Nakobe Dean's mature approach to being a substitute

Nakobe Dean’s mature approach to being a substitute

This is new territory for Nakobe Dean.

The decorated rookie linebacker made an immediate impact wherever he played. As a freshman at Horn Lake High School, Dean started every shot and was a star. As a true freshman at Georgia in 2019, he also played a ton.

“It hasn’t started,” Dean quickly noticed.

True. But he was a big part of the rotation and was named the Bulldogs’ Defensive Co-Newcomer of the Year.

The college linebacker and draft steal made his NFL debut with the Eagles on Sunday in Detroit.

He played a total of three defensive snaps.

“As long as I keep improving and knowing what I can do and knowing what kind of person I am, I know the kind of player I am, that’s fine,” Dean said. “I love this team and as long as I keep improving I’m happy with it.”

It’s no surprise that Dean is handling his current situation with the kind of maturity we’ve heard so much about since his time in Georgia. He’s not pouting, he’s not depressed. He is convinced that his time will come.

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni often talks about how important it is for his players to understand their role on the team. Dean went a little further.

It’s not just about understanding your role; it’s about buying, he explained.

“You have to do it,” Dean said. “I feel like if I was hung up on me not playing a lot or not getting a certain number of games or things like that, then I wouldn’t be fully integrated into this team. But I’m totally convinced. I’m totally convinced. I think this team could be really special. So I keep working. I’ve bought into it and I’m having fun every step of the way.

Even though he wasn’t a starter, Dean’s first NFL game was still something he treasured. His first defensive snap came as a linebacker in the goal-line package and he got two more along the way. He also played a total of 15 snaps on special teams.

Dean said that when he arrived in Georgia, he was always very nervous before games. Since then, he has really worked to stay more balanced. So he said he wasn’t exactly nervous for his first NFL game…but he was understandably excited.

“It was awesome,” Dean said. “Just being out there and living the dream. To be in the NFL and have this position. I’m here now, but it’s time to keep working and keep improving every day, day by day.

It was the first step in what he and the Eagles hope will be a long and productive career.

The reason Dean isn’t starting or playing more is because the two linebackers ahead of him — TJ Edwards and Kyzir White — have earned their spots in training camp. Edwards was granted the right to be the Eagles’ center linebacker and White was granted the right to be the weakside starting linebacker. After watching every practice this summer, it’s really hard to argue with these decisions of the coaching staff.

Dean is doing everything he can to prepare if and when the Eagles need him to play more.

“He just keeps working,” said Jordan Davis, who was Dean’s teammate at Georgia. “Nakobe is a hard worker. He knows that none of us come here with expectations to start or to be the guy. At the end of the day, we just keep working, working on self-improvement. When our number is called, we’ll be ready.

A lot of people thought Dean was the best linebacker in the 2022 draft, but he wasn’t taken until the third round at 83rd overall. The Eagles considered taking him in the second round with the 51st overall pick, but opted to take center Cam Jurgens instead, believing there was no way Dean would be available 32 picks later.

But due to his injury history and slight frame (5-11, 231), Dean was surprisingly still available after a crazy draft slip. For all those injury issues, Dean hasn’t missed a practice since arriving in Philadelphia.

While he is still a substitute, Dean has embarked on the study of cinema and asks a ton of questions. He wants to do everything he can to improve without having those live defensive snaps.

For now, a big part of Dean’s role with the Eagles is as a special teams player. He played a total of 15 special teams snaps in Detroit in the kickoff, kick return and punt return. The good news for Dean is that special teams aren’t new to him like they would be to a ton of college stars.

“In Georgia, (head coach) Kirby Smart will tell you, the starters play all the special teams,” Dean said. “It didn’t matter. We played special teams. Our best players have played special teams. It was just what it was.

This experience gave Dean a head start and gave him his first taste of NFL football before earning more playing time on defense.

From what we know of Dean, it’s only a matter of time.

“If my number is called,” he said, “I’ll be ready.”

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