Eagles linebacker Jason Phillips went down today with a torn ACL in his right knee and will miss the 2013 season.
The 27-year-old was added as a free agent this offseason, in large part for his special-teams prowess. Phillips led the Carolina Panthers last year with 16 special-teams tackles. Today’s injury occurred during a kickoff coverage drill.
Phillips figured to add depth behind DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, but the Eagles will now have to look elsewhere for that.
The options on the roster are: Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho and Jake Knott.
Matthews had 14 special-teams tackles last year and played for Kelly at Oregon. Chaney has experience (23 starts), but he’s squarely on the roster bubble.
Acho was acquired from the Browns in the Dion Lewis trade. He’s mixed in with the twos a little bit this week.
And Knott is a sleeper to watch. An undrafted free agent out of Iowa State, he has a legitimate shot of making the team with a strong camp and preseason.
Update: The Eagles have placed Phillips on injured reserve and added outside linebacker Travis Long. Long (6-4, 245) is an undrafted free agent out of Washington State.
This is the third in a series. Throughout the next week or two, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Eagles’ roster. Click here for yesterday’s piece on the cornerbacks and here for a breakdown of the safeties.
Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times Picayune provided a league-wide breakdown earlier this offseason to see how many teams used a 3-4 in 2012.
He found there were a total of 14 that ran a 3-4 or some kind of hybrid.
With the Eagles making the switch in 2013, it’s worth looking at the way those 3-4 teams constructed their rosters. And in the case of today’s post, how many linebackers they kept.
I took a look at all 14 rosters after initial cuts last summer and found that, on average, 3-4 teams kept 8.1 linebackers. The numbers ranged from as few as six (more “hybrid” teams) to as many as 10.
Today, we’ll tackle the Eagles’ inside linebackers and we’ll examine the outside LBs in the next post.
DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks should hold down the starting jobs. But there are certainly depth spots up for grabs.
The team signed Jason Phillips in free agency. They also traded for Emmanuel Acho and have Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews returning from last year’s squad. The Eagles didn’t use a draft pick on an inside linebacker, but they did sign undrafted free agent Jake Knott out of Iowa State.
Here’s a look at the inside linebackers on the roster:
Emmanuel Acho 6-2 240 22 1/0
Jamar Chaney 6-0 242 26 3/23
Mychal Kendricks 6-0 240 22 1/14
Jake Knott 6-2 243 22 0/0
Casey Matthews 6-1 240 24 2/4
Jason Phillips 6-1 240 27 4/2
DeMeco Ryans 6-1 247 28 7/102
Pencil ‘em in: Ryans, Kendricks.
In 2012, the secondary was a mess, and the defensive line never got its act together. But Ryans quietly had a very productive year and brought stability to the middle of the Eagles’ defense. According to team stats, he finished with 115 solo tackles and 16 tackles for loss. No Eagles player under Andy Reid (14 years) had a higher total in either category.
Ryans wasn’t perfect. He had some issues in coverage, and even against the run later in the year. But overall, he was really good, playing 1,014 out of a possible 1,015 snaps in the Eagles’ final 15 games, according to Pro Football Focus. There are questions about how Ryans fits in a 3-4, but as I wrote earlier this offseason, I think he’s going to be just fine.
Kendricks isn’t the biggest guy and at times has trouble getting off blocks. But my guess is Chip Kelly and Billy Davis will appreciate what they have in him. The second-year player has a versatile skill set, with the ability to play the run and, more importantly, cover. In other words, he’s not someone you have to worry about taking off the field in sub packages, giving the Eagles an advantage when opposing offenses push tempo. The new scheme could play to Kendricks’ strength and allow him to run free and attack the ball-carrier.
Barring injury, it would be a slight upset if Ryans and Kendricks aren’t the team’s starting inside linebackers to start the season.
Fighting for spots: Phillips, Matthews, Chaney, Knott, Acho.
There are plenty of things to take into consideration here: depth, upside and special teams.
Phillips is a player the Eagles targeted and signed in free agency. He led the Panthers with 16 special-teams tackles last year. There’s still plenty of time between now and the start of the season, but he would seem to have a good shot of making the 53-man roster.
Matthews obviously has a history with Kelly from his days at Oregon, but more importantly, he showed some special-teams chops last year. Matthews finished fourth on the team in special-teams points, behind Colt Anderson, Alex Henery and Akeem Jordan. His 14 special-teams tackles were second to only Jordan. However, he hasn’t shown much as a backup linebacker on defense.
Chaney has the most experience on defense out of this group. He provides versatility, but has not been productive. He’ll have to find some way to impress the coaches this offseason to earn a spot.
Knott is a player to watch. He has good size (6-2, 243) and was a productive college player, earning All-Big 12 honors as a senior. He has dealt with a shoulder injury, but played special teams in college and has a chance to stick.
Not a lot to go by with Acho. He didn’t see any game action last year, and the Eagles acquired him from Cleveland in the Dion Lewis trade.
We don’t know how many inside linebackers the Eagles plan on keeping. If the number is four, the five players in this group will be fighting for two spots. And it’s not out of the question that the Eagles add a player or two in the coming months. Either way, there will be plenty of competition and jobs to be won or lost between now and the start of the season.
The Eagles did not go with a lot of household names for their first wave of free agent signings. Time to study up.
To get a little bit better of an understanding of what tight end James Casey, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, safetyPatrick Chung and linebacker Jason Phillips bring to the table, we rounded up some analysis of the players and reaction to the signings.
Greg Cosell and Adam Caplan did a film session on Sopoaga recently for the team’s website. This is what Cosell had to say:
I’ll tell you what, I thought he played very well in limited snaps in the playoffs. He’s a true nose, and he’s very good at it. But there were games this year, depending on who the 49ers played, where he only played seven, eight snaps, and there were other games where he played 25. So it really depends what kind of offense you are playing against.
Now you have to start thinking of what division you are in. Do the teams in your division play a lot of three wide? Because he’s not likely to be on the field. It comes down to, how many snaps will Sopoaga play in your defense?
Tommy Lawlor over at Iggles Blitz profiles Fletcher.
You may look at the stat sheet and see that Fletcher wasn’t a full time starter in 2012 and wonder what the Eagles were thinking. Watch the tape. I wrote a few times about this guy recently. He had the best pure cover skills of any CB on the market. Is there risk in signing him? Only in the sense that he hasn’t started at CB for 16 games in his 4-year career. Before you get fired up about durability, Fletcher played in 16 games in 2010 and 2012. He started 15 in 2010. He started 4 last year. Why just 4? Because the Rams spent big money on Cortland Finnegan and an early pick on Janoris Jenkins. Fletcher was coming off an injury and they made him the #3 CB. The twist here is that STL put one of the other guys in the slot and Fletcher played LCB. He faced top flight competition. I watched him in several games. Fluid player. Good speed. Good coverage instincts. I wanted the Eagles to get him because Fletcher was the best cover guy available. Simple as that. He gives us a very talented starting CB.
And here are his thoughts on Phillips:
Funny, I’ve been after Jason for a while. I had him as a 3rd round target of the Eagles back in the 2009 draft. He was cut before the 2009 season began and I had interest. He was cut by the Ravens in 2011 and I had interest. Always seemed like a good STer and backup ILB. Let’s be honest about the current backup ILBs. I don’t trust Jamar Chaney or Casey Matthews. Phillips will likely take one of their jobs. The other two can battle it out for the other spot.
Dan Graziano likes the Casey signing in particular.
The idea of someone like Casey, who can function as a blocker, a receiver out of the backfield or a tight end, has to seem exciting to a coach who likes to experiment and stay as multiple as possible on offense. Kelly will want options, and having an H-back or “joker” type of player available to Michael Vick (or whoever the quarterback ends up being this year or down the road) can only help with that. The Eagles can run double-tight end looks with Casey andBrent Celek or line the new guy up in the backfield and force teams to have to account for him as something more than a blocker.
I like the signing. It’s not a big, splashy one, but Casey is a guy who was drawing interest around the league from teams that thought the Texans underused him. The Eagles have work to do on defense, but the defensive back market is overloaded and likely to move slowly. It’s fitting that Kelly’s first big move was on offense, and it’s a move that’s likely to pay dividends as he gets creative.
This John McCLain piece from 2009 on the difficulties that Casey has overcome is a must-read.
Jimmy Kempski of Blogging The Beast dug up a highlight reel of Chung that demonstrates the safety’s ability to lay a lick.
Whenever I needed to feel safe, I used to put on some soothing music, light a candle, and sit down in the Eagles secondary. Chung will make the Eagles secondary a little more uncomfortable.