Training Camp Preview: LinebackersBREAKING NEWS, Eagles, News Saturday, July 12th, 2014
The starting linebacker core, arguably the most “consistent” level of our defense remains in place for the 2014 season. For the most part, we get the sense from what we saw last season about the strengths and weaknesses from the group.
The outside linebackers are Barwin and Cole, one guy who is a right fit for the 3-4 the other has a specific “role” to minimize the exposure of his deficiencies.
Cole led the team in sacks, defended the run well, but his sack totals came in large chunks and his overall play was rather inconsistent. Cole is a player that must play up hill. He provides minimum help in defending the pass, and making open field tackles is often a swing and a miss.
Barwin was lined up all over the place last season and did everything that was asked of him by the coaching staff. His relentless effort; never giving a snap less than 100% won earned him respect by the media and fan base. Barwin anticipates building on a strong first season with the Eagles, and if you want to get a better sense of what type of competitor he is, look up the audio tape on a few choice words he had for Saints tight-end Jimmy Graham in the wildcard game.
The Eagles have decent depth behind their starters. The Eagle spent a first round pick on Marcus Smith, and former first rounder Brandon Graham remains on the roster. Braman who was signed in the off-season beings a “freak of nature” athletic component to the defense. Travis Long hopes to make the team after rehabbing last season, and the coaching staff praises his football intelligence and physical makeup. Pressure from the outside is critical for the 3-4 to work, and the Eagles appear to be at a better place than a year ago both talent and experience wise.
The inside linebacker core has tremendous talent from the two starters in Ryans and Kendricks. Ryans played a ton of snaps last season, arguably having his best season as a pro. He is steady veteran, and his a vocal leader. The knock on Ryans was that his inability to play the 3-4 was the reason the Texans traded him to Philadelphia, and if you ask Ryans much had to do with him still recovering from an injury. Ryans led the team in tackles and snaps last season; and is the front runner to repeat those marks this season.
Kendricks, the guy is on the smaller side and misses too many open field tackles; but when he is on, the kid can make plays. Between his speed, instincts and athletic ability, Kendricks can fill the box score with sacks, interceptions and tackles for loss. He has struggled to improve on his game in pass coverage, but the kid is still young and has shown flashes of being a really good player at the pro level.
Behind our starters are Acho, Goode, Phillips and Casey. Casey is on his way out, and Phillips is more of a “special teams” guy who will have to show a full recovery from his season ending surgery. Acho and Goode are more situational players who could provide a spot start if called upon, but are not blessed with the talent to be a full time starter in the NFL.
There is a lot to be excited about in terms of playmaking ability with the linebackers. There is a good sense of what we already have, and anticipation to find out what a guy like Marcus Smith can do when given the chance.
A wildcard for me, a guy who I simply can’t wait to see what the Eagles will do with is Bryan Braman. He reminds me of Rob Ninkovich from the New England Patriots, a guy who was merely a special teamer, but was given playmaking opportunities by a defensive coach who recognized there was a lot more left to be seen.
If the Eagles defense is going to take that next step, if they are going to be a unit that helps to preserve leads and when called upon; will outright win a football game with a turnover; the linebacker core will be the pulse that makes it happen.
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