The ‘Philly Dawg’ Five are young, hungry, and poised to impact the Eagles defense
Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith are among the five Eagles draft picks out of Georgia over the last two years. They're a tight-knit group, and that could help them in their NFL transition.
Sitting next to Nakobe Dean in a special-teams meeting, Nolan Smith finally realized how rare a situation he’s in.
The Eagles rookie edge rusher was taking in coordinator Michael Clay’s teachings early in his first training camp when Dean, his former college roommate, leaned over to give him some pointers. On various occasions throughout the summer, Smith would go on to share the field with Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter, and Kelee Ringo — the three other members of the vaunted Georgia defense that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has been collecting talent from over the last two seasons.
When Smith, Carter, and Ringo got drafted last spring, they started a group chat with Dean and Davis called “Philly Dawgs” for the tight-knit group of reunited Georgia defenders. Throughout training camp, the text chain stayed mostly idle until ...
“Our first off-day, we were in there FaceTiming with each other,” Smith said. “Just talking about practice, what we see. ... Those connections are real.”
Davis added, “We do everything together. If we’re not together, we’re always talking to each other. It’s just that little security because, at the end of the day, football is football, but we care about them on a deeper level. Those are my bros.”
The group of young Georgia defenders has been relying on that bond going into the 2023 regular season. Outside of Ringo, each of them will have a meaningful role in the Eagles defense and could have a significant impact on how the team performs this year.
After seeing sparse playing time as rookies, Davis and Dean will be at the heart of the defense. Dean, a third-round pick last year, enters the season as the defensive play-caller at inside linebacker, and Davis, a first-round pick in 2022, as the starting nose tackle. After going ninth overall in April, Carter will be an important fixture of the interior rush after an impressive training camp, and Smith, the 30th pick, is slated to get snaps on the back end of the edge rusher rotation.
Davis and Dean understand the transition their rookie teammates are going through, making them the go-to for just about everything from the intricate details of special-teams meetings to quality dog-sitters in the area.
“It’s just like having a group of your best friends,” Davis said. “I was at a store in Delaware and I was like, ‘Man, if y’all need a little clothes, a little shoes, y’all need to come by here.’ It’s just little stuff like that, little restaurant recommendations here and there, just to get them acclimated a lot easier than it was for us. If they need to come over, it’s just another spot to chill at. If they want somebody to watch their dog, I got a plug for that.”
Said Ringo: “It already felt like home almost as soon as you come here. And then just being able to branch off that getting to know the rest of your teammates. I would definitely say it’s been easier.”
The regular season will be the ultimate indicator, but both Carter and Smith left their mark during the preseason. Carter got pressure on Baltimore Ravens reserve quarterback Josh Johnson in his first preseason snap and had dominant stretches during joint practices against the Cleveland Browns the following week. Smith had his own share of pressures in more extended preseason action as well and has shown versatility to play multiple spots in the defensive front.
Carter’s summer has been so encouraging that his former college teammates urged him to put down some roots in his new city.
“I told Jalen the other day,” Ringo said. “‘You better go ahead and get your house, bro. I don’t see you going anywhere for your entire career.’”
The sudden influx of decorated players from top college programs such as Georgia and Alabama hasn’t been a coincidence. The organization went nearly 20 years without taking a player from Alabama and 10 years without taking anyone from Georgia before breaking the respective streaks.
The shift in draft philosophy started in 2021 with DeVonta Smith and Landon Dickerson. Roseman wanted to pair the two with Jalen Hurts, who also played at Alabama before transferring to Oklahoma, to help shape the personality of the team in the long term. The following year, Roseman doubled up from Georgia with Davis and Dean and doubled down with the latest trio.
Following this year’s draft, Roseman compared it to when organizations hire front-office executives or coaches from successful teams.
“The way those guys worked,” Roseman said. “The kind of players they are, certainly the kind of people they are, it just reminded us that it’s no different than when you’re trying to hire someone for a [staff] position. Obviously you want guys to be really talented at what they do and whatever role they’re in, but the other stuff matters, as well.
“You see those guys play in the biggest games. On the biggest stage against the best competition, and so it’s an easier [choice] ... it’s hard enough when you have all the factors going into a draft pick.”
A byproduct of the Georgia accumulation might be the eased learning curve the defensive players have experienced. Ringo said there have been times when one of his former college teammates can “translate” something to what the call would have been in college and Davis said there’s a comfort in hearing Dean call plays in the defensive huddle because of their shared college experience.
“I just want to make their transition easier,” Davis said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s hard. You have to grow up real quick coming from college to the NFL and I know how it is, I’ve been there. Luckily, me and Nakobe, we’ve been there and it’s recent. You can listen to [Fletcher Cox] and listen to [Brandon Graham], but times have changed since they’ve been a rookie. Fortunately it’s fresh for us.”
There’s a mixture of personalities in the group as well. Davis calls himself a “social butterfly” and is the animated one. Smith is the most energetic, while Dean is the most serious.
Carter is the quiet one, but Smith and Davis said they can pull the rookie defensive tackle out of his shell when needed.
“He don’t trust easy just because that’s our background,” Smith said. “It’s good to have guys around him like us that he can just come and talk to. I’ve been with him for four years. I’ve been the one to peek around the locker and be like, ‘JC, man, you Gucci? You good?’”
Said Ringo: “One of the main things I cherish the most with all those boys is it’s just so natural. Like just the energy, bro, like, ‘Just be you and I love you for who you are.’”