Nakobe Dean had to sit back and watch his team go on a magical Super Bowl last season. The Philadelphia Eagles decided to red-shirt their rookie linebacker, instead of throwing him into the fire. It would have been a tough pill to swallow for an immature player, but Dean has always carried himself like a seasoned professional. He saw the greater good.
Dean, who is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at Georgia, was smart enough to know you don’t disrupt the flow when a team is rolling. Sure, he wanted to suit up. And, yes, he was ready to play. However, he trusted the plan put together by the coaching staff and kept his mouth shut.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JANUARY 10: Georgia Bulldogs ILB Nakobe Dean (17) lines up on defense during the Alabama Crimson Tide versus the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff National Championship, on January 10, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
“I wanted to play,” Dean told reporters. “Did I feel like I was ready? Yeah, but at the same time we was rolling. We was rolling as a team and the main thing is winning games. Main thing over everything is to win games and championships, so sitting back and playing my role and doing whatever I could do to make this team better was my main focus.”
One year later, Dean’s moment has arrived. The Eagles let linebackers Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards walk out the door in free agency, leaving a starting spot for Dean in 2023. He’ll still have to earn the job, but it’s his name on top of the depth chart at middle linebacker heading into training camp.
“It just shows that they are ready for me to step up, and I feel like I’m ready to step up,” Dean said. “I’ve been ready but it’s time to actually do it. It’s time for me to put out whatever I can do for this team to, like I said, win ultimately. I’m ready to do it.”
Kudos for New Eagles Linebackers Coach D.J. Eliot
D.J. Eliot is entering his first year coaching up the Eagles linebackers after Nick Rallis split for Arizona to be Jonathan Gannon’s defensive coordinator. Let’s not rehash all that drama. Eliot, who served as defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Temple in 2022, has no professional experience yet his natural leadership abilities are already making him a favorite voice in the locker room.
“He’s a good coach. He’s real detailed, you can tell he’s real passionate about what he’s doing,” Dean said of Eliot. “He really wants to help us in every aspect. He not only asks us about ball, but he asks us how our day went, how our weekend went, everything like that. So, as we continue to build that connection and that comfortability with each other, I feel like he’s only going to get better as a coach as he helps me get better as a player.”
Eliot does have a sterling reputation stemming from his 23 years coaching in the college ranks. He has guided squads at Temple, Kansas, Florida State, Miami, Colorado, and Kentucky, including nine seasons in the role of defensive coordinator.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 27: Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni during the National Football League preseason game between the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles on August 27, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
So, yes, the Eagles feel they are in good hands. Head coach Nick Sirianni put Eliot and all his assistant coaching hires through the grinder, according to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
“He not only grinds on football and on connections and on culture,” Lurie said. “But when it came time and this was a first for him, when it came time to figure out who’s going to replace the coordinator you lost, he was relentless.”