Come Right In
'Great Opportunity' Ahead For New Birds LBs
Like anyone else who’s seen the Eagles’ roster, newcomer Zach Cunningham sensed right away that linebacker is a position that could use help – his help, specifically.
Cunningham, a six-year veteran who was considered a tackling machine earlier his career, figures that even being signed off the street last week as the Eagles made swift changes to their weakest position isn’t much an obstruction to making the 53-man roster.
“Um, yeah, it’s definitely a great opportunity,” said Cunningham after Wednesday’s practice, a harmless admission that anyone close to the team would consider an obvious understatement. “I’m looking to take advantage of it.”
The Eagles didn’t waste any time throwing Cunningham and fellow newcomer Myles Jack, another veteran linebacker on his third team into the mix after signing both Sunday before the team’s evening, open practice at the Linc.
Amazingly, both participated in the session, introducing themselves rather quickly to the 50,000 on hand.
With second-year pro Nakobe Dean working his way back from an ankle injury, Cunningham and Jack have rotated in and out of personnel groups since practice reconvened Tuesday.
Cunningham’s 6-foot-3 frame and arm length make him one of the team’s bigger, lengthier linebackers, both present and past. The team has typically brought in shorter, quicker linebackers.
“I could defintely say it kind of broadens up the box,” he said. “Being able to make plays that normally maybe somebody else wouldn’t be able to make, having that length.”
Cunningham’s traits caught the attention of observers Wednesday in team drills.
Zach Cunningham, rotating in with the second team defense, just broke up a Marcus Mariota pass for Grant Calcaterrra. #Eagles
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) August 9, 2023
“I’ve been away from the sport a little bit,” Cunningham said, “So I’m working on getting back in football shape for sure. But other than that, I’ve been good.”
Head coach Nick Sirianni on Sunday tried to downplay the signings.
“We were low at numbers there and we wanted to bring in some competition to further drive the level up,” he said. “That’s all that competition does.”
But personnel sources have told Inside The Birds’ Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan that Cunningham and Jack stand good chances to make the team, that they were signed to upgrade a weak and thin linebacker group that had veteran Nic Morrow and the unproven Christian Elliss – who made his debut last season to help special teams – jockeying to start alongside Dean.
Cunningham is one to monitor as sources wondered to ITB about the status of Jack’s knees, although Jack managed to play 15 games last year for the Steelers despite a decline in performance. Cunningham played just six games last year, twice being shelved by an elbow injury.
Previously, Cunningham had played at least 14 games every season from 2017 to 2021, when the 2027 second-round pick from Vanderbilt ranked among the league’s top tacklers, including an NFL-most 164 tackles with the Texans.
In reality, the Eagles aren’t likely to feature many personnel groups with two stacked linebackers outside of first down and obvious run downs.
“Injuries happen,” Cunningham said. “I know that’s part of the game. So that’s basically how I had to look at it. You’re going to come back.”
Cunningham said it helps to come in with Jack, another former household name looking to keep the career flame flickering.
Jack, who got the call from team personnel chief Howie Roseman on Saturday, said he had no idea after his Sunday workout if he’d be sticking around or catching his return flight.
“Next thing I know I’m getting signed,” he said, listing the very few essentials he took to Philadelphia, which included just a few pairs of underwear, socks and a Bible. ”
“I wouldn’t rather have any other way, man. I’m here now,” said Jack, the 36th overall pick from 2016 out of UCLA . “That’s how it goes, you know what I mean? One week you’re on the couch playing ‘Call of Duty,’ the next week you’re playing with the Super Bowl champions.”
Super Bowl runner-ups, but close enough.
Cunningham said the Eagles’ reputation “speaks for itself – a great team, great program.”
“It’s all love it,” he said. “All the players speak highly of the coaches, speak highly of everything they have going out here. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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