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Nakobe or bust for Eagles’ defense


Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

PHILADELPHIA – Ready or not, Nakobe Dean is just over a week away from taking over the Philadelphia Eagles defense that was ranked second in the NFL last season en route to an NFC championship and Super Bowl berth.

The unit that will arrive in Foxborough on Sept. 10 will be very different than the one that came up short in Super Bowl LVII back in February, however.

Gone are defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and his two top lieutenants in secondary coach Dennard Wilson and linebackers coach Nick Rallas as well as five starters: defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White and safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps.

Dean will be tasked with replacing Edwards as the middle linebacker and greed dot of the defensive after playing only 34 defensive snaps as a rookie.

The expectations are high and perhaps unrealistic for Dean due to his college career at Georgia, where he won a national championship and the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.

“Of course, it feels different,” Dean said when asked about being an entrenched as a starter in advance of Week 1, “but it doesn’t feel too much different because I went into last year the same way – attacking it, attacking the first game and I’m going to attack it this year. I’m taking a step up and every year after that, too.”

Few doubt Dean’s ability to handle the job from a mental standpoint.

A mechanical engineering student with a stellar GPA in Athens, Dean has always been a very cerebral player.

“When you were young, that’s what separated you the most,” Dean said of his mental acuity. “If you weren’t always the fastest, the biggest, the strongest, which I’ve never been ever, so it was like being cerebral I was always being smart, being able to study plays and know what was coming at a young age.”

To casual fans, football is about strength and physicality. Heck, even former Eagles coach Chip Kelly famously said “big people beat up little people.”

Dean takes exception to those sentiments.

“I love it because people who don’t know much about football on the outside looking in might think it’s just about running and hitting,” he said. “If you’re able to go tackle somebody, be tough, be strong and you can play football, it’s not always the case. It’s a lot of thinking that goes with it, it’s a lot of scheme stuff that goes into it.

“I feel like that’s the beauty of the game.”

Dean downplayed the green dot, however, something former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did as well during the 2017 Super Bowl season when Jordan Hicks went down with an injury and Nigel Bradham had to take the baton.

“Well, there’s no signals (in the NFL),” Dean explained. “It’s literally just you getting the play call.”

It’s about leadership to Dean.

“Looking toward the sideline in college, anybody can look to the sideline and get the call, so being able to man the huddle, I’ve leaned on veterans like Fletch (Cox) how they like the huddle, how they like me to get them the call, how they like me to say a certain call to make sure everybody gets the right call,” said Dean.

Dean handling that is old hat to his former Georgia teammate Jordan Davis.

“Well you know this is a regularly scheduled program with Nakobe hearing calls from Nakobe, four years now,” said Davis. “From college, I know he’s more than capable of making those calls. I love how he communicates with us.”

Clear and concise is always Dean’s goal.

“This offseason, when I was conditioning, in between reps, I made sure I called a play call because when you’re out there you’re going full speed, you’re going to be tired and you have to make a play call,” Dean said.

Now, it’s about translating it to the field.

“I’m extremely excited,” said Dean. “… It’s football season and how blessed you are definitely this time of the year. You kind of reflect back on how blessed you are to be in a position to even play this sport that you love, so it’s nice to be able to be a part of the team that’s worked as hard as us, put in the hours, I’m blessed and of course, I’m excited for the season.”

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