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Eagles’ Nakobe Dean has mature approach to being a backup

This is new territory for Nakobe Dean.

The decorated rookie linebacker has made an immediate impact wherever he’s played. As a freshman at Horn Lake High School, Dean started every snap and was a star. As a true freshman at Georgia in 2019, I played a ton too.

“Didn’t start though,” Dean quickly pointed out.

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

The ballyhooed college linebacker and draft steal made his NFL debut with the Eagles on Sunday in Detroit.

I played a total of three defensive snaps.

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

It’s no surprise that Dean is handling his current situation with the type of maturity we’ve heard so much about from his time at Georgia. He’s not pouting, he’s not down in the dumps. He trusts that his time will come.

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

It’s not just about understanding your role; it’s about buying in, I explained.

“You got to,” Dean said. “I feel like if I was hung up on me not playing a lot or not getting a certain amount of plays or things like that, then I wouldn’t be fully bought into this team. But I’m fully bought in. I’m fully bought in. I think this team could be real special. So I continue to work. I bought into it and I’m enjoying myself every step of the way.”

Even though he wasn’t a starter, Dean’s first NFL game was still something for him to treasure. 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 when he first got to Georgia, he was always so nervous before games. Since then, he’s really worked to stay more even-keeled. So he said he wasn’t really nervous for his first NFL game… but he was understandably excited.

“It was great,” Dean said. “Just being out there and living the dream. Being in the NFL and having this position. I’m here now but it’s time to continue to work and continue to get better every day, day in and day out.”

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

The reason Dean isn’t starting or playing more is because the two linebackers in front of him — TJ Edwards and Kyzir White — earned their spots in training camp. Edwards earned the right to be the Eagles’ middle linebacker and White earned the right to be the starting weakside linebacker. After watching every practice this summer, it’s really hard to argue against those decisions from the coaching staff.

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

“I just keep working,” said Jordan Davis, who was teammates with Dean at Georgia. “Nakobe is a hard worker. He knows none of us are coming in here with expectations to start or to be the guy. At the end of the day we just keep working, working on our personal improvement. When our number is called, we’ll be ready.”

Many folks thought Dean was the best linebacker in the 2022 draft but he wasn’t taken until the third round at No. 83 overall. The Eagles thought about taking him in the second round with the 51st overall pick but elected to take center Cam Jurgens instead, thinking there was no way Dean would be available 32 picks later.

But because of his injury history and slight frame (5-11, 231) Dean was shockingly still available after a crazy draft slide. For all those injury concerns, Dean hasn’t missed a practice since coming to Philly.

While he’s still a backup, Dean has thrown 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. I played a total of 15 special teams 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.

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

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

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

“If my number’s called,” he said, “I’ll be ready.”

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