Leading up to training camp on July 25, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. We have already covered the defensive line, quarterbacks, outside linebackers and running backs. Now it’s on to the inside linebackers.
The pressing question: How will the Eagles spell DeMeco Ryans?
As you know by now, Ryans played more snaps than any other linebacker in the NFL last year. During the owners meetings in March, I asked Chip Kelly if he planned to spell Ryans more in 2014, and he said adding depth was a priority.
But free agency and the draft are unpredictable, and the Eagles were unable to add new talent to this position. Billy Davis was clear last month that he plans on subbing in more for Ryans. The problem? That’s not going to happen unless the Eagles like their backup options.
Having asked around, I don’t see the Eagles playing a lot of dime (six defensive backs). That means if they’re going to give Ryans a breather in sub packages, the help will have to come from one of his backups. The most likely option is Najee Goode. Goode saw time as a backup last year and had some good moments. Chances are he’ll get a shot to be a rotational player. If the Eagles don’t like what they see from him though, it’ll be a heavy workload once again for Ryans.
We know Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will be the starters. Overall, the guess here is the Eagles will keep four inside linebackers on their roster.
Goode has the inside track on one of the backup spots. The other one will likely come down to Jason Phillips, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho. Special teams will be the determining factor. Knott was an undrafted free agent last year and will miss the first four weeks of the season for violating the league’s PED policy. He may have a hard time sticking out of camp.
Phillips was signed last offseason to provide a special-teams boost, but tore his ACL during training camp. If he’s healthy, he could have the edge. If not, Acho could steal the spot.
One thing I think
The way I see it, there are three defensive players who have high enough ceilings where they could be serious difference-makers if they reach their potential in 2014: Fletcher Cox, Marcus Smith and Kendricks.
The third-year linebacker started to really come on during the second half of last season, even earning man-crush status from Cris Collinsworth.
Davis covets linebackers who can do multiple things, and Kendricks fits the bill. He can rush the passer and has the athleticism to be a really good cover guy, although he’s yet to reach his potential in that area. Given that he never comes off the field, Kendricks making the leap in 2014 would go a long way in helping the defense improve on last year’s performance.
WHAT YOU MISSED
An in-depth All-22 look at the inside zone, the foundation of the Eagles’ offense.
Our training camp preview examining LeSean McCoy and the running backs.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Rich Hofmann of the Daily News on what might be Chip Kelly‘s best attribute:
The reason for dunno is because Chip Kelly dunno. Oh, he is the smartest guy in most of the rooms that he enters. And he is as innovative and forward-thinking in the X-ing and the O-ing as anyone in his business. It is obvious that the man is very good at what he does, and the numbers last season suggest that he is better at it than most people. There are games, and portions of games, that the Eagles dominate because of that fact.
But the truth of it is that Kelly’s best skill on Sunday might be adaptation. It is the thing that Andy Reid might have been the worst at, you might remember. Reid was great during the offseason and, once the season started, Reid also was great from Monday to Wednesday. Sunday, though, well, you know.
CSNPhilly.com’s Geoff Mosher on whether Travis Long will be cut or aid the pass rush:
This is a strange case of a guy who either won’t make the team or will steadily carve out some kind of role in the pass rush. At the end of last year several Eagles, including DeMeco Ryans, touted Long as someone to watch out for in 2014. He’s got a high motor, has experience playing the 3-4 defense and was known in college as a legit pass rusher, which makes him less of a long shot than most guys who sign as rookie free agents. Problem is, Long could be a victim of numbers. The Eagles used a first-round pick on outside linebacker Marcus Smith, signed free agent Bryan Braman and bring back Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. Unless Chip Kelly wants to keep six outside linebackers, he’ll have to make a difficult release to clear room for Long on the 53-man roster.
We’ll take a trip down memory lane before you head off for the weekend.
Josh Paunil contributed to this article.