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.