LB Review: Kendricks Delivers; Ryans Improves

Philadelphia Eagles LB Mychal KendricksHere’s a player-by-player breakdown of how the Eagles linebackers performed Monday night after having re-watched the game. Look for reviews of the rest of the positional groups on Tuesday and Wednesday. And yes, I know the Patriots sat a bunch of their starters.

DeMeco Ryans – In the first preseason game against the Steelers, he failed to notch a tackle and seemed to regularly get to the ball just a second late. But against New England, there was marked improvement. Let’s start with the run game. Ryans (5 tackles, 3 solo) shot into the backfield and forced Shane Vereen to change direction on a 3-yard run that was negated because of a holding penalty. Later, he fought off a block and stopped Vereen after a 3-yard gain. Ryans and Rolle bottled up Vereen on another play after a 3-yard gain. And he made a good read and good tackle, dropping Vereen for a 1-yard loss.

For the most part, Ryans looked good in coverage too. He broke up a pass intended for Jeremy Ebert in the second. And he ran with Ebert on a shallow cross, tackling him after a gain of 1 on 3rd-and-18. On a different play, Ryans tried to throw Ebert’s timing off by bumping him within 5 yards of the line, but it didn’t work as the wide receiver had a 20-yard catch and run. Ryans was asked to blitz a couple times too. He and Mychal Kendricks went after the QB on 3rd-and-8, but the defense got burned on a 16-yard screen to Julian Edelman. They blitzed again on a 3rd-and-9 play, but the Patriots picked up 20 yards and a first on a screen. It’s worth noting that Ryans was the only linebacker on the field in the Eagles’ dime package with six defensive backs.

Overall, an encouraging performance for the veteran.

Mychal Kendricks – I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say he was the Eagles’ best defensive player on Monday night.

Kendricks (6 tackles, 3 solo) played SAM in the base defense and stayed on the field with Ryans in nickel situations. I don’t see him giving that spot up going forward. Kendricks did a great job of recognizing an early screen, getting off the block of center Ryan Wendell and bringing Vereen down after a 4-yard gain near the sideline. He picked up Danny Woodhead out of the backfield and stuck with him on a third-down incompletion. Brandon Bolden wisely dropped a screen pass in the second, or Kendricks would have dropped him for a 5-yard loss. The rookie was not perfect. He got beat by Alex Silvestro for a touchdown in the second quarter, but in fairness to Kendricks, the Eagles got absolutely no pressure on the play.

Against the run, he crushed the fullback and was a major reason a Vereen run only picked up 2 yards in the first. Kendricks made a great read and a great tackle, dropping Vereen for a 5-yard loss. He blew up the lead blocker on a Vereen run that lost a yard. And he made a great read on a draw play, dropping Bolden for a 7-yard loss.

Kendricks was also used to rush the passer. Remember, he had seven sacks in 2010 at Cal. During the broadcast, Jon Gruden said, “One of the things Juan Castillo, the defensive coordinator of the Eagles, wants to do, is blitz more.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but on one play, Kendricks lined up as a stand-up defensive end and put a great move on Vereen to pressure Ryan Mallett and force him out of the pocket. It would have resulted in a Trent Cole sack, but Nnamdi Asomugha was called for a holding penalty.

Just a solid overall performance. Kendricks very much looked the part of the fast, athletic, play-making linebacker the Eagles have been seeking. Yes, the Patriots were resting many of their starters, but the important thing here is that the rookie appears to know what he’s doing.

Brian Rolle – He started at the WILL spot and was relatively quiet (1 tackle, 0 solo). Rolle assisted on a tackle of Vereen after a 2-yard gain in the first. He and Ryans later stopped Vereen after a 3-yard gain. Rolle played nickel with the second team.

With Jamar Chaney injured, Rolle will likely start the season at WILL, but he hasn’t made many plays in the first two preseason games.

Akeem Jordan – His primary value comes on special teams, and Jordan made the tackle on the Patriots’ first punt return.

He played SAM with the second team and stayed on the field in nickel. Jordan had good coverage on Ebert on a fourth-quarter incompletion. And he also stuck with the wide receiver on a later third down. Jordan came on a blitz off the right edge in the fourth and deflected a Brian Hoyer pass.

I still think he has a leg up on Keenan Clayton for the final linebacker spot.

Keenan Clayton – He didn’t get into the game until the fourth quarter, playing WILL in the base and staying on the field in nickel. Clayton didn’t play a lot of snaps.

** In addition to Chaney (hamstring), Casey Matthews did not play because of a high ankle sprain. Ryan Rau played middle linebacker in the fourth quarter.

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LB Review: Eagles Rookie Kendricks Shows Flashes

Philadelphia Eagles LB Mychal KendricksHere is my player-by-player review of the Eagles linebackers after having re-watched Thursday night’s preseason game against the Steelers. I will provide breakdowns on the other positions on Friday and Saturday.

DeMeco Ryans – The new Eagles middle linebacker stayed on the field for all three downs, as expected. The results were mixed. Ryans was not credited with a tackle, but was around the football on several plays. He was one of many defenders, who helped bring Isaac Redman down on a 2-yard run in the first. Ryans also assisted on a Redman 5-yard gain. And he helped Joselio Hanson bring down Redman for a 1-yard loss on third down in the first. On a different play, he plugged a hole on a Jonathan Dwyer run, forcing him to bounce it outside, but missed the tackle. And Ryans got blocked by the center on the 3rd-and-13 draw that went for 14 yards. Overall, an OK performance. Obviously, plenty of time to go until the season starts, and we need to see more.

Mychal Kendricks – If you were expecting Kendricks to look like a Pro Bowler in his first game action in the NFL, you were disappointed. If you wanted to see him show flashes of the player the Eagles hope he eventually becomes, well, you got that. Kendricks showed off his speed, chasing Redman to the sidelines and slowing him down before a teammate arrived on a 2-yard run. He forced Chris Rainey out of bounds for a 2-yard loss on a toss to the right. Kendricks sniffed out a screen to Dwyer, and maybe more importantly, made the tackle for a 2-yard loss. And finally, he dropped Baron Batch after a 2-yard run in the first. Did Kendricks make mistakes? Absolutely. He was slow to pick up David Johnson out of the backfield on 3rd-and-3, and Ben Roethlisberger connected on a 7-yard gain. Andy Reid actually talked about that play after the game. On another play, Kendricks had to make a decision between sticking with Rainey and going after Roethlisberger, who escaped the pocket. Kendricks chose to chase the QB, who found Rainey for an 8-yard completion. Note that Kendricks stayed on the field in nickel situations.

Brian Rolle – He got the start at WILL, but didn’t play particularly well. As analyst Brian Baldinger pointed out, Rolle leaped wildly on Redman’s 3-yard carry on 4th-and-1. He was blocked by the fullback on a 4-yard Redman run and by an offensive lineman on Dwyer’s 33-yard run. Rolle got credit for half-a-sack with Darryl Tapp after Derek Landri caused pressure up the middle. And he played some nickel alongside Casey Matthews in the third. The competition at the WILL spot is very much on. Jamar Chaney will have a chance to compete with Rolle once he gets healthy.

Casey Matthews – It’s difficult to figure out what exactly the Eagles’ plans are for him in his second season. Matthews played middle linebacker with the second group and dropped Batch for a 1-yard loss in the third. I thought he’d get a chance to compete for the first-team nickel spot or even the first-team WILL spot, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Akeem Jordan – He played SAM with the second group. Jordan stopped John Clay a 2-yard gain in the third and finished the game with three tackles. The Eagles coaches know what they have in Jordan at this point. It’s just a matter of whether they find him valuable enough to keep on the roster.

Keenan Clayton – He played WILL with the second group and also stayed on the field in some nickel situations. Want to know why Clayton hasn’t been given more of a look as a three-down player? Check out the running play in the red zone where Steelers seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum shoved him to the ground. On Rainey’s 57-yard touchdown, Clayton couldn’t make a play near the line of scrimmage, although he was blocked in the back. If he makes the team, Clayton’s role will almost certainly be specific to playing in coverage – in dime or other specific packages.

Eagles training camp preview: Linebackers

Eagles veterans are scheduled to report to training camp by Wednesday evening. Between now and then, we’ll preview what to look for at each position during the next few weeks.

Save ‘em a spot: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews.

Ryans arrives with high expectations after the Eagles have continually failed in recent years to find an adequate middle linebacker. Barring injury, he is a lock to start in the middle when the Eagles open the season against the Browns. But can he be good enough in coverage to stay on the field for all three downs?

The Eagles were in nickel about 46 percent of the time last year, according to Football Outsiders (you’re going to see me cite that stat quite a bit). In Houston, Ryans earned the reputation of being a great leader and a great teammate. But it’ll be hard to lead if he’s replaced in sub packages and on the sidelines nearly half the time.

The SAM job is Kendricks’ to lose, and he’ll likely stay on the field in nickel packages too.

As for WILL, Rolle, Chaney and Matthews will battle it out. Rolle produced mixed results as a rookie, leading all Eagles linebackers with six tackles for loss, but he missed his share too. Chaney started last season out at SAM, played poorly and was not very good when he returned to the middle either.

And then there’s Matthews. Talk about a strange rookie season. He was thrown into the middle to start the year, couldn’t get the job done, was moved to WILL in Week 3 and then barely saw the field again until Week 14. But in the final four games, Matthews played a lot (about 61 percent of the snaps) and played pretty well.  He should get a shot to win the WILL spot, and even if that doesn’t happen, Matthews could very well snatch one of the nickel positions, considering coverage was one of his strengths at the end of last season. In the spring, he said he bulked up to 250 pounds, and we’ll see in the next few weeks if that’s affected his speed.

Fighting for a job: Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Greg Lloyd, Ryan Rau, Monte Simmons.

Unless I’m wrong about someone in the first section (and I will reluctantly admit that’s possible), the six players in this group will be fighting for one spot.

Most likely, it’ll be either Clayton, Fokou or Jordan who makes the cut. Remember, special teams is a key here, and Jordan led the team with 14 special teams tackles last year. Fokou had 10, and Clayton had nine.

Clayton has been an enigma since the Eagles drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He never seems to impress coaches in practice, but he saw significant action in the final month of last season. With the increasing need for linebackers to cover, Clayton has a chance to work himself into the mix.

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