Eagles’ Nkobe Dean Has a Mature Approach to Being Backup

This is new territory for Nakobe Dean.

Wherever the decorated rookie linebacker has played, he has made an immediate impact. As a freshman at Horn Lake High School, Dean started every snap and was a star. As a true freshman in Georgia in 2019, he played a ton as well.

“Don’t start though,” Dean pointed quickly.

truth. But he was an important part of the rotation and was named the Bulldogs’ Co-Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

The Bailyhood College linebacker and draft stealer made his NFL debut with the Eagles in Detroit on Sunday.

He played a total of three defensive snaps.

“As long as I keep getting better and know what I can do and know what kind of person I am, I know what type of player I am, that’s good,” Dean said. “I love this team and as long as I keep getting better, I’m happy with it.”

It should come as no surprise that Dean is handling his current position with the type of maturity we’ve heard so much about since his time in Georgia. He’s not screaming, he’s not down in the dumps. He is sure that his time will come.

Eagles head coach Nick Siriani often talks about the importance of his players understanding their roles in the team. Dean took it a step further.

It’s not just about understanding your role; It’s about buying, he explained.

“You got it,” Dean said. “I feel like if I was hung up on not playing too much or not getting a certain amount of play or stuff like that, I wouldn’t have been completely bought into this team. But I totally bought into this team. I’m gone. I’m totally bought. I think this team can be really special. That’s why I keep working. I’ve joined and I’m enjoying myself every step of the way.”

Even though he wasn’t a starter, Dean’s first NFL game was still a treasure for him. His first defensive snap came as a linebacker in the goal line package and he got two more along the way. He also played a total of 15 snaps on special teams.

Dean said that when he first went to Georgia, he was always so nervous before the games. Since then, he has actually worked to stay even more sober. So he said he wasn’t really nervous for his first NFL game… but he was quite excited.

“It was great,” Dean said. “Just be out there and live the dream. Being in the NFL and having this position. I’m here now, but it’s time to keep working and keep getting better every day, day after day.”

It was the first step in what he and the Eagles hope would be a long and productive career.

The reason Dean didn’t start or play more is because the two linebackers before him – TJ Edwards and Kazir White – earned their places in training camp. Edwards earned the right to be the Eagles’ middle linebacker and White earned the right to be the starting weak linebacker. After watching every practice this summer, it’s really hard to argue against those decisions of the coaching staff.

Dean is just doing everything he can to prepare if and when the Eagles need him to play more.

“He just continues to work,” said Jordan Davis, who was a teammate with Dean in Georgia. “Nakobe is a hard worker. He knows none of us are coming here with the hope of starting over or becoming a boy. At the end of the day we just keep working, working on our personal improvement. When we get a call on our number, we will be ready.”

Many thought that Dean was the best linebacker in the 2022 draft, but he was not ranked 83rd overall until the third round. The Eagles considered moving him to the second round with the 51st overall pick, but elected to take center Cam Jurgens instead, thinking Dean would not be available after 32 picks.

But Dean was still shocking after a crazy draft slide, due to his injury history and modest frame (5-11, 231). For all those injury concerns, Dean hasn’t missed any practice since coming to Philly.

While he’s still a backup, Dean puts himself into film study and asks a ton of questions. He wants to do everything he can to improve without getting those live defensive snaps.

For now, a big part of Dean’s role with the Eagles is as a special teams player. He played a total of 15 special team snaps in Detroit on kickoff, kick return and punt return. The good news for Dean is that special teams aren’t new to him like it would be for a ton of college stars.

“In Georgia, (head coach) Kirby Smart will tell you, starters play all the special teams,” Dean said. “It didn’t matter. We played special teams. Our best players played special teams. That was it.”

That experience has given Dean a leg up and allowed him to have his first real taste of NFL football, before eventually earning more time on defense.

Based on what we know about Dean, it’s only a matter of time.

“If my number gets a call,” he said, “I’ll be ready.”

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