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Eagles’ Nakobe Dean stars coming off the bench, as Nick Sirianni is happy with the rookie’s development

Philadelphia Inquirer 12/5/2022 Josh Tolentino, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean squares off with Tennessee's Aaron Brewer during the fourth quarter Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. © Steven M. Falk/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean squares off with Tennessee's Aaron Brewer during the fourth quarter Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Eagles rookie Nakobe Dean received valuable reps during the team’s Week 13 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

The third-round draft pick from Georgia tallied five tackles over 15 defensive snaps. He also recorded a key tackle while appearing on the kickoff-coverage unit coming out of halftime.

“We thought he played well,” coach Nick Sirianni said of Dean. “I think that started in his special-teams reps. He had that hit at the beginning of the second half that really established the physicality that we wanted to play with. That [sent the message] we were coming out again in the second half to play physical, and Nakobe really started things off.”

Dean was inserted at linebacker in place of the injured Kyzir White, who sustained an apparent lower-body injury during the third quarter. Sirianni indicated that White, along with wide receiver Quez Watkins (shoulder) and rookie nose tackle Jordan Davis, aren’t expected to miss much time, although Sirianni did not offer any type of firm timetable.

“Nothing that we think is real serious,” Sirianni said.

With White sidelined temporarily, Dean made an immediate impact. The 21-year-old linebacker showed glimpses of his former college self, playing with impressive force and instincts from inside the box. At one point, Dean stuffed running back Derrick Henry with just one arm while he was being held by an opposing player.

“It was good to finally get out there and get some defensive reps,” Dean said. “I’m always attentive on the sideline, always ready to go. When [White] went down, it was just me being ready like I have been all season.”

Dean was the recipient of the 2021 Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker. Ahead of this year’s draft, he was widely considered a first-round prospect until a report surfaced that Dean had sustained a pectoral injury and declined surgery. After the Eagles selected the All-SEC first-team honoree with the 83rd overall pick, general manager Howie Roseman noted that the team checked off all the boxes in Dean’s medical examinations.

Before Sunday, Dean had appeared in just four defensive snaps through the first 11 games with White and T.J. Edwards ahead of him on the depth chart. It could be argued that the Eagles have lacked this type of quality play from the linebacker position for a majority of the last decade.

“When he was in there, he did a nice job and that’s what we would anticipate of our first guy in,” Sirianni said. “If one of those guys were to get hurt and miss some time like Kyzir had to in the second half, we have a lot of faith in Nakobe to come in and make a play. We’re really happy with our depth there.

“We’re really happy with the development of Nakobe.”

While Sirianni expressed excitement for Dean’s emergence, he acknowledged that White and Edwards are still the team’s top two linebackers. The front office will have a bevy of roster decisions to make whenever the Eagles’ magical season concludes. Besides quarterback Jalen Hurts being eligible for a contract extension, Edwards and White also are playing on expiring deals.

With Dean patiently waiting his turn, there’s no guarantee that the Eagles re-sign both players.

“We’re really happy with the way T.J. and Kyzir are playing,” Sirianni said. “They’re playing at a high, high level. So Nakobe has to keep trying to make his way through special teams and when he gets the opportunity to play [on defense]. We’re really happy with Nakobe and how he’s performed when he’s gotten opportunities and what he does in practice, as well.”

Inquirer Eagles beat reporters EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino preview the team’s Week 14 game against the New York Giants. Watch at Inquirer.com/EaglesGameday

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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