Curry, Jones Work To Solve OLB ‘Question Mark’
After several minutes of ambiguity and non-committal responses, Chip Kelly spoke plainly about one position: outside linebacker. Before yesterday’s practice, he said that the Eagles’ “master plan” is “to make sure we have more depth.”
However, he added shortly thereafter that they have yet to reach that point at outside linebacker.
“We had a great rotation last year,” Kelly said. “But we’re still continuing to try to develop that out there. So that is a question mark for us right now.”
After Trent Cole’s release, Travis Long’s torn ACL and Marcus Smith’s hamstring injury, the Eagles have had to get creative. Vinny Curry—a defensive end—and Brad Jones—an inside linebacker—both played outside linebacker Saturday against the Ravens.
Although Curry has little experience at the position, Jones previously played it for the Packers. Both impressed their head coach in the second preseason game.
“I know [Defensive Coordinator] Billy [Davis] and [Outside Linebackers Coach Bill McGovern] McGovs and [Defensive Line Coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz and all those guys are really happy with where [Curry] is,” Kelly said Monday. “And Brad’s played it, so he’s got a really good understanding. But both those guys we thought did well.”
The biggest adjustment for Jones has been the different angle he has at outside linebacker. When he played inside, he could see the entire field.
He also has to get reacquainted with the mental element of the position.
“The assignments are fine, but it’s diagnosing what the play is that’s different,” Jones said. “As you learn the position, it turns into more anticipation than reaction. You know this formation has a high tendency to do this so you’re playing with probabilities and you can play faster because you have an idea of what’s coming.”
Curry, meanwhile, has faced a different learning curve. Although he said he gives himself an “overall high grade” for his performance Saturday, he explained that one challenging aspect has been the different responsibilities, like setting the edge.
He also wants to improve his alignment and where he’s located relative to the offensive tackle to put himself in the best position to make a play. Above all, though, he said preseason playing time is “absolutely” important so he can become more familiar with the position and play faster.
“If you call a certain play, I may take a second,” Curry said, “because I may be going to do something I was supposed to do when I was down [as a lineman] instead of now when I’m up [as a linebacker].”
When Kelly says he values depth, it’s more than just words. Last year’s third outside linebacker—Brandon Graham—played 43 percent of the defense’s snaps.
However, between injuries and departures, the Eagles have yet to find someone to fill that void behind Graham and Connor Barwin. That’s why outside linebacker has been one of the most followed position battles during the preseason.
Kelly noted yesterday, though, that a similar distribution of snaps this season isn’t guaranteed.
“It’s a good theory to have,” he said, “but if there is a distinct difference between your one and your two and your three, then you’re probably going to lean on one and two more than you are three.”