
"He's an extremely fast processor. He's extremely smart. He's moving extremely well. He's physical … He's taking it to the next level."
Maybe Edwards is one of those guys on whom the "experts" got it all wrong. He wasn't drafted because his 40-yard dash time wasn't good enough in the eyes of the NFL. Big mistake. Edwards has been all over the field and around the football throughout this Training Camp, so the way the Eagles have projected him and the way he has pushed himself – it's all working out for a player who deserves every bit of the success he gets.
"It's fun and that is something to always remember. I love playing the game. I know what people have said about me and I've always kind of used that as motivation," he said. "I'm never satisfied with where I am because I think if you're complacent, you're going in the wrong direction. I'm just going to keep pushing, get a little bit better every day. All I know is that I'm having fun out there with the guys and we're coming together. Let's see how it turns out if we just improve that 1 percent every day.
"I think we will be happy if that happens."
The Eagles practiced in front of nearly 30,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night. Check out the best photos from the action on the field, as well as some of the interactions between the players and those who cheered them on.