A big focus for the Eagles this offseason is adding team speed, particularly on defense.
That is why former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown, 26, joined the team through free agency last week on a one-year deal. Brown is small for the position, at 5-foot-11, 221 pounds — even smaller than converted college safety Nate Gerry (6-2, 230). Jalen Mills, the cornerback the Eagles plan to move into a hybrid box safety, linebackerish role this year, is an inch taller than Brown, although Mills is listed at 190.
But Brown has run a 4.44-second 40, and until foot and ankle injuries intruded, he was a disruptive mainstay on the Chargers defenses of 2016-18. Last season, Brown suffered an ankle injury in training camp and started just one game. He played mainly on special teams, after starting 22 games in his first three seasons.
“I’m versatile,” Brown said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters, from his home in California. “I feel I can play in any scheme,” although his best year, 2016, when he made the Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team, was the Chargers’ last year in a 3-4 defense. They changed to 4-3, which is what the Eagles run under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Brown said he thinks Schwartz and the Eagles are “a very good fit” for his talents. “I like what I see here,” he said. He said he especially looks forward to playing behind a “very, very, very talented” defensive line. Brown said he feels he’s a student of the game, and can pick up Schwartz’s system, even if prep time is limited this spring and summer because of coronavirus quarantining.
Brown said he sees himself as “somebody who will go out and just compete every day, give it my all. Find my role on this team, and achieve that role the best way I can.” He said he met with the Eagles at his Akron pro day before the 2016 draft, and had thought he might be coming here then. Instead, the Chargers took him in the fifth round.
Figuring out Brown’s role is going to be interesting. Last season’s top linebackers, Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill, were not retained. The Eagles rarely play base defense; they often play with only one or two linebackers on the field. Brown is the only addition to the group so far this offseason. Next month’s draft is not said to be particularly rich in linebackers.
The Eagles have Brown, Alex Singleton, Gerry, Duke Riley, and T.J. Edwards. Brown has more career starts than anyone in that group. “That culture and team is a very good fit for me right now, and I think those guys that are there now are very good players," Brown said.
He indicated he is willing to play special teams, if that turns out to be part of his role.
Brown’s strength (33 bench press reps) and speed numbers were very solid coming out of college; he dropped in the draft because of his size. Given that he’s been injured a lot the last few years, that remains a relevant red flag.