By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
If the transition from college football to the NFL isn’t enough for a rookie coming into the league, Nathan Gerry is also changing positions.
Gerry, the fifth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles out of Nebraska, is moving from safety to outside linebacker, a position he briefly played for the Cornhuskers.
In order to make the switch, the 6-foot-2 Gerry has bulked up from 212 pounds to 230 pounds.
“It’s a transition, for sure,’’ Gerry said just as the Eagles finished their final minicamp. “I mean football is still football, but there are some new techniques I had to learn. And then playing safety, I was always on top of routes, now as a linebacker you’re underneath routes. There’s a lot of vision on the quarterback as a linebacker, too. And your five yards closer to the line so things happen a little faster. Your first instinct has to be the right one or you’re out of position.’’
Gerry’s position could be of the new hybrid linebacker that was popularized by the Arizona Cardinals and Deone Bucannon and copied by several other teams around the league.
“A lot of teams mentioned that to me during the draft process,’’ Gerry said of becoming the new-look linebacker. “A lot of offenses go with 11 (one tight end, one back, three wide receivers) personnel now and spread the field. You need players on defense who can run. In this day and age you need players on the field who can not only run, but can play the ball, and be in man-to-man coverage.’’
Gerry’s ball skills were evident at Nebraska where over his final three seasons for the Cornhuskers he recorded 13 interceptions, the second-most in school history, and also broke up 19 passes.
That was quite a career for the unheralded recruit from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Recruited by former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, Gerry flourished under Mike Riley, who took over just before his sophomore season.
“Coming from South Dakota, I wasn’t really heavily recruited and didn’t have a lot of offers,’’ Gerry said. “Coach Pelini told me I had a chance to play right away, then I started a couple of games as a freshman. And at the end of the day, I leave Nebraska holding some records. If you told me that in high school I would have never believed it.’’
So, imagine what it was like to get drafted into the NFL and a look at the Eagles’ depth chart says he could see a lot of time in his linebacker role.
“To this day, it was the best day of my life,’’ Gerry said of being selected 184th overall by the Eagles.
Gerry watched the Draft with friends and family back home in Sioux Falls. When the call came from the Eagles on Saturday afternoon, it was a time of joy.
“We were playing games, eating, having fun,’’ he said. “I kept flicking the channel back and forth on the Draft. I was laying on the floor and I saw I had a Pennsylvania number calling my phone. I looked up at the TV and saw (the Eagles) were two picks away. I tapped my buddy and showed him, so we were the only ones who knew. My heart stopped for a second, I had to catch my breath. Once my Dad saw me on the phone, he started screaming upstairs at my mom and sister. It was a remarkable experience for me and my family. I was happy to be able to share it with all of them.’’
Gerry said he didn’t pay a lot of attention to any of the pre-Draft mocks, didn’t know where he would go in the draft, or what team was interested. It didn’t matter. He just wanted the same chance the Cornhuskers gave him four years ago. And he plans to do the same in Philadelphia as he did in Lincoln.
And now through OTAs and minicamp he’s gotten his first taste of the NFL.
“I didn’t have an image of what it would be like,’’ Gerry said. “I’ve just been trying to sit back and soak in all the knowledge I can.’’
And there’s one more transition for him to make. Coming to Philadelphia was his first time on the East Coast.
“It’s a lot different that South Dakota,’’ Gerry said of the City of Brotherly Love. “But it’s been great. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. It’s been like one big family.’’