Eagles Wake-Up Call: Linebacker Shuffle Lives On

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan CastilloIf it’s football season, there’s a linebacker shuffle going on in Philadelphia. Death, taxes, and so on. Even an offseason dedicated in part to shoring up the position couldn’t totally shut down the dance. In the latest shift, Brian Rolle lost his job at WILL in favor of Akeem Jordan. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo explained the move on Monday.

“Akeem Jordan has probably had one of the better training camps since I’ve been around. He made a lot of plays. He was very productive.  We grade our players every day, and Akeem has been making plays. He just deserved a chance,” said Castillo.

“Really, he’s playing at a top level and better than he ever has as an Eagle. He’s been rewarded.”

Fair enough. May the best man play. But there always seems to be a change in opinion as to who the best man is.

Per Reuben Frank, the Eagles have used 19 different starting linebacker combinations since the start of the 2009 season alone. That is not exactly a sign of health. Isn’t there a longing to settle on a group and let them form an identity?

“Really, the thing we’d like to is like last year, where we had different [groups],” said Castillo. “First, we had base. Then, we had first and second-down buffalo, we called it. We had third-down nickel and third-down dime. We had a lot of different positions where we had some good athletes there and good competition. We’d like to be able to use as many of those guys who have earned an opportunity to play [as we can].”

At one point last season, Castillo had a different linebacker combination for every package. If memory serves, that position was an issue last year.

Maybe Jordan steps in, locks down the weakside and solidifies the group. But if history is an indicator, we’ll see Jamar Chaney in there, then Rolle again, maybe a little Casey Matthews. And on and on and on…

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil has a quality breakdown on Nick Foles. Did you know he hasn’t misfired on a pass in the red zone yet? Yup.

To ensure he keeps his starting job, Michael Vick told Birds 24/7 that he is being fitted for a thicker rib protector and will have the extra padding for the opener.

The Eagles trimmed their roster down to 75 by placing Mike Patterson and Jason Peters on injury/illness lists.

As the competition heats up at quarterback, Marty Mornhinweg sings the praises of Trent Edwards.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN’s NFC East blogger Dan Graziano continues his countdown of the top 20 players in the division. Coming in at No. 9, Eagles defensive end Jason Babin.

Babin is a lethal pass-rusher at a time when rushing the passer is perhaps more important than it’s ever been in NFL history. He’s a lethal pass-rusher in a defense that can’t function unless its ends are wreaking havoc on the backfield. He’s a man for his time and his team, and because he’s as great as he is at what he does, he deserves this spot on this particular list.

Evan Mathis (19), DeSean Jackson (17) and Michael Vick (12) are also represented on the list.

Some bizarre stories coming out of Dallas.

If you haven’t heard, receiver Dez Bryant has agreed to abide by a strict set of rules laid down by the Cowboys. He has a 12 o’clock curfew, isn’t allowed to drink, can’t go to strip clubs and must be accompanied by a member of security at all times.

Meanwhile, Jerry Jones is now a rapper.

COMING UP

How does the last preseason practice sound? The players take the field at 11:45 AM for its final tune-up before the Jets game.  Andy Reid will address the media afterwards.

Jordan Replaces Rolle At LB With First Team

Philadelphia Eagles LB Akeem JordanSince the Eagles returned to the Novacare Complex 10 days ago, Akeem Jordan hasn’t had much company at his locker.

The sixth-year linebacker has gone largely unnoticed. Many (present company included) figured he was battling for a roster spot with Keenan Clayton, looking to continue his strong play on special teams.

But things changed today. The last question for Andy Reid during his media session, which lasted about 15 minutes, was about Brian Rolle, and whether the second-year player was still the team’s starting WILL linebacker.

“Right now, no,” Reid said. “Akeem is going to work in there as a starter.”

And so, when Jordan walked to his locker, reporters followed to ask him about his new gig.

“There’s a lot of competition in the linebacker [corps],” Jordan said. “We are all just trying to go out there and make plays. We’re trying to beat out each other, and everyone knows that there is a lot of competition. We were just going out there every day and trying to perform.”

Jordan has started 27 games for the Eagles in his career at all three linebacker spots. However, this summer, he had been working exclusively with the second team at the SAM position. That’s where all seven of his starts came in 2011.

But back in 2009, Jordan turned in perhaps his most productive stretch as a pro, starting the first eight games at WILL before suffering a hyper-extended knee against the Cowboys. He came back for the final four games, but didn’t play as well and got mixed in at middle linebacker.

In 2010, Jordan was moved to the SAM spot, after the Eagles acquired Ernie Sims in the offseason. He beat Moise Fokou out at training camp, but only started three games there, and then Fokou took over.

Last summer, it looked like Jordan would not be back with the team, but the Eagles re-signed him in late July. He made the roster (which was no given at the time) and then ended up starting seven games, producing average results along the way.

If you notice a pattern, well, that’s the point. Pretty much every summer, Jordan is either fighting for a roster spot or playing time. And every summer, he makes the team and ends up starting some games.

This year, the Eagles appear to be set with DeMeco Ryans in the middle and Mychal Kendricks at SAM. But the WILL spot is up for grabs. Brian Rolle started 13 games there last year and was probably the team’s most active linebacker, leading the group with six tackles for loss. But he had his share of issues. According to Football Outsiders, Rolle missed 10 tackles and 18.5 percent of his tackling attempts. The former seventh-round pick flashed potential, but suffered some miscues as well.

Jamar Chaney is someone who could definitely compete for a starting job once he’s healthy. Chaney has been battling a hamstring injury, but has been the second-team WILL all summer. He played in the last preseason game, but was not fully healthy.

“That was kind of a knock the rust off game for him, kind of getting back to the speed of the game,” Reid said. “I don’t think he was 100 percent out there, speed-wise, so I ended up taking him out. But we know that he’s a good football player, and that’s the main thing. He can play a lot of positions for us, play in the nickel, everything that we need done. He’s going to play for us. That’s the bottom line. I just want to make sure that we don’t hurt that leg.”

Chaney started 16 games last year – two at SAM and the rest in the middle.

The other player who could get a shot at some point is Casey Matthews. Matthews is recovering from a high ankle sprain, and Reid said today it’ll be a “struggle” for him to be ready for Week 1. Matthews has been playing the middle with the second team, but he could get an opportunity at WILL at some point during the season.

It wouldn’t be summer for the Eagles without a game of linebacker musical chairs. Jordan replaces Rolle as the starter for now, but chances are, we could be talking about another shuffle in the next month or two.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

 

 

LB Review: Competition For Rolle?

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar ChaneyHere’s a review of how the Eagles linebackers performed against the Browns after having re-watched Friday night’s game.

DeMeco Ryans – Like the rest of the starters in the back seven, he only played a couple series, and Ryans didn’t have much of an impact. He got blocked on Montario Hardesty’s 6-yard run. In coverage, Greg Little got behind him in zone on third down, but Brandon Weeden misfired badly. I don’t think the preseason was enough to accurately judge Ryans one way or another. We’ll see how much of an upgrade he provides in the middle when Week 1 rolls around.

Mychal Kendricks – I think it’s fair to say he’s been their best linebacker this preseason. Kendricks was in on a couple plays against Cleveland, tackling Hardesty after a 3-yard run and knocking him out of bounds after a 2-yard gain. Expect him to be a three-down linebacker right out of the gate.

Brian Rolle – Let’s start with the two offsides penalties on the first drive. One was completely bogus. Rolle was nowhere near the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped. The broadcast said it was him, but it had to be a defensive lineman. In coverage, (while it’s difficult to tell off of TV), it looked like Rolle might have been responsible for tight end Alex Smith, who ran free for a 20-yard gain in the first. And Rolle was a little slow picking up Hardesty out of the backfield on a 7-yard completion in the second. Against the run, he stopped Hardesty for no gain in the first. Overall, credited with four tackles (three solo). Rolle also played nickel with the second team.

Jamar Chaney – He played WILL with the second team and also stayed on the field in nickel. Chaney was in on a tackle, but Andy Reid said his hamstring was tightening up during the game. Reid also said that Chaney is still competing with Rolle for the starting job. That may be the case, but I still think Rolle is the favorite to line up at WILL when the regular season starts. Chaney’s been battling the injury and could get a shot down the road.

Ryan Rau – With Casey Matthews out, he played middle linebacker with the second group and forced a Hardesty fumble. Rau and Vinny Curry stopped running back Adonis Thomas for no gain in the third. Not going to make the roster, but got some good plays on tape.

Akeem Jordan – He played SAM with the second team and brought Hardesty down after a 4-yard gain in the first. Jordan’s had a solid preseason, and I think he’ll make the team.

Keenan Clayton – He made his case Friday night, but the feeling here is that the coaches know what Clayton brings to the table at this point. One preseason game is not going to dramatically change their opinion of him. Clayton came up with a punt block in the first. He played WILL and stayed on the field in nickel with the second team. In coverage, Clayton broke up a pass, nearly coming up with an interception in the third. He deflected a Seneca Wallace pass in the fourth, leading to a Cliff Harris interception. Poor tackling attempt on a 3rd-and-16 completion, allowing the Browns to pick up the first down and extend their drive. Against the run, Clayton tackled Thomas for a 2-yard loss in the third. He sits squarely on the roster bubble. Clayton could beat Jordan out for a spot, or if they wanted to, the Eagles could keep a seventh linebacker. That seems like a longshot though.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Reid On Vick, Dunlap, LB Competition

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney.Michael Vick raised some eyebrows yesterday when he told USA Today that he was “trying” to get healthy for the Sept. 9 opener against the Browns.

Andy Reid was asked today if he had any doubts that the quarterback would be ready in Week 1.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think he’s going to be fine for the first game.”

Reid added that Vick threw today in Philadelphia with Mike Kafka, who is recovering from a fractured left hand.

“I think he feels better to where he can throw today so I think that’s a plus,” he said. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow and we’ll see how he’s doing. We have Flight Night coming up on Sunday… he’ll get an opportunity to maybe throw the ball around a little bit.”

Kafka, meanwhile, felt pretty good, according to Reid, but he said he’ll talk to head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder tomorrow about what the quarterback’s status is.

KING STILL IN FRONT

King Dunlap started at left tackle tonight, but Demetress Bell rotated in.

“I would probably tell you King’s a little bit ahead, but Bell’s doing a good job,” Reid said. “He’s getting everything together, and I’m glad we have him.”

At this point, it sure seems like it’s Dunlap’s job to lose, and he’s the favorite to start in Week 1.

COMPETITION OPEN AT LB

While DeMeco Ryans has the middle linebacker job locked down, and Mychal Kendricks will man the SAM Position, Reid said competition is still open at the WILL spot.

Brian Rolle has been playing there, but Jamar Chaney has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Rolle led the Eagles with four tackles (three solo), but also had two offsides penalties on the opening drive.

“Initially, he was in competition with Chaney for that job,” Reid said. “Chaney got some good snaps in today. I didn’t want him to re-injure that thing, and it was getting tight on him, so I took him out. But I still think there’s a competition there.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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 Make First LB Shuffle

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney.Jamar Chaney didn’t find out until he got to the practice field Thursday morning for the Eagles’ walk-through.

But when Juan Castillo asked for the first-team nickel defense, Chaney was the man called on to go in alongside DeMeco Ryans.

Up until today, Brian Rolle had been occupying that spot at Lehigh. And in the spring, it was rookie Mychal Kendricks.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Chaney said, when I asked him if he expected to be part of that package for the next few days. “I just do what they tell me to do. Whether I’m out there with the twos or the ones, I just go out there and do my best. My job is just to make the decision hard on them.”

While a lot of the focus is often on the starters, the Eagles were in nickel for nearly half their defensive snaps in 2011. And for much of last season (the first 13 weeks), Chaney was a three-down linebacker. But he only played about 47 percent of the defensive snaps in Weeks 14-16, according to Pro Football Focus.

One area where the Eagles struggled was in coverage against opposing running backs, where they ranked 29th, according to Football Outsiders.

“We’re going against LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. There ain’t too many receiving running backs that can get out in routes and can move like they can when they know it’s man-to-man coverage out there on a linebacker,” Chaney said. “So getting that work against those two guys right there is really good for us at training camp.”

Right now, Ryans appears to be the only linebacker staying on the field for all three downs. The Eagles’ base defense has Ryans in the middle, Rolle on the weak side and Kendricks at the SAM. Of course, there could very well be more shake-ups in the coming weeks.

And there’s also the possibility that Castillo will choose to play four or five linebackers during the course of a game in specific packages.

“As a linebacker, you don’t like that, but you just do what you can to help the team win,” Chaney said. “You’d rather be out there if you can stay in that groove and stay in the flow of the game.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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Linebacker Watch

How’s this for a tone-setter:

DeMeco Ryans, during the first full-squad morning practice of training camp, began asserting his authority.

“He’s very demanding, I’ll tell you that,” said Brian Rolle. “He’s not afraid to speak his mind. If he wants it one way, it’s going to be
that way.

“Today he said something to me and [Mychal] Kendricks about a certain way to play something, and the coaches didn’t have anything to say about it. Because you have a guy – a Pro-Bowl guy, a Rookie of the Year guy – if he says something, he knows, he’s been through it. And we’re going to do it just like that…It’s something that we need.”

I can feel Eagles fans rejoicing.

“Guys listen to what I have to say,” said Ryans. “I don’t have to say much because everybody wants to be great so everyone is doing all those little extra things to make this a better team.”

As Sheil noted in his practice observations, the Eagles are using several different looks at the linebacker position to start. Rolle is being prominently featured, though. He is running with the first team on the weakside, and confirmed today that he is playing  alongside Ryans in the nickel as well.

“I guess they want me out there on the field,” said Rolle. “I’m going to take full responsibility and help DeMeco out as best I can, and help this defense move forward.”

Jamar Chaney, who played WILL in college and was originally drafted for that spot, will try and challenge Rolle for a starting gig. He came up with a nice interception in Thursday’s practice, which Andy Reid took notice of.

“I think [weakside] is a more natural position for him,” said Reid.

If it is Rolle that gets the nod, much will be made of the height factor. He is 5-10 and Kendricks is 5-11. It has already been suggested that having two starting linebackers that size can create some matchup headaches.

“I think those are people who don’t play the game, or didn’t,” said Rolle. “I feel like as long as you want to you can get the job done on the field, regardless of what size you are or how big or how tall. You can be exposed regardless of who you are.”

Eagles Practice Observations

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo talks to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.One of the biggest criticisms Juan Castillo faced last year was that he completely misused Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha earned the reputation of being one of the best man corners in the league while in Oakland. But when he arrived last summer, Castillo talked about using him in more of a Charles Woodson-type role. Covering tight ends, playing inside and outside, maybe even back as a safety on a given play or two.

While Castillo tweaked the defense as last season went on, one thing stayed the same: He used Asomugha in a variety of ways.

And based on the first full-squad practice at Lehigh, that’s going to happen in 2012 also.

On one of the first plays today, Asomugha lined up inside against backup tight end Chase Ford. Last year, playing Asmougha inside was simple because the Eagles had Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside. But Samuel’s gone, and the new wrinkle today was that Curtis Marsh lined up outside at right cornerback.

Marsh, a third-round pick in 2011, played only 13 defensive snaps as a rookie. But with Samuel gone, he’s looking to fill a bigger role in his second season.

“We rotate. We have different guys that do different things well. It’s by gameplan,” Marsh said.

Last year, Asomugha was effective against opposing tight ends. He was matched up against Jason Witten quite a bit, and the Cowboys tight end totaled just 52 yards receiving in two games against the Eagles.

“If you play a team with a really good tight end, we can virtually take that tight end out of the game, so that’s another advantage,” Marsh said.

Of course, this was only the first glimpse of the Eagles’ defense this summer, so there could be plenty of changes ahead.

Some other practice observations…

* Samuel, generally the most vocal player at training camp, is in Atlanta. And it looks like Darryl Tapp will assume the role of Eagle most likely to be heard during practice. “If you want to know who the energy source of our group is at practice, it’s Darryl,” Jim Washburn said earlier this week. Tapp is entering his seventh season, and Cullen Jenkins is entering his ninth, yet they were as enthusiastic as anyone in the 96-degree heat.

* You should take all depth chart notes with a grain of salt, but Derek Landri saw a lot of time with the first-team, alongside Jenkins, in Mike Patterson’s place. Landri played nearly 71 percent of the defensive snaps with the Panthers back in 2010, but many believed he would benefit from fewer snaps with the Eagles. And that turned out to be the case. Landri was an effective rotational player, and his playing time increased towards the end of the season (more than 50 percent of the team’s snaps in each of the last five games).

But if Patterson’s not ready to go when the Eagles play the Browns in Week 1, my money’s still on rookie Fletcher Cox to start alongside Jenkins.

* It looks like Dion Lewis will open camp as the No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy.

* The linebackers were lined up as you’d expect: DeMeco Ryans in the middle, Brian Rolle at the WILL and Mychal Kendricks at the SAM. There were quite a few different combinations in nickel: Ryans and Kendricks, Ryans and Rolle, Kendricks and Jamar Chaney. As linebackers coach Mike Caldwell pointed out earlier this week, there will likely be different nickel packages, based on down and distance. So seeing those different combinations is not surprising.

* Casey Matthews was in the middle with the second team. Chaney and Jordan were on the outside.

* Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman were the first-team safeties with Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jaiquawn Jarrett running with the second team.

* The second defensive line foursome featured Brandon Graham, Cox, Antonio Dixon and Tapp.

* I didn’t see rookie Brandon Boykin get any reps with the first-team nickel. Aside from the Asomugha/Marsh/Rodgers-Cromartie combination, Joselio Hanson mixed in to his usual spot. The second-team corners were Marsh and Brandon Hughes on the outside, with Boykin in the slot.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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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