January 22, 2024   6 MIN READ

‘Hell Of A Story’

Birds LB Dean Expects Major Return In '24


Since suffering a Lisfranc injury on his left foot back in Week 9, Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean has run the gamut of mobility aids on his road to recovery – crutches, a cane, six weeks of a Roll-A-Bout scooter, and most recently, a walking boot.

Holding court along the walkway outside his locker stall during Wednesday’s locker clean-out, the second-year linebacker didn’t hesitate when asked how much longer he’d be in the boot.

“Three weeks,” Dean said, sporting a wide smile.

The end of the season is typically when the Mississippi native would retreat down south – most likely to Georgia, where Dean played his college football – but the extensive recovery process has thrown a wrench into his plans.

Instead, Dean will be spend a frigid winter and spring up north, as he continues to rehab in Philadelphia ahead of a critical third season.

There’s no immediate timetable regarding the commencement of his offseason training, though Dean leaves those details to those who preside over his recovery.

“I’m trusting them,” he said. “They’re taking it slow, they want me to take it real slow. They’re a great staff in there – they’ve done a lot of good work – and I trust them.

Nakobe Dean

GETTY IMAGES: Eagles LB Nakobe Dean, who played just 5 games, vows to return better in 2024.

“Of course, they want the best for me. They want me to come back and play and be the best version of myself.”

Dean’s most recent injury – he was shelved for several weeks due a right foot injury sustained in the season-opener –  sidelined him for the remainder of the season, an unfortunate setback for a young player who had be given the keys to a remade Eagles linebacking corps that entered 2023 with some major question marks.

The 2022 third-round pick was issued the green dot in during training camp, making him an on-field liaison to the defensive coordinator, and much of the defensive structure seemed to revolve around the newly appointed face of the second level.

Perhaps unfairly, an inordinate burden was placed on the shoulders of an unproven 23-year-old to revive a middling unit. Plenty of optimism, and some skepticism, hovered over the decision.

The initial injury prompted the return of veteran Nicholas Morrow to the 53-man roster, to fill the void opposite another free-agent rental, Zach Cunningham.

The concept of Morrow serving as a temporary placeholder proved futile, however, as Dean appeared in only five games (four starts) over his sophomore campaign.

Dean finished with 30 tackles (two for loss), a half-sack, and a quarterback hit across 182 snaps.

For Dean, who’d never missed a practice or game at Georgia – or any time during his rookie season –  the initial hurdle was coming to grips with being absent alongside his teammates.

The empty feeling eventually wore off, giving way to a hardened resolve intent on Dean returning as the best version of himself.

He attended meetings, first sitting in on individuals and then eventually unit meetings. Before long, the second-year linebacker was in every meeting.

He did his best to conceal his progress – he was adamant about appearing on the practice field once the allotted media observational portion of practice was over – but made sure to be there supporting his teammates.

Even though he did everything possible from a support and preparation standpoint, Dean found it difficult to watch helplessly from afar.

“Of course, it was frustrating,” he said. “It was frustrating for everybody, though. It was frustrating for the organization, it was frustrating for the players, it was frustrating for the fans.

“Everybody should take everything that’s happened this season and learn from it – how everything was handled, our attitude towards it, just take it and learn from it. I feel like most of my frustration stemmed from me not being able to be out there my team in the way I knew I could when I was healthy.”

It would be presumptuous of the Eagles to go into another season banking on the prospects of Dean’s resurgence, neglecting opportunities to fortify the unit.

But while additions are likely imminent, Dean’s body of work, though brief, should have painted a picture who he is when he’s on the field.

“I hope so,” Dean said. “Whatever happens, I’m gonna be ready to work. I just want what’s best for this team. And that’s that. I feel like the best players will play. And I’m gonna work. If I’m the best version of myself, then I got nothin’ to worry about.”

A winding path to recovery, arduous as it might be, has afforded Dean a chance to reflect, offering a unique perspective.

Rather than fixate on what could have been or lament over uncontrollable circumstances, Dean leaned on his foundational pillars to uplift and propel him forward.

“Being a guy that never missed a practice, never missed a game, and then now I get hurt twice — the right foot and the left foot — you learn that the game can be taken from you like that,” he said. “But you also learn where my foundation lies as a man. So, I know the game can be taken from you like that, but I know what I’m founded on — my family and my faith — and it won’t throw me off my pivots.

“I love football … I love the game of football. But me being hurt this season has helped me hone in on what means the most to me in life. But football do mean a lot though — I mean, it’s up there now — but I feel like you can’t let stuff that happens on the field kinda … like me being hurt, I could easily sit here and just mope.

“I got hurt the second time and we lost, what, six of the last seven. I could easily sit here and mope, and be down and groggy and I could point fingers. I’m not gonna point fingers at nobody. We gotta continue to just be positive through everything.

“It’s easy to be down, easy to be sad, easy to sulk. My sulk period only lasts this long before I’m thinking, ‘What do I need to do to be the best?’ The best part of me being hurt is I get the opportunity to come back and be better than I’ve ever been. And make a hell of a story.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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