The Eagles defense needs to add some versatile defensive players, if they want to return to the level of being one of the top NFL defenses. I call them “Tweeners”, which is short for between a defensive lineman, a linebacker and a defensive back. A “Tweener” is a defensive player with tremendous versatility, who can do everything required of a defensive lineman, linebacker or defensive back. He has the pass rushing skills of a defensive lineman, the tackling and run stopping skills of a linebacker, plus the pass coverage skills of a cornerback. He’s tough. He’s quick. He’s smart and he is a playmaker.
He may be a linebacker, safety, or cornerback, but he is able to tackle any of the other teams ball carriers, small quick ones or big powerful ones, as well as cover any of the other team’s receivers. I’m talking about a guy who can step into a hole and stop a running back in his tracks, as well as walk out into the slot and matchup man-to-man on a speedy wide receiver, then turn and run up the seam step-for-step with him for fifty yards.
Everybody focuses on Tom Brady, when they talk about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning the recent Super Bowl, but I thought the key to the game was the play of the Bucs defense, especially their talented linebackers, Devin White and LaVonte David. Their speed, ability to get off blocks versus the running game and versatility allowed defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to stay in a two-deep defense all game long, which took the deep targets away from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
White was a star at LSU, who ran a 4.42 in the forty-yard dash, stands 6 foot even and weighs 237 pounds was drafted with the fifth pick in the 2019 draft. David was drafted in 2012 and has been one of the most versatile linebackers in the league during his career. Their speed, smarts and playmaking skills are all over this year’s Super Bowl video. The Eagles need these types of versatile players “Tweeners” to improve.
A defensive coordinator feels comfortable matching up a “Tweener” with any of the other team’s running backs, tight ends, or wide receivers. A “Tweener” is a guy who can do all of that plus rush the passer. He’s a complete defensive football player in today’s pass happy NFL.
These players are invaluable in today’s NFL because offenses will go with two three or four wide receivers, but still have the ability to run the football. Versatility is the name of the game in the league on both offense and defense. Good defenses have “Tweeners” amongst their linebackers, safeties as well as their nickel backs or cornerbacks.
Malcolm Jenkins was a valuable “Tweener” for the Eagles during their Super Bowl run. In fact both he and the other starting Eagles safety Rodney McLeod would be matched up with running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. Jenkins could line up at the linebacker position and stuff the run. He and McLeod showed that smarts and preparation can make up for pure foot speed. Tyrann Mathieu is a “Tweener” for the Chiefs, who they ask to be versatile and make plays.
Penn State Micah Parsons is a talented “Tweener”, who would be a great pick by the Birds in the fist round because of his speed, athleticism and playmaking ability. It’s very unusual to have a linebacker with 4.38 speed while standing 6’3” and weighing 245 pounds. He’s definitely a “Tweener” because he can step up into a hole and stop the run, come off the corner and sack the quarterback, while also being able to run with any running back, tight end or wide receiver with his 4.39 speed.
Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is another “Tweener”, who stands 6’1” and weighs 221 pounds. He’s also said to run in the 4.4. range in the forty yard dash. The young linebacker leaped 36.5 in the vertical leap and jumped 124 inches in the standing broad jump. You can see his speed and explosiveness on video when you watch him play. The young man made a lot of plays for the Fight Irish last year. I think he would be a great addition for the Eagles.
Last year the Cardinals drafted Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons in the first round. He is a “Tweener”, who tested like an athletic freak a year ago by running the forty-yard dash in the 4.4 range, while jumping 39 inches in the vertical leap and 125 inches in the standing broad jump. He’s listed at 6’4” and weighing 238 pounds. Simmons was drafted in the number eight spot last year by the Cardinals. I expect a lot from him in his second season.
The same is true of LSU’s Patrick Queen was selected in the number 28 spot in the first round last year by the Ravens. Queen showed his explosiveness by jumping 35 inches in the vertical leap and exploding up in the air 125 inches in the standing broad jump. He had a very good rookie season and you can expect another big year out of him in 2021.
“Tweeners” must be able to play the linebacker position on nickel and dime, so they must develop the ability to read blocking schemes and know how to attack and defeat them. When necessary they can also slide outside and cover whomever is lining up in the slot. This is the potential of guys like Simmons, Queen. It’s why Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman and his crew must start adding these types of players to the roster.
Remember what I said about the “Tweeners” being speedy, gifted and versatile players, who are able to tackle and cover any players on the field. They are a necessity in today’s NFL.