PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' situation was so dire in Sunday night's open training camp practice, the franchise had to make a move. With just four healthy off-ball linebackers available, rookie undrafted free agent Ben VanSumeren was getting reps with the first-team defense.
Not exactly the formula to win games on a Super Bowl contending team. With no depth, the Eagles had to make a move (or two) to ensure depth at off-ball linebacker. Enter Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham.
The recent signings at off-ball linebacker are a reflection of depth, not an indictment of Nakobe Dean -- the lone lock on a defense that is uncertain at the position.
"I feel really good about Nakobe," Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said prior to Sunday's. "When he was out there, he was doing a nice job running the defense, being in position to make plays. Had a really big splash play, knocking that ball out, and has done really good as far as just in coverage and just being around the football and knowing what to do.
"So really pleased with where Nakobe is right now."
The Eagles have full confidence in Dean, who has received every first-team rep in practice prior to going down with his ankle injury late last week. Dean also has the green dot in Sean Desai's defense, so that's another vote of confidence in his ability. Dean is listed as day-to-day by the Eagles, who feel like he's "close" to returning.
Dean isn't the problem at off-ball linebacker. Who starts next to him is the question.
Christian Elliss has outplayed Nicholas Morrow through seven training camp practices and is the front-runner to start next to Dean. Shaun Bradley is a special teamer who is competing for reps on the second team while VanSumeren is an undrafted rookie trying to find his footing.
With the signings of Cunningham and Jack, Morrow's roster spot is in serious jeopardy. He's on a one-year deal and is making $1.08 million. The Eagles don't suffer any dead cap hit if they cut him. The Eagles already moved on from Davion Taylor, a 2020 third-round pick who never panned out.
"Davion has worked really hard to be in a position this year to be on the 90-man roster and fighting for a spot or a practice squad spot, and sometimes you have to -- that's a hard part of the job," Sirianni said. "Knowing what an integral part that Davion was last year to our team -- because it's not just the 53 men on the team that make the team, right? It's the practice squad guys, and Davion gave us great looks last year."
The Eagles are giving Cunningham and Jack an opportunity to compete for a starting spot, hoping one of them can take the mantle. At worst, Elliss is on the second team and a special teams ace. Regardless, Elliss is going to make sure the first-team spot he earned by performing well in minicamp and training camp stays in his favor.
Even though Elliss is playing well, he's never started a game in his NFL career. Between Dean, Elliss, and Bradley, the trio have combined to start one career game. Cunningham has started 76 games and Jack has started 95, experience the Eagles need at that position.
"We just wanted to add competition to the room, and that's one of our core values, is competition," Sirianni said. "So, when you bring in good players, like these two guys have been in this league, that's only going to raise the level of everybody else in the room and on the defense.
"No indication on the room itself. Pleased with the room. We were low at numbers there and we wanted to bring in some competition to further drive the level up. That's all that competition does. That's why it's one of our core values."
The Eagles needed depth at linebacker, and a proven starter next to Dean. They're hoping either Cunningham or Jack can take the reins -- as they get a three weeks to prove their value.
"It's going to be a work in progress to get these guys up to speed," Sirianni said. "We are confident in the studies that we have done on these guys that they are smart football players that should be able to get caught up to speed.
"That's our job as coaches, to make sure that the job description for them is very clear so there are no questions. But, they're the quarterback of the defense, them and the safety. There is work to be done, and so we'll work our butts off to do that.
"They have experience and that's a good thing."