How Eagles' ballyhooed rookie Nakobe Dean is handling life as a backup

How Dean is handling life as a backup with Eagles originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Four snaps.

That’s the sum total of the first half of Nakobe Dean’s rookie season.

Three snaps in the opener vs. the Lions and one last Thursday night vs. the Texans.

Dean, the Eagles’ ballyhooed third-round pick from Georgia, won the Butkus Award last year as the best linebacker in college football and along with Jordan Davis was the leader of one of the greatest defenses in college football history.

Four days after Georgia beat Alabama to win the National Championship in Indianapolis, Dean announced that he'd be entering the draft, and he was immediately projected as a can’t-miss first-round pick.

It didn’t work out that way, and the Eagles were thrilled to land Dean in the third round with the 83rd pick overall.

But so far, Dean has been relegated to special teams duty and scout team reps at practice on defense as he patiently waits his turn.

“I love this team and I love that we’re winning,” Dean said Thursday. “I came here to play defense, and that’s what I keep working toward, but we’re 8-0, the defense is playing great, and I have nothing to complain about.

“My time will come, but right now, this is my role and I’m just focused on getting better every day and being ready when my number is called.”

Dean is playing a ton on special teams — with 18 snaps per game, he’s fourth on the team, behind Shaun Bradley (20), K’Von Wallace (20) and Zech McPhearson (19).

But the way the Eagles’ defense is operating this year, there just aren’t any reps for a backup off-ball linebacker.

T.J. Edwards has played 506 of the Eagles’ 526 defensive snaps, Kyzir White has played 400 and since Jonathan Gannon isn’t rotating linebackers like last year, Dean hasn’t gotten on the field.

The Eagles’ defense is No. 3 in the league in yards allowed, No. 2 in points allowed, No. 1 in takeaways and No. 6 in sacks and has held seven straight opponents to 17 or fewer points.

So you can understand why Gannon isn’t making any changes right now.

But the Eagles are also No. 29 in yards allowed per rushing attempt, and maybe Dean could help out in run defense?

Gannon said right now it’s just a matter of White and Edwards playing at too high a level to take them off the field.

“(Nakobe is doing) awesome,” Gannon said. “I like where Kyzir and T.J. are at. I think they are playing well with each other. But Nakobe is ready to go. … I have no fret of him going in and functioning at a very high level.

“Behind the scenes … this guy improves every day, like all our guys. They take their reps to heart. They try to maximize their reps in practice. He’s playing scout team, as well … and they play our calls, so he’s getting time on task into our calls with what we have up in the game plan.

“When we need him, he’ll be ready to go.”

It’s important to remember Dean is still only 21, and he’s the second-youngest linebacker to ever play for the Eagles, a couple months older than when Jeremiah Trotter was as a rookie in 1998.

Edwards and White are among the numerous Eagles who are unsigned beyond this year, and with Jalen Hurts due for a monster contract, even Howie Roseman won’t be able to keep this roster intact.

Dean will get his chance. It just might not be this season.

“This year has been a blast,” Dean said. “I want to play on defense and I’ll get my chance at some point. Until then, I’m just going to work as hard as I can every day so when I do get my opportunity I’m ready.”

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