Last year, the Eagle linebacker situation was something of a train wreck. Philadelphia traded for seven-year veteran Demeco Ryans this offseason, and it also drafted Mychal Kendricks in the second round of the draft. These additions are very substantial and will go a long way toward solidifying the linebacking corps and addressing a problem that just wasn't going to go away on its own.
During the first organized team activities on Tuesday, May 22, the Eagles' linebackers went through a number of position drills; what was particularly eye-opening about these drills is that they revealed a potential depth chart for the linebacking group.
Here is the Eagles' linebacker depth chart as presented in the Eagles' on-field drills.
Strong-Side LB (SAM)- Mychal Kendricks
Middle LB (MIKE)- Demeco Ryans
Weak-Side LB (WILL)- Brian Rolle
Strong-Side LB (SAM)- Jamar Chaney
Middle LB (MIKE)- Casey Matthews
Weak-Side LB (WILL)- Akeem Jordan
Strong-Side LB (SAM)- Moise Fokou
Middle LB (MIKE)- Greg Lloyd
Weak-Side LB (WILL)- Monte Simmons
Keenan Clayton didn't participate in the drills.
Nothing is set in stone so far, but these were the lineups presented in the on-field drills. The Eagles don't frequently change up their preliminary position depth charts. Last year they plugged Casey Matthews into the starting middle linebacker spot the second they drafted him, and it took several in-game errors before they changed that depth chart, so it's fair to assume they've put some thought into this depth chart.
Training camp performance will ultimately decide who earns the starting positions, but based on past performances and overall skill sets, it's safe to assume the starting linebacker group will look a lot like this.
The Eagles have already plugged rookie Mychal Kendricks into the starting strong-side spot. Though some might fear a potential Casey Matthews-esque rookie linebacker blunder-fest, you should realize Kendricks will have a full offseason of OTAs and training camp to master this defense, something Matthews did not have.
Kendricks may have his share of ups and downs, but let's just hope he has them in training camp and during the preseason. Having Demeco Ryans next to him should aid his transition to the NFL.
There has been much sentiment that Demeco Ryans would provide a leadership role for the linebackers and the defense overall. While Ryans' immediate leadership ability might have seemed doubtful at first based on his newness with the team and in the scheme, after seeing him around the other linebackers, it's easy to see that it's already developing.
Remember, most of Philadelphia's linebackers are still just kids. It's hard to be around Ryans without feeling humbled to be next to a two-time Pro Bowler and a lethal NFL linebacker.
What is most intriguing about this roster competition is who will earn the starting weak-side spot.
Brian Rolle performed very well in that role last season, which may be why he has already been penciled into that spot this season. Casey Matthews could show that he has improved and could be a key contributor to the defense. This could be a very promising season for Matthews. With a full season to learn his teammates and a full offseason to improve, he has nowhere to go but up.
It's difficult to imagine that the Eagles will keep more than six or seven linebackers on the final 53-man roster, so you can basically wipe the third-string players off the potential roster. The final roster battle should come down to Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Keenan Clayton and possibly Greg Lloyd.
Jordan and Clayton showed that they could be reliable contributors on special teams, but Fokou hasn't been a total letdown either. He has stepped into the lineup many times to provide a more physical presence and has been especially effective in run defense.
Here is a video of the Eagles' linebacker drills at Tuesday's OTAs.
What do you think of the linebacker group overall? Can Ryans be a leader immediately?
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