Throughout the course of the week, we’ll be providing position-by-position previews of the entire Eagles roster. Click here to get to all of them. Today, we cover the linebackers.
The roster: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle.
No real surprises on the roster. Keenan Clayton, a fourth-round pick in 2010, never met expectations and was let go. The starters are Ryans in the middle, Kendricks at SAM and Jordan at WILL.
Player in the spotlight: DeMeco Ryans
The Eagles swapped third-round picks and gave up an additional fourth rounder to acquire Ryans from the Texans back in March, and the move made a lot of sense. After last year’s struggles, go out and get a veteran middle linebacker who will command respect from his peers, help reduce confusion and play behind the wide-nine.
The only problem? We’re two days from the opener, and it’s unclear whether Ryans is a three-down player. He stayed on the field in nickel during OTAs, mini-camps, training camp and the preseason. But on Thursday, players said Chaney was joining Kendricks in certain nickel packages. As we’ve mentioned several times, the Eagles were in nickel about 47 percent of the time last season. If Ryans is on the sidelines for those snaps, he won’t be able to provide the leadership and direction we’ve heard about all summer.
Ryans was a step behind in the first preseason game, but played better against New England. He played limited snaps against Cleveland.
We’ll see how things play out Sunday, but the fact that the Eagles are considering shaking things up so close to the opener raises some questions.
You should also know that…
* Kendricks is the smart bet to be the Eagles’ best linebacker this season. He had an outstanding preseason and looked good at training camp. Kendricks had a very strong combine, but that was just one line on his resume. He was a very productive linebacker at Cal, earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last season.
* Rolle had been playing at WILL until a couple weeks ago when Jordan took over. We’ll see if he holds on to that spot. Chaney could get a chance to replace him, Rolle could get back in the mix, or Matthews could be given an opportunity.
* Right now, in the base defense, Chaney is practicing as the second-team SAM, and Matthews is the second-team middle linebacker, behind Ryans. Matthews had been dealing with a high ankle sprain, but has been a full participant in practice this week.
* According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles were good at covering opposing tight ends last year (fourth in the league), but poor against running backs (29th).
* Special teams is always a factor with linebackers. Jordan and Matthews (14 tackles and 11 tackles, respectively) were both good special-teams players last season.
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