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Eagles fans have a favorite for the third linebacker spot

Hint: It’s a safety convert...

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The fans have a clear favorite to start at the third linebacker spot, at least according to a recent Twitter poll. Corey Nelson has been promised more snaps, Nate Gerry was listed as a starter when the initial depth chart dropped, but it’s an emergency kicker that has captured the imagination of the fans.

Kamu Grugier-Hill has had an uphill battle to this point. A hybrid safety-linebacker in college at Eastern Illinois, teams weren’t sure which role he’d play at the next level. Missing out on the 2016 NFL Combine, Grugier-Hill used his Pro Day to spark interest. His 4.45 40-yard dash, 38 ½” vertical jump and 6.89 3-cone drill caught the eye of the New England Patriots. They would draft him in the 6th round with the 208th overall pick, but Grugier-Hill didn’t stick around for long despite flashing in camp.

After the Patriots released him they reportedly planned on stashing him on the practice squad, but the gamble crapped out. The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles snapped up Grugier-Hill and he saw immediate time on special teams. In 2016 he battled a hamstring issue, missing multiple games while still logging 187 special teams snaps. In 2017 he led the kicking and punting units with 343 snaps while famously replacing the injured Jake Elliott for a game.

Now he aims to give his defensive snaps a boost in the arm. The way you do that is by staying healthy, playing well, and flashing in preseason games. Grugier-Hill has checked all three boxes to this point, including a fantastic play against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 preseason action.

On 2nd & Goal from the Eagles 1-yard line, the Steelers dusted off the “speed option” with quarterback Josh Dobbs and running back Stevan Ridley. As the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS), Grugier-Hill is responsible for the quarterback.

With the option developing in front on him, Grugier-Hill must attack the line of scrimmage, but not get to far upfield. If he shoots too far past the line he leaves an alley behind him. This would be an easy touchdown for Dobbs, who would walk in. He also needs to squeeze down to the defender next to him to further tighten the gap that Dobbs is eyeing.

His job is to force the pitch, period. If he does that, his responsibility is fulfilled. Once the pitch happens, Nate Gerry is responsible for running over top, defeating his block, and finding the ballcarrier short of the endzone. That’s not necessary though, as Grugier-Hill shows off his range.

This is fantastic mental processing and play speed. Not only does he do his job, but he is able to burst out of his strafe and beat Ridley to the edge. While his 4.45 40-time from his Pro Day came at 208 pounds, it doesn’t look like he’s lost much juice with the added weight. Gerry might have made it there in time, but I’m sure he’s thankful it didn’t have to come to that. The play resulted in a 3-yard loss and would have eventually forced a field goal if it wasn’t for a roughing the passer committed by rookie Josh Sweat.

Plays like these, ones that speak to the mental acuity and athletic capabilities of a player are what get them noticed this time of year. Gerry may have topped the depth chart a week ago, Nelson may have had promises made when he signed, but Grugier-Hill has flashed the most. If he continues on this path, the fans will continue to embrace him and the coaches will reward him with a starting gig.

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