For the time being, Davion Taylor is focused on collaboration over competition.
The Eagles linebacker is among a handful of players vying for a finite amount of spots in the first-team defense. The team signed veteran Kyzir White and drafted former Georgia star Nakobe Dean this offseason, seemingly knocking Taylor down on the depth chart.
Still, the 23-year-old insists this isn’t the time for jockeying.
“Right now we’ve been trying to just get better as a group,” said Taylor, a third-round pick in 2020. “I haven’t been really thinking about my role and what my role will be when the season starts, I feel like that’s going to play itself out. Right now, we’re really just helping each other as individuals.”
After playing almost exclusively special teams as a rookie, Taylor had a stretch last season in which he got meaningful playing time. The former Colorado standout (who hardly played high school football because of religious beliefs) lived up to his predraft description: an inexperienced project worth taking on because of his unusual athleticism.
Taylor started six games and was showing improvement before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 11. He had his share of mistakes — Pro Football Focus gave him a 38.6 defensive grade for last season, 12th worst among the NFL’s linebackers — but the Eagles coaching staff was encouraged enough by his weekly progress during that time to let him work through his faults.
“He’s a unique player as far as his skill set, what he can do when the ball is snapped,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said in November. “He’s continuing to get better on certain plays that he hasn’t seen because he hasn’t played a lot of ball. ... Some mistakes he made a couple weeks ago, he’s not making anymore.”
Taylor said the injury cost him the chance to continue making strides, but he’s determined not to give up ground.
“It was very disappointing because I realized I was starting to get better,” Taylor said. “My process was getting better, my movement was getting better, so the biggest thing was just coming off that injury, making sure I started off where I left off.
“The injury was a little setback because I knew I was getting better game by game. The biggest thing is not letting it affect me in the future.”
Last year’s progress aside, it’s unclear whether Taylor will be afforded the same opportunity to learn on the job this season. White, 26, started 17 games for the Los Angeles Chargers last season and seems to have an early advantage over Taylor. During the seven-on-seven portion of the team’s last two practices open to the media, White and inside linebacker T.J. Edwards took the majority of the first-team snaps, with Taylor and Dean working with the second and third units.
White worked in with Taylor on the second team at times as well, and the two connected last Wednesday for Taylor’s best play. White broke up a Gardner Minshew pass to undrafted free-agent receiver Britain Covey and Taylor snagged the deflected ball out of the air for an interception.
The play is representative of the collaborative disposition that Taylor has taken to offseason workouts so far.
“We all know we’re going to compete and everything,” Taylor said. “But [White’s] a vet, he’s been in the league longer. I ask him questions, some things that he’d see that I probably don’t see. I’ll ask him, ‘What do you see here?’ ‘What did you see there?’ Him being in the room, I feel like it’s helping me a lot, because I’m going to ask questions.”
Taylor has the same outlook when it comes to helping Dean, who was considered a first-round talent by many before reported injury concerns caused him to slide to the third round in April’s draft. The two linebackers grew up on opposite ends of Mississippi and have developed a bond through their Southern roots, Taylor said.
“I feel like me and him will click, just because we’re both from Mississippi,” Taylor said. “We’re both from the South, we talk a lot.”
The imminent position battle can wait until training camp.
“I’m helping him learn what he’s doing,” Taylor said. “When the time comes, I know we’re going to have to compete, but right now, it’s all about connecting and just getting better as a team and getting better as a group.”