He was undrafted out of Idaho. He’s been released five times by three different teams. He spent most of the last two years on the Eagles’ practice squad.
Now he’s a starter.
Christian Elliss will make his first NFL start Thursday night when the Eagles face the Vikings at the Linc, and it will be quite a challenge for the 24-year-old undrafted linebacker from Idaho.
He’s replacing Nakobe Dean – who made his first NFL start on Sunday – and he’ll be wearing the green-dot helmet to communicate plays from the coaches to the defense.
And he’ll be doing it all against an explosive offense, a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end and a head coach who won a Super Bowl two year ago as the Rams’ offensive coordinator.
On national TV.
“Wherever the coaches have me, wherever they put me, I’m excited to play,” Elliss said Tuesday. “I’m excited to improve from last week. I think there’s a lot of things that we can work on, especially in the LB room. Me in particular.
“Things that we can get better at. So going into this week, that’s the mindset.”
The Eagles have had a handful of undrafted linebackers start games over the years, most recently T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton. But then you have to go back to Akeem Jordan late in the Andy Reid Era and before that Mike Reichenback in the 1980s.
Elliss had only played 29 defensive snaps before Sunday in Foxboro – seven as a rookie in 2021, 22 last year, all in mop-up duty.
He played a career-high 34 Sunday and that number might double Thursday night.
The Eagles placed Dean on Injured Reserve Tuesday with the ankle injury he suffered in the third quarter Sunday. He must now miss at least four games, which means he’ll be back Oct. 15 for the Jets at the earliest.
With Dean out, the Eagles don’t currently have a linebacker on the roster who was with the team on opening day last year. Elliss and Zack Cunningham will probably start Thursday night, with Nicholas Morrow – released on Aug. 26, signed to the 53 Tuesday – also available.
The Eagles signed former 1st-round pick Rashaan Evans to the practice squad on Monday, but he wasn’t in a camp this summer, just arrived in Philly late Monday night and won’t be ready to play Thursday. Undrafted rookie Ben VanSumeren is also on the practice squad.
“You know, you’ve got to roll with the punches,” Elliss said. “You can’t control everything so when they do call your name you have to be able to step up and perform. We’re going to do that this coming Thursday.”
It’s possible Morrow will have a role Thursday night. Maybe even a significant one. He was in camp all summer and was getting 1st-team reps for a while, so he knows the defense. But he didn’t have a particularly good camp and the Eagles released him in final cuts.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai said he’s confident in the entire group, even though the three linebackers now the Eagles have on the 53 have started a combined one game in an Eagles uniform.
“We feel really good about them. We’ve been rotating guys and putting guys in different spots. That’s the NFL season, guys get injured, so you have to have plans in place.
“We’ve done a good job through training camp to prepare different guys in different spots. We’ll be able to roll that out there. We feel good about the guys we’ll be able to put out.”
But the challenge will be greatest for Elliss, who made it clear he expects to play better Thursday than he did Sunday.
Asked where he needs to improve the most, he answered quickly: “Angles. When you’re going down to tackle somebody … I had a completely bad angle where 38 cuts it back and it’s just things like that that cost us yards.
“We ended up winning the game, so I’m thankful for that. But more importantly, I expect more from myself and I’m going to show that. There’s a few ones in there where I feel like we wish we could get back, we wish we could change that.”
Dean played well in his first career start on Sunday. He was on the field for a career-high 49 snaps before getting hurt.
“Nakobe, he’s great in communication, he’s great with how he carries himself,” he said. “Just trying to mimic that in my game to his.”