Ken Flajole On the Work Ahead For His Linebackers

The linebackers coach says there's not a ton of experience after the projected starters.

Mychal Kendricks. (Jeff Fusco)

Mychal Kendricks. (Jeff Fusco)

The Eagles made plenty of changes during the offseason, especially on the defensive side. Gone are defensive coordinator Billy Davis, inside linebackers coach Rick Minter, and outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern. Along with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz comes linebackers coach Ken Flajole, who arrives after three years as Cleveland’s inside linebackers coach.

Flajole, who decided to stay in the NFL after originally accepting the defensive coordinator position at UTEP in mid January, enters his 17th season as a coach in the league. He comes to an Eagles team which has gone through a big overhaul after firing Chip Kelly before the end of the 2015 season.

“There’s a lot of things – little things – that we need to detail and work out as we get through fall camp,” said Flajole regarding the linebackers for a podcast on the team’s website. “But it’s been a positive response and I think the players have embraced the new scheme, and will continue to build it through the fall.”

Gone are Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans, while former Buffalo Bill Nigel Bradham enters Schwartz’s familiar 4-3 front seven playing on the strong side. Flajole said that Bradham brings intelligence and swagger to the entire defense.

“Certainly him playing for Jim [Schwartz] in Buffalo gives him a leg up on some of the other guys,” Flajole said. “But he’s really a tough nut. When it comes to the running game and the physical aspect of playing in the National Football League, this guy’s gonna be really good. I mean he takes a lot of pride in his ability to be physical. He plays downhill in the run game when he gets matched up on running backs. I think on pass protection, he’s gonna win his fair share of those battles. I think Nigel brings a real tough guy attitude to our linebacking group.”

Flajole inherits two starters from last year in Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks enters his fifth year with the team, and is back in a 4-3 front that he played in his rookie season under coordinators Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles. He will play on the weak side under Schwartz.

“Mychal is a very explosive athlete,” Flajole said. “He can run very well, he can really generate a lot of strength and power out of his hips. I’m encouraged by him. I think he can be really a good player for us. Obviously, you know the detail of assignments are going to be the things that he’ll continue to work on. But, [I’m] encouraged by him, think he can be a fine player for us as well.”

After a very impressive eight games in 2015, Hicks returns ready to assume the middle linebacker role in Schwartz’s 4-3. Last year’s third-round pick out of Texas led the Eagles with 50 combined tackles up until he suffered a season-ending pectoral tear, along with a sack and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

Entering his second season, Hicks will have to be ready to assume a game managing role in the defense, which he is already growing to enjoy.

“We put a lot on them as far as in terms of setting the front,” Flajole said, “and then there’s a lot of audible stuff the we do with the defense, depending on the offensive formation. So he’s gotta be a great game manager. He’s gotta have that persona about him about being able to change calls, and be very vocal about it. And I think he’s embraced it, I’ve been encouraged by Jordan. He’s a sharp, young man.

“I think he likes the leadership role that he has to assume as being a middle linebacker in this defense. You know his big deal is just stay healthy, and I think he’s worked hard to do that. We’re bringing him back slow after the surgeries that he’s had. Hopefully, he’ll have a great season, he’ll stay healthy, and if he can stay healthy, I think he’s really gonna have a great year for us.”

Flajole also mentioned that although Hicks lacks the bulk and girth that most MLBs have, the former Longhorn replaces that with the mental aspect of the game and having good movement skills, especially playing in space.

But after the three projected starters, depth becomes a problem. Only Najee Goode has significant playing experience, although the five-year veteran has spent most of his career on special teams.

“Well, that’s one thing that is a little bit of a concern,” said Flajole of the linebacker depth. “I like some of the guys that we have back there, but they don’t have the playing experience that the top three guys do. Certainly Nigel playing in Buffalo, with Jordan before he got hurt, his play time last year and Mychal’s play time, you know those guys have a lot of NFL snaps or enough NFL snaps behind them that they have game experience. The guys behind them don’t have a lot of game experience, and that’s something that we have to hopefully develop through the preseason and they have to grow up fast.”

With training camp days away, Flajole hopes to not only give his depth guys some experience in game situations throughout the preseason, but also improve the probable starters in Schwartz’s new system.