In a room full of young linebackers, they’re the youngest, and for a team that rarely drafts linebackers, they represent hope for the future.
Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley are not only going to make the team, they’re going to be key figures on the Eagles’ special teams from the jump and hopefully grow in time into expanding roles on defense.
This is uncharted territory for a team that only drafted one linebacker — in any round — in the previous seven years and has drafted just a couple serviceable linebackers in the last 20 years.
Taylor, the third-rounder from Colorado, and Bradley, the sixth-rounder from Temple, are the first pair of linebackers who’ll make the team as rookies since Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews in 2011.
Hopefully, this goes a little better than that did.
But it’s not easy.
Without an offseason or preseason games, Taylor and Bradley go into Washington a week from Sunday cold, without any real sense of what NFL football is like.
“Shaun and Davion, really good additions for our team,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Guys that can run, guys that have some size. We're really lucky to have both of those guys.”
Taylor and Bradley are the youngest in a linebacker room where nobody is older than 26 or has more than 16 career starts.
They’ve leaned on the veterans for guidance and leaned on each other for support.
“We’ve created a great bond,” Taylor said. “When we’re on the field we always try to help each other. If one person forgets the play, it’s like, ‘You have to be in this gap,’ or, ‘You have to do this.’ Even when we’re off the field, just watching the older guys, we’re like, ‘Hey, you see what we had here? What was the play call?’ It’s just making sure we’re all paying attention to the details and paying attention to what’s going on. Even just outside of practice, in the meetings rooms, we’ll ask each other things we didn’t know. (When) we don’t want to ask the question out loud, we’ll just ask each other. So we’ve just been leaning on each other and trying to help each other when it comes to all three linebacker positions, making sure that we know everything when we go out there and our names are called we won’t be confused or we won’t be hesitant.”
Duke Riley and Nate Gerry, both beginning their fourth NFL seasons, are the two “veterans” of the linebacker room, and even though they’re still learning the game themselves, they’re also there to provide support to the 22-year-old Taylor and 23-year-old Bradley.
“I think they’re quick learners, those guys,” Riley said. “They come in every day ready to work, and they’re great listeners. They’re soaking up everything and they’re constantly getting better each and every day.”
But nobody knows what’s going to happen in 10 days when the Eagles go to Washington for a real football game.
Kids like Taylor and Bradley and the other Eagles rookies who’ll be playing will be in a very difficult position.
“The older linebackers … they always tell me, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to get that correct because we don’t have any preseason games, so that first game, everything counts,’” Bradley said. “You can’t miss little assignments, you can’t miss that little detail. You have to get everything on point."
The last time Taylor played a snap of football was Nov. 30 in a 45-15 Colorado loss to Utah in Salt Lake City. The last time Bradley played was on Dec. 27 in Temple’s 55-13 loss to North Carolina in the Military Bowl at the Linc.
Since then, they’ve had a bunch of Zoom calls, two weeks of practice and a grand total of two days of live tackling to the ground.
Now go play NFL football.
“We practice really, really fast here, we try to do things game speed, but once you’re going against other guys, it’s just a totally different thing,” Riley said. “I think it’ll be an adjustment that they’ll have to get used to each game. (The veterans) also. It’s not just those guys, you know, because we haven’t seen preseason games either. This will be the first time all of us.”