Nate Gerry may still be on his rookie contract, but he’s become a veteran for the Eagles’ linebacker corps this training camp. Going into his third season, the 24-year-old converted safety from Nebraska is currently directing traffic for the first team, setting up the defense and helping his less-experienced fellow linebackers find their way setting up the defense.
Gerry is the Eagles’ longest-tenured linebacker in team drills after Kamu Grugier-Hill suffered a Grade 3 MCL sprain, which will likely knock him out for the beginning of the season.
Grugier-Hill joins Paul Worrilow (knee) and returning starter Nigel Bradham (foot) on the sideline for at least the beginning of the preseason.
Gerry, a 2017 fifth-round pick, started in place of a suspended Bradham in Week 1 last year and then helped fill in for Jordan Hicks when he missed four games later in the season.
“It helped a lot, it obviously built up a confidence level for me,” Gerry said after Tuesday’s practice at the NovaCare Complex. “Being able to get that game experience is beneficial, too.”
That experience is enough to qualify him as a go-to reference for free-agent acquisitions Zach Brown and L.J. Fort, and undrafted free agents Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards.
“Last year’s nightmare has kind of turned into this year’s dream,” veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We had so many guys get forced into the lineup and get all this experience that now, you see a bunch of the young players seem like veterans because they’ve been there. You’ve got guys like Nate, they’re young, but they’ve been around enough to know the defense.”
Bradham has been working his way back from a foot injury sustained during the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Saints. The starting outside linebacker has yet to participate in team drills.
Because of Bradham’s absence, Gerry was getting first-team snaps before Grugier-Hill’s injury. But Gerry’s reps with the first team are now coming with an expectation for him to become a part of the starters, at least early in the season.
“Nate gets a great opportunity to really crack in there with the ‘ones’ and show his ability,” coach Doug Pederson said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s a very smart football player, he’s athletic, he’s a core special teams player, he’s going to get a lot of opportunity, and he’s filled in nicely.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gave Gerry a vote of confidence on Sunday before the team’s open practice at Lincoln Financial Field.
“We won some important games down the stretch with Nate Gerry as a starting linebacker for us," Schwartz said. “So we’re certainly confident in putting him in the game, and he has confidence in himself. The one thing about him is you know he’ll be ready.
Last season, Gerry had 24 tackles and an interception.
His goal is to not only hang on to his starting job, but also to continue in the leadership role he’s assumed through the first two weeks of camp.