Wake-Up Call: Decisions Coming At OLB

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

It will be interesting to see how the outside linebacker position shakes out this summer, particularly when it comes to Brandon Graham.

Last year, as the Eagles whittled their roster from 90 down to 53, four outside linebackers ultimately made the squad –Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Graham and Casey Matthews – and four spots were given to inside ‘backers. There’s some wiggle room in how you configure the corps, but not much. With several spots already accounted for at outside linebacker, Chip Kelly will have some pretty significant decisions to make as he rounds out the position.




Barwin and Cole return as the projected  starters this season. The Eagles selected Marcus Smith in the first round this past May. Those three are the locks. From there things get a little less certain.

Former Texans linebacker Bryan Braman was brought in via free ageny this offseason to help bolster special teams. If he makes the squad -- and I think he does -- that's four spots already occupied.

Then there is Travis Long. The former Washington State standout spent his rookie season on the Eagles' practice squad as he worked his way back from an ACL injury he suffered late in his senior year. Both Kelly and Billy Davis have mentioned that Long is having a good offseason.

"He's really improved," said Kelly. "I think obviously when we got him, he was coming off of an injury.  Spent a year on the practice squad and didn't miss any time, but you could tell he was still recovering from the injury, but has really made some great strides and is a guy that's really pushing hard to make this football team.

"I think he'll be able to contribute from a special teams standpoint, obviously adding some depth at the outside linebacker spot.  So he's definitely a guy you have to keep an eye on right now."

Where does Graham fit in?

The former first-round pick played 27 percent of the snaps last year and finished with three sacks, five hurries and two tackles for a loss. He is a quality pass-rusher on a team in need of pass-rushers. That's his value. Coaches we've spoken with sound pleased with the kind of shape he is in and say he looks more comfortable in Year 2 of his transition to outside linebacker.

Still, questions remain as to whether Graham is a scheme fit. His contract expires at the end of the year, and it's difficult to picture him being in the team's long-term plans.

This is a pivotal season for the 26-year-old. How he does in 2014 will impact how he gets paid in '15 and beyond. Some within his camp are eager to get him in a system that they feel better suits him.  There could very well be a final push on their end to get him onto a different team (one that runs a 4-3) before the start of the season.  The Eagles aren't in the business of giving pass rushers away, but if the right deal came along between now and September -- a mid-round pick, say -- the bet here is that the team would strongly consider pulling the trigger. This is their last chance to get something in return for a player they invested heavily in. Given his contract status, getting a team to cough up anything of value for Graham could prove difficult. But you never know, especially as injuries arise across the league.

Some key questions to consider: Is Smith ready to take over Graham's snaps? Are they comfortable enough with Smith, Braman and/or Long moving up the depth chart if one of the starters goes down? Can Braman handle a handful of snaps per game?

Kelly's answers to those questions will go a long way in deciding how the final pieces of the outside linebacker puzzle are put together.

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles released next month's training camp schedule, which includes three open practices.

"You gotta go get yourself some small forwards just to be able to contend." Why size matters to the Eagles at corner: 

Kelly on Najee Goode: "He's got kind of an extra gear that I think some of our backers don't have. Explosive, can really run."

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

Jordan Matthews wrote about his time at the Rookie Symposium for the NFL Player Engagement blog.

The Eagles have done a great job providing us with rookie training, and the Symposium is another way to remind us of the lessons that we are learning at our clubs. At the same time, I've gotten some really great lessons from the speakers here. Listening to Chris Herren talk about substance abuse and how it changed his life, I think everybody took note of that. And then hearing from guys like Eddie George and Ricky Williams, players that we grew up watching, sit up there and talk as past NFL players...it shows that the lifespan of an NFL player does go by very quickly so you need to make the most of it.

Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com hosted an Eagles chat in which he discussed how much he thinks Marcus Smith will play, Josh Huff's role as a rookie and more:

Huff looked quick. I think his value is his ability to break tackles and get yards after the catch, which he can't do in OTAs and minicamp. Nothing is a wasted pick in June. I think he'll find a role in the Eagles offense as a rookie and contribute.

COMING UP

Less than a month until training camp now. We'll get you there.

Josh Paunil contributed to this post. 

 

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  • Brian Zee

    The unfortunate reality of a scheme switch is that a good player or two is going to get caught in “no man’s land.” It’s a shame, Graham looked like he was about to develop into a high quality pass rusher in a 4-3 but now this is a high draft pick that we are going to hope turns into a 4th rd pick at best within the next few months. I suppose it’s just the cost of a scheme switch, but it will be painful to watch if he actually starts to live up to his draft position in another uniform.

    • myeaglescantwin

      Brandon Graham represents everything wrong with the previous 8 years.
      It was decisions like this that sank the BigRedBoat.

      but that’s not Brandon’s fault. I’ve actually liked his attitude and determination since he’s been in midnight green. I just wish the production panned out too.
      It’s a shame, he came on strong his rookie year and had JPP outpaced until his injury.

  • myeaglescantwin

    i still think they can move Graham for another scheme mismatch piece.
    There has to be a 4-3 team hungry for depth at the end position.

    See, now i’m confused on Graham though. When Reid drafted him, i was sure he was a 3-4 OLB at Michigan. Then we drafted the ‘tweener’ and made him a full time DE.

    am i off on that??

    • myeaglescantwin

      Perhaps NT / ILB depth players???

    • cliff henny

      No, but that tweener was based on size/speed not skill-set. Graham was drafted for his rushing ability, he’s a going forward player. then with Reid/Eagles for past 3 yrs, made a DE, so the guy never learned coverage. little late in game to be teaching the guy to run with RBs and TEs. sure if Kelly was coach when Graham was drafted, and they deemed his skillset as versatile coverage/rusher combo LB, for the past 3 or 4 yrs those skills would have been practiced and cultivated.
      .
      guy is on the wrong team due to his playing style, happens all the time when coaches are switched.

      • myeaglescantwin

        Yeah, No one ever confused him for a coverage specialist.

        I remember the big point with Graham was 25+ tackles for loss his senior year.
        and he did fit that H.O.F. mold for Reid.
        6′
        265lb,,
        high motor

        • cliff henny

          pretty much. I loved the pick at the time. but, I separate injury busts from talent busts. guy had microfracture surgery and was never the same. stinks, but happens. teams miss on 1st/2nd rd picks all the time, just cant miss on 1st and 2nd and 3rd for 3straight yrs and expect not to have an ’12 type season.

          • myeaglescantwin

            Really?

            I find it hard to believe that you were pumping your fist when we passed up on Early Thomas.

            everything else stated i agree with

          • cliff henny

            really. i’m not a safety early guy.

          • myeaglescantwin

            I never understood that philosophy.

        • Tikkit

          Shoulda made a drinking game out of AR press conferences that mentioned “high motor” or “fastballs”

        • John E. Zang

          Hahaha I wonder how many times Reid references “high motors” when scouting prospects.

      • travis papa

        Yeah bc 10 seasons as a de makes the transition easier? Why does Cole get a pass here can’t tell me Cole is any better in coverage or any better pass rusher for that matter whose older and has an even worse contract situation.

        • cliff henny

          better player, less injuries. and by all reporter accounts, made the switch much better than Graham.

          • HowieGambleChipsAllDay

            I think Marcus came in at least as good as the 2 of them in terms of dropping. Watched the final Cowboy game the other day and saw a few playa where Barwin rushed and Cole dropped straight back. Their confidence in him grew as time went on.

            You can tell how comfortable a guy is, by how much cushion he gives a back or TE in the flat for instance. In college Marcus was all up on those boys. Graham (vs. Witten) kept his distance and protected the pursuit angle. Gave up the catch but not the YAC. Watch that in the preseason to see who’s ready.

  • Brazilnut

    “Are they comfortable enough with Smith, Braman and/or Long moving up the depth chart if one of the starters goes down?”

    I think thats an interesting question, because I don’t think they would be comfortable with Graham if one of the starters went down either.

    • cliff henny

      better be comfortable with Smith being a starter, maybe not day 1. guess it’s semantics as to when this hypothetical injury happens. but say week 4, Smith as 1st rd pick, better be ready. I was onboard with pick, though if he’s getting beat out by Braman, Graham or heaven forbid Casey, that pick is going to look like dogdirt to me

  • cliff henny

    guessing it all comes down to Howie (money) vs Kelly (scheme/talent) convo over ‘is Long worth eating Graham’s 3.5m in dead money’. mid round pick for Graham seems like a no brainer, have hard time believing he’s worth that, but Brown got a 4th, so, what do I know. have to see this Travis cat play in pre-season, he still has PS availability, and not sure why teams would be lining up to snag an ACL guy that cant make Eagles starting 53(let’s face it, it’s not the Seahawks D).
    .
    if I was Kelly, i’d be picturing a 53 w/ Graham as deactivated 5th LB gameday, mainly on roster to replace an injured Cole. have Long, assuming he’s any good, be 6th and stashed on PS, and ready to replace an injured Barwin, Smith, or Braman, basically leapfrogging Graham to 4th, mainly due to special teams play. and for next month praying some team ponies up a 4th.

    • Philly0312

      That’s exactly how I am looking at the situation as well.

    • FluxCapacitor

      Yeah, I think you are on the mark. I feel really bad for Graham though. Gets hurt with a couple major injuries at once, due to timing of them he basically misses the next season…the following year gets stuck behind a coach favorite, and then hit with a scheme change. He is a good player and has shown some really good stuff…in a 4-3.

    • Tikkit

      I have this nagging feeling that Graham dogs it in TC and gets himself released. Then goes on to get 8.5 sacks for someone else.

      • cliff henny

        well, if he does that, good riddance. my guess if he had that attitude, putting up with all Kelly’s micromanagement sports science stuff, that would have been sniffed out by now.

        • Tikkit

          Maybe and I don’t know. It’s not as if he’s been a malcontent but I just don’t see a happy guy. It’s not his fault but sometimes we don’t like our jobs and try to find a way out.

          • cliff henny

            oh, no doubt my scenario is a ‘screw you BG’, and he’d have every right to sort of check out for a year. but, at 3.5m, don’t feel terribly bad for the guy.

          • Tikkit

            Nope. I also think that CK values a one trick pony accordingly. Unless BG goes all Dorenbos and add some tricks, he is not long for the 53.

    • IG:blkboyflyy

      I definitely agree with you on just about everything. Except Long so many teams are hurting for LBs they could pull one from anyone’s PS yes the acl could deter some teams but if Kelly likes him he will keep him active.

      • cliff henny

        true, but all these teams have their own ‘Longs’. I tried googling last time this got brought up (how many PS guys get claimed). couldn’t find answer, but I don’t think it’s as prevalent as we think.

  • Addicted2MAmula

    Who is happy about Fantasy Footbalk starting tonight

    • Tikkit

      I’m way more excited about USMNT playing GER in T-minus 3 hours!

  • cliff henny

    Happy Hinkie day! so, whoya got 6ers taking? thinking Exum at 3, then (hate doing it) but MCW gets moved for a falling Embiid at 7 to Lakers and getting a future 1st and Nash’s crap contract-might be too much, but something like that. 10 thad and more garbage contracts eaten, and move up to get Gordon. have a feeling Hinkie is leaving draft with 3 top 10 picks.

    • HowieGambleChipsAllDay

      Exum might be a real steal at 3. I like him more than Wiggins for real. Brett Brown supposedly knows the kid well, which would ease much of my concern about his game translating to the league.

      If they deal MCW, I don’t like Gordon a little bit. I’ll live with Embiid at#7, but big men with bad feet and backs are the scariest things on earth! (To a 6ers fan at least) I like Randle and Vonleh at #7 also. Both have flaws, but do a lot of really good things, including being better bangers than Noel……

      @ #10-BPA. I know everyone wants a shooter here, but you can hey a shooter who doesn’t play Defense anytime. Get another contributor. Long wing who defends well or slashing two ( Lavign!) There’s a couple teams with multiple picks in the teens. Maybe trade back and get both of them for the 10 and a couple 2nd rounders. Two late 1st rounders I love. ..Kyle Anderson 6’9″ PG and KJ McDaniels 6’6″ defender and high flyer, led ACC in blocks at 6’6″! Either way…… FINALLY!

      IN HINKIE WE TRUST!

      • NCBiRDMann22

        Give me T.j Warren at Ten “the next KD” and at three get Randle. Come back into the 1st and pick up a Stauskus or Early…Boom goes the dynamite!

      • cliff henny

        yup, feet and big men, really anything below the knees cause I lump Sam Bowie into mix. Emibiid sounds like he’s worth the risk. should be a fun first hour of the draft, think Hinkie is going to be all over the map. I heard/read MCW and Thad for 1st, and keep #3 and #10, get wiggins and Exum, craziness. Sixers have assets galore, and best thing in the world for us was LeBron and ‘Melo optioning out…if you are an aging Vet on a crap contract on a team that might want either/both, welcome to Philly, don’t unpack, you wont be here long.

    • NickS1

      I know that you know I’ve been saying it, but the Kawhi Leonard Steal of the Draft Award will be given to Cleanthony Early. And, ironically, may fall to the Spurs. If I’m Hinkie, I’m trying to get into the early/mid 20s to nab him if I can strike a deal.

      • cliff henny

        he’s really old isn’t he? probably biggest different b/t NBA draft and NFL, yr here or there for nfl isn’t made much of (get to 24+ yeah), but NBA they nickel and dime over 6-9 months. read libertyballers, the draftgeeks get into 19 and 3 months over 19 6 months, it’s crazy.
        .
        why with MCW being 22 or 23, vs Exum is 18, think good old MR overbite is being shipped out.

        • Andy124

          I don’t know man. Trading mcw and rolling with exum feels a bit like trading FOles and drafting Mariotta. I wouldn’t do it.

          But if they think Exum can play the 2 next to MCW, I’d be pretty happy.

          • cliff henny

            to Hinkie, it’s all assets right now. MCW and #10 for #1? then eat Nash’ garbage contract. walk with 1,3 and 7 in best draft in 10 yrs. plus Noel healthy. be heck of return on Jrue and #11.
            .
            lot depends on how broken Brown think MCW’s shot really is. at 23, he pretty much what he’s going to be, think that’s the huge issue.

          • Joe L

            Why would Cleveland want MCW? Are they basically waving the white flag on hoping to keep Kyrie Irving?

        • NickS1

          He’s 23. Not exactly drafting Danny Watkins. A concern, sure, but in the mid-20s you can get away with drafting a 23yr old. I get the point, but you’re not drafting him top 10.

          • cliff henny

            in nba world, it’s almost worse. most of the player’s development is done before 20-21. might tweek game a little, but no major jumps. there’s a reason that NBA keeps drafting them at 18-19 even though bust rate is incredibly high.

          • NickS1

            The reason is that the rules are set up that way. I know some view it worse, but it’s not that justified. There’s owners and execs that want the draft age raised for a reason, too. And most of a player’s physical development is done by 21, but not game improvement. Even the greats improved after 21. I actually think that argument is kind of ridiculous. Hell, Lebron improved his FG% for 7 straight years.

  • Andy

    Graham + Vinny Curry for Dion Jordan? Makes sense for both sides but will never happen.

  • ztom6

    I’d be surprised if Graham didn’t beat out Long.