Reporters wanted to know who the starter was going to be.

The Eagles coach at the lectern refused to say.

But this time, the stakes were a little lower.

"No," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, when asked if he could disclose his linebacking plan for Thursday's season opener. Schwartz hasn't officially named a weakside starter, in the wake of Mychal Kendricks' departure. Against the Atlanta Falcons, he also will be missing strongside starter Nigel Bradham, who will serve a one-game league suspension for a 2016 dispute with a hotel employee in Miami Beach.

"That's certainly not as top secret as other things," Schwartz said, drawing chuckles, seconds after Eagles coach Doug Pederson had stood in the same spot and finally disclosed that Nick Foles will start at quarterback. "We'll miss Nigel for this game. He's not going to be replaced by one person. I'll just say that.

"We'll try to compartmentalize some guys. … We have a new guy coming in [D.J. Alexander, claimed on waivers from Seattle], so we'll have guys covering up a lot of different roles up there. … We have confidence in those guys. There were games last year that we had to do that, also" because of injuries.

Most likely, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry will flank Jordan Hicks when the Eagles are in their base defense. Neither player possesses Bradham's 6-foot-2, 241-pound run-stopping ferocity. Atlanta has a solid running game that averaged 4.3 yards per carry last year, and accounted for a dozen touchdowns. Bradham was a big part of the Eagles' top-ranked run defense.

"Yeah, we can stop the run game without Nigel," Gerry (6-2, 230, he says, though the Eagles still list him at 218) said on Monday. "We've got 11 out there. Nigel's not the only one, stopping the run by himself. I think we'll hold our own."

The team's unofficial depth chart lists Gerry as a starter at one of the outside positions, and as Hicks' backup in the middle.

It will be interesting to see if there is much of a role for Alexander, a renowned special teams player who practiced Monday but said he had not yet seen a playbook, and knows nothing about the Eagles' defense. The only other sub is former Falcon LaRoy Reynolds, also primarily a special teams guy.

"They are one of the few teams that actually employs a fullback. So they do run some two-back sets," Schwartz said. "You'll see probably six different personnel groups with us, matching what they do offensively. They use two-tight-end packages. They use two-back packages. They have two backs where it's two halfbacks, not a fullback. They have four-wide packages. The traditional three-wide, extra offensive linemen.

"Substitutions, personnel matching was a big part of the games we played the last two years against them and I would expect the same thing to be in this game."

Gerry said that Schwartz is "going to be able to mix and match us, things like that, being able to rotate a lot of people, keep everybody fresh."

Gerry said he thinks the linebacking group "has just gotten tighter, on and off the field. Just being able to be together off the field a lot, you build a trust bond between each other, being able to be comfortable with one another, around each other."

Gerry, a fifth-round pick from Nebraska in 2017, spent that season making the transition from safety to linebacker. He got a decent amount of special teams work but played linebacker only in the meaningless season finale against Dallas.

"I'm excited, I'm grateful that my teammates and coaches are obviously trusting me, putting me in this position," Gerry said. "I've got big shoes to fill, with Nigel being missing. But I think we have a really good linebacker room."

Gerry said Reynolds has given his new teammates a few tips on things he looked for when he practiced against the Falcons' offense. Reynolds (6-1, 240) said he feels the team already had a pretty good handle, from having played Atlanta.

"There's only so much I can throw out there," he said. "With their explosive offense, they can get the ball out to so many players, with [quarterback and Penn Charter grad] Matt Ryan, the biggest thing is the run game. You've got to be able to control that part of the game. … That's the engine that gets those guys going."

Alexander, 6-2, 233, turns 27 on Sept. 30. He said when Seattle released him Friday and he didn't hear anything Saturday or through much of Sunday, he "started thinking about what my next career was going to be," and he had settled on landscaping, a longtime passion.

"I can't do an office job, I can't sit in an office all day," he said. "I have to go out and get my hands on something, actually work."

But it's hard to make $705,000 — his salary in this final year of a rookie contract he signed in Kansas City four seasons ago — as a landscaper.

"I can wait a little bit longer," Alexander said.

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