‘Sets the Tone’: Eagles LB Coach Details Secret Weapon on Defense

Eric Wilson

Getty Former Vikings LB Eric Wilson is already taking on a leadership role for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach Nick Rallis is thought to be the youngest position coach in the NFL. He’s 28 years old and on the fast track to bigger things, maybe even a head-coaching gig sometime way down the line. For now, Rallis trying to improve one of the weakest linebacker units in football.

He mentored under the aggressive, no-bullshit eye of Mike Zimmer for three years with the Minnesota Vikings. Rallis admitted that he sometimes “took it for granted” that he was learning from one of the best defensive coaches in the business. It was there where he first met Eric Wilson, a prized free-agent signing for the Eagles in 2021 and a guy who might just be the key to the entire defense.

“He’s a valuable member,” Rallis said of Wilson. “He just sets the tone for, not just the linebackers, not just the defense, but the entire team. He’s always in the building, he’s always working hard.”

The Eagles’ depth chart at linebacker is full of potential, albeit more unknowns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie ending. Wilson is slated to start at MIKE, with Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards inside-tracked at the SAM and WILL spots. They’ll be pushed hard by second-year players Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor.

“My job as a position coach is to get everybody ready to play whether it’s a veteran or a second-year guy like DT [Taylor] and Shaun [Bradley] or the rookies, right?,” Rallis said. “So my job as a coach is to gauge OK like one, where is this guy at in his overall knowledge of football? And then what do I have to do to cater his learning so that if he’s one of our better players he gets on the field.”

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Special Emphasis on Hybrid Players

Meanwhile, Genard Avery is an interesting case study as he shifts from defensive end to linebacker. He was a two-time All-Conference selection at the position in college. Philadelphia also drafted former LSU safety JaCoby Stevens with the intention of moving him to linebacker. Practice-squad member Rashad Smith is also in the mix to earn snaps.

“You want guys who are versatile,” Rallis said. “You want guys that are big, you want guys that are fast, you want guys that are smart, you want guys that have a high motor. To me, high motor is one of the most important qualities in a linebacker. The linebackers are the centers of the defense.”

There’s much work to be done between now and the season opener on Sept. 12. Pro Football Focus ranked the Eagles’ linebackers “historically bad” in 2020 and ranked them No. 29 out of 32 teams. The good news, they can only go up from there and everyone showed up to spring OTAs in great physical shape.

“Getting one-percent better every day. They all did that, they all got better every day,” Rallis said after spring OTAs. “I would say that no matter if the guy is a rookie or if the guy is a veteran, it’s about maximizing their knowledge so that they can go out there and make the correct decisions and carry it out with the correct actions. That’s what the game is all about, decisions and actions.”

No Egos Under New Defensive Coordinator

The first use that came out of Rallis’ mouth when asked to describe new Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was open-minded. He respects what each position coach has to say. In fact, Gannon encourages it and expects everyone to check his ego at the door.

“He’s going to listen to every coach on the staff, and that’s been great to work with because if I feel like I have a good idea, I know Jonathan is going to listen,” Rallis said. “And Jonathan has a low ego and he’s about putting whatever we can and the best product out on the field, whatever we got to do to do that.”

Rallis has taken the same approach with the linebackers’ room. He wants the players to speak up because the former defensive quality control knows he doesn’t have all the answers.

“It’s not just what I know, you guys stay in your lane and go do what I say,” Rallis said. “No, I look for feedback from these guys. Not only is my room extremely intelligent on its own but the players have a different perspective on the field.”

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