Lighter, faster become norm for LB
Nate Gerry’s primary role during his first two seasons with the Eagles was as a special-teamer.
While he’s still playing special teams in 2019, Gerry has become a much bigger factor at linebacker, thanks in large part to his speed and versatility.
His ability to play all three LB positions and have an affect against the run and the pass has resulted in Gerry leading the 5-7 Birds’ linebackers in tackles with 48 after accumulating a total of 19 tackles in the previous two seasons. He’s logged 465 defensive snaps in 2019 after having a combined 154 in the previous two years.
Gerry has started the last eight games, regardless if the Eagles open in their base defense or nickel defense, and is expected to start again Monday night against the 2-10 Giants.
“My first couple years, a lot of stuff I worked on was the run and the physical aspect of the linebacker position,” said Gerry after Saturday’s practice at the NovaCare Complex. “The cover aspect comes a little more natural for me. It took me a couple years to be able to show the coaches and my teammates that the past two years.
“It feels good to be able to go out there and make plays.”
Gerry was a safety at Nebraska, where he intercepted 13 passes over his final three collegiate campaigns. He exceled in pass coverage, in part because he moves so well. At Washington High in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Gerry won a pair of state track titles in the 200 meters, running a state-record time of 21.32 seconds, and also took the 100.
But Gerry knew he had to get stronger and become more comfortable dealing with 300-pound offensive NFL linemen in running situations.
When Nigel Bradham missed four games – from the Cowboys through the Patriots-due to an ankle injury, Gerry was on the field for 249 of a possible 251 defensive snaps (99.2 percent). He played inside, outside and called the defensive signals, registering eight tackles in each of the Dallas and New England defeats.
“He transitioned very easily,” Bradham said. “There’s a toughness in him that’s needed to play linebacker. I think that’s one of the reasons it was so much easier for him to make that transition and be able to take on those linemen and get off blocks. He kept adding weight and getting stronger.”
Gerry joked that he started eating when the Eagles called to say they were selecting him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft and wanted him to play linebacker.
Yet Gerry has only added 12 pounds since college. While getting a little bigger, Gerry wanted to maintain his mobility.
Based on his 51-yard interception return for a touchdown in a Week 5 win over the Jets, it appears he’s been successful in that respect. Scoring was nothing new to Gerry in high school, when he had 20 receiving TDs during his final two seasons, though he had no touchdowns at Nebraska.
Smaller, quicker linebackers are becoming the norm in today’s NFL because teams pass the ball so much. That benefits guys like Gerry, a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder.
“It’s a whole new era of football,” Gerry said. “Everything’s different.”
Since he’s utilized everywhere from inside to strong- and weak-side LB, Gerry must know what each linebacker’s responsibilities are and where his help should be coming from. That’s where his high football IQ comes in handy.
“Even when he came in as a rookie, you could see how smart he was and how fast he picked up the system,” said Bradham, whose locker is next to Gerry’s.
While he believes he started feeling at home as a linebacker last year, Gerry thinks the Birds’ coaches didn’t truly begin trusting him to be an every-down player until now. Now that he’s reached this point, Gerry’s goal is to keep it that way.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly