Surprising Eagles LB Wowing at Camp, Stating Case for Starting Role

Duke Riley

Getty Eagles LB Duke Riley has turned into a key special-teams player and now a team captain for Philadelphia.

If Duke Riley ran for class president of the Eagles, he would probably win. His teammates love him, maybe only slightly more than the coaches.

On Monday, the fleet-footed linebacker deftly anticipated a Nate Sudfeld throw in the middle of the field, zooming in front of the pass and leaping to make the interception. His defensive teammates excitedly ran onto the field to dab him up, including Connor Barwin, the new assistant to the GM who has been coaching guys up all summer.

“Duke has great speed. He’s not the biggest linebacker in the world but he does have good movement skills and good speed,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He’s not in a situation where he’s trying to learn the defense during training camp. He was learning sort of in the middle of last season.”

Riley, the former third-round pick out of LSU, has been the surprise darling (well, not to this reporter) of training camp through nine days of padded practices. He’s going to have a big role in 2020, maybe even as the starter opposite Nathan Gerry. He’s been splitting time with T.J. Edwards in nickel packages and those three guys are in line for the majority of snaps moving forward.

“I really like my room,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “There’s enough of the Nate Gerrys and Duke Rileys and T.J. Edwards now that he’s in his second year in our scheme that I think we’re going to have great leadership in our room and now we’ve supplemented that with some draft choices I think that are going to help us.”

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Riley Started 16 Games, Loves Mom’s Gumbo

This isn’t Riley’s first rodeo. He has seen action in 44 career games, including 16 starts during a three-year stint in Atlanta. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder was relegated to more of a special-teams role last year in Philadelphia after being traded in Week 5. Riley didn’t have much time to get up to speed, although he did carve out an important role in short-yardage situations.

“He helped last year,” Schwartz said of Riley. “He was out there in a bunch of our short-yardage situations and our four-linebacker situations and did a good job every time he was on the field. He was ready to play a more expanded role if we had had injuries and he had been forced to, but I would sort of put Duke in the same category as T.J. Edwards.”

More importantly, Riley brings a puerile energy to the locker room that rubs off on everyone in the building, perhaps born out of his childhood days down in the bayou. The 26-year-old grew up in New Orleans and runs a charter fishing boat in Venice, Louisiana. Riley loves seafood, especially his mother’s gumbo.

“I love my mother’s gumbo, chicken and sausage. Oh my God, it’s so good,” Riley told in 2017. “When I was growing up in Buras, we ate what we caught: shrimp, crabs, crawfish, oysters, fish, we had iceboxes full of it.”

Doug Pederson Hints at Larger Role for Riley

Doug Pederson hinted at more snaps for Riley at the very beginning of camp when he addressed his linebacking group. The head coach mentioned two guys specifically by name: Edwards and Riley. That’s never a bad thing.

“But when you get to that next level of guys, I’ve been real impressed with our linebacking group, even T.J. Edwards, a guy who we had last year, who came in and ended up playing some games for us and Duke Riley who we had last year,” Pederson said on Aug. 17. “These are special teams players, but they are now situational, in the mix to play a lot on defense and been real impressed with those guys.”

The Eagles traded safety Johnathan Cyprien and a 2020 seventh-rounder in exchange for Riley and a 2020 sixth-round pick. Who won that deal? Well, Cyprien was placed on injured reserve in Atlanta before being cut and eventually signed by the 49ers. Meanwhile, Riley is in line for a starting job in Philly.

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