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Kamu Grugier-Hill’s surgery leaves roles to be filled on Eagles’ defense and special teams | Early Birds

The Eagles’ special-teams captain will miss the showdown with Dallas.

Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill points after a video review showed the Eagles scored a second-quarter touchdown against the New England Patriots last month.
Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill points after a video review showed the Eagles scored a second-quarter touchdown against the New England Patriots last month.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Eagles fans are concerned about injuries to so many bigger names this week, Kamu Grugier-Hill’s back surgery that caused him to be placed on injured reserve hasn’t been a huge focus.

But beyond the spat between the Eagles and agent Steve Caric over whether Grugier-Hill has been playing with a disk problem, and whether the team has been properly appreciative of his sacrifices, is the impact of losing the Eagles’ special-teams captain, who has worked hard to carve out a solid defensive role, as the team prepares for the NFC East showdown with visiting Dallas.

More on that below. But first, If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here​. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @lesbowen.

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Looking for some ’backing

Kamu Grugier-Hill has been a core special-teams player and has been on the field for 34 percent of the defensive snaps, despite missing the first three games of the season after suffering a knee injury in training camp, and the Giants game with a concussion. In last Sunday’s Eagles victory at Washington, he played just five defensive snaps, a season low for a player who logged more than half the snaps in five of the previous six games he played.

“He’s tough,” said fellow linebacker and special-teamer T.J. Edwards, who allowed he was surprised to see Grugier-Hill go on IR.

Edwards, an undrafted rookie from Wisconsin, was cited by Eagles coach Doug Pederson as someone who will help fill Grugier-Hill’s role. The coaches like Edwards’ strength and physicality, at 6-foot-1, 242. He has never played more than 22 snaps in a game — the total he finished with in the previous meeting with Dallas, back on Oct. 20.

“My role definitely will be increased a little bit; you can expect a little more from me on defense … which I’m excited for," Edwards said. "Just trying to scratch and claw my way into the lineup.”

Edwards already plays plenty on special teams, though; it isn’t clear who will step into Grugier-Hill’s role there. But that player has big cleats to fill.

“He’s so fast and reactive. He sees things happen a lot quicker than other people do,” Edwards said of Grugier-Hill, 25, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason. “He’s most of the time the first guy to the ball. He’s kind of formed himself into that role.”

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. EJ Smith tells us the Dallas Cowboys have trouble with mobile quarterbacks, which might or might not mean something with regard to their matchup with Carson Wentz.

  2. Paul Domowitch has some good Hall of Fame news for Eagles fans — Harold Carmichael, Dick Vermeil and Al Wistert have a chance of getting in this year, as finalists in a special NFL 100th birthday class.

  3. Domo has his usual incisive look at the positional matchups, with prediction.

  4. Even more from Domo: How an AAF coach helped Greg Ward reach the Eagles.

  5. EJ, Domo, Jeff McLane, and I offer our predictions for Sunday’s game.

  6. Bob Ford writes that the season is on the (D-)line for the Eagles, and that means a lot is needed from Fletcher Cox.

From the mailbag

Why does the secondary regress each year? [Poor] coaching? — Derek (@phillyceltic) via Twitter.

I’m not sure it’s worse each year, Derek, the bar doesn’t get a whole lot lower than giving up 505 passing yards in the Super Bowl. But I have a few thoughts. (I often have a few thoughts.)

I think Jim Schwartz’s scheme makes it really hard to play cornerback. Other teams give more safety help. Then there’s Schwartz’s prioritizing of toughness, size, aggression and resilience over other relevant qualities, such as speed and being able to make a play on the ball. As Schwartz noted this week about the Washington game, chances to get off the field go unseized because balls that should be picks often aren’t.

Then there is drafting. Name a really good corner or safety the Eagles have drafted lately. It’s been belabored a lot, but the Sidney Jones situation is a disaster — the team thought once his Achilles healed, it would have a Pro Bowl player at an important position. I don’t know if Jones’ problems are more physical or inside his head, but he is somewhere around No. 7 on a corner depth chart that does not feature anyone who is consistently better than average.

Players seem to feel Cory Undlin teaches the right techniques, and relates well to them. But as is so often the case on this team, you can ask who he has made better, and I can’t give you an answer. Avonte Maddox seems to have regressed.

Last year’s Eagles secondary suddenly raised its level of play at the end of the season, and looking back, that lulled management into thinking everything would be great with better health. That was a terrible decision. Speed and a real difference-maker at corner should be huge priorities for 2020.