Linebacker Watch: Graham, Cole And the Push Towards a 3-4

Chip Kelly wants his defense to eventually run a 3-4. Whether that happens in Year One hinges largely on Trent Cole and Brandon Graham.

“I think there’s a versatility in the 3-4 defense that you like, but, again, I think when Billy [Davis] said it, we’re going from a wide nine to a three‑four.  When do we get to a 3-4? I don’t know,” said Kelly following Friday’s practice. “We’re moving in that direction, but where we go really depends on us making a real thorough evaluation of how those guys at the outside linebacker are playing.

“We may have to stop at being a one‑gap over and under defense depending upon still making an evaluation of what our guys can do.  We haven’t been drafting for this and converting some of those defensive ends to see what they can do.  Our job is to do a great job of figuring out what they do best and then playing to those strengths.”

For both Graham and Cole, their strength is rushing the passer. Cole, now in his ninth NFL season, has tallied double-digit sacks four different times, including three 10-plus sack seasons before a down campaign in 2012. Graham finished in the top 10 in hurries last year despite playing in just 40 percent of the Eagles’ snaps. They do have some experience playing in space. Graham was a linebacker in high school. And according to outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern, Cole dropped more than 100 times in 2010 while playing for Sean McDermott. But it’s not a natural part of their game.

Kelly was complimentary of Cole’s performance during Friday’s practice. The 30-year-old has been generally running with the first team opposite Connor Barwin. Graham has been with the second team for the most part.

Both players say they weigh 264 at the moment. It took some work for Graham to get to that number. After watching the former first-round pick this spring, the Eagles concluded that Graham needed to shed some weight. So he stayed in Philadelphia during the time between minicamp and training camp to work with the team’s training staff, and lost 11 pounds.

“He was up there when he first showed up [in the spring], and it looks like now he’s really bought into everything,” said McGovern. “I’m excited to see him move around because he looks like a different guy right now.”

McGovern said that both Cole and Graham have been putting in the work. But with the opener against the Redskins quickly approaching, it will be a challenge to get them  acclimated to their new positions in time.

“I definitely feel the spotlight in on us on how the defense is going to come together,” said Graham. “I’m  just trying to make sure I hold my own weight and contribute so that we can get this thing rolling and coach won’t have to bring anyone else in and can trust us to be out there.”

At some point in the near future, the coaches will have to decide whether to push forward with the 3-4, or settle into a different scheme. How much time do they need to evaluate?

“By the third week [of camp] if you ain’t got it you ain’t got it,” said Graham.

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