During the Andy Reid era, the Philadelphia Eagles have given new meaning to those common three letters you see when texting: “LOL.” No, it’s not “laugh out loud”, the Eagles’ version stands for “lack of linebackers.”
Because that’s exactly what the Eagles have suffered from for most of of Reid’s tenure here in Philly.
Other than Jeremiah Trotter, whom Reid inherited, and Carlos Emmons (Reid’s lone good LB acquisition), every other linebacker over the past 13 seasons has ranged from mediocre to horrible.
The lack of talent at this position has been the cause of constant change every year. In fact, Reid has never started the same trio of linebackers for two consecutive seasons.
Furthermore, as Reuben Frank recently pointed out, Reid has used 19 different starting linebacker combinations since the beginning of the 2009 season.
19 different combinations in three seasons! That’s just over six different starting linebackers per year!
This is what happens when you treat the position as an afterthought.
The Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans in free agency and drafted Mychal Kendricks in the second round this year. The initial plan was to pair them with Brian Rolle to form a solid linebacker corps this season.
Plus, Ryans and Kendricks were considered to be 3-down players so they would rarely come off the field. This would help with continuity, field leadership and help eliminate confusion.
Now, the first change has come about.
Rolle finished the 2011 season as the starter at WLB. Entering camp, he and Jamar Chaney were slated to compete for the starting role again.
However, Chaney injured his hamstring, which has limited him, and Rolle has struggled during the preseason. Now, Akeem Jordan will be the starter on the weak-side.
Jordan signed with the Eagles as a 2007 undrafted free agent. He began his career on the practice squad but was promoted to the roster during his rookie year.
Since then, he has been in and out of the starting lineup too many times to count.
Jordan is basically a jack-of-all-trades, but of course with that, he’s a master of none. Except maybe special teams. He’s played all three linebacker positions with the Eagles so he does provide decent depth.
However, the fact that he’s a starter again just means the team continues to struggle to find three solid players they can deem starter-worthy and allow them time to develop an identity.
Brian Rolle was promising last season but has taken a step back this year so far. Although, with the history of Jordan and the way they interchange linebackers, it’s a safe bet that either Chaney or Rolle will be starting by mid-season.
And as far as having 3-down players, thus continuity and less rotation, it sounds as if Juan Castillo is planning on handling the linebackers this year much like he did last year. Here’s what Castillo had to say about that, courtesy of the Eagles’ press release:
“Really, the thing we’d like to is like last year, where we had different [groups]. First, we had base. Then, we had first and second-down buffalo, we called it. We had third-down nickel and third-down dime.
We had a lot of different positions where we had some good athletes there and good competition. We’d like to be able to use as many of those guys who have earned an opportunity to play [as we can].”
All I can say is that he really needs to tone down the linebacker rotation. That’s why Ryans was brought in and why they drafted Kendricks in Round 2.
That still may be the case, but with Castillo, who knows.
Kendricks is the only linebacker that has looked impressive during preseason. Much to my disappointment, Ryans has looked merely “okay” at best.
During training camp and preseason, I have yet to see Ryans make a play. He seems to be late to react or just out of position most of the time.
I hope the reason is just him needing to get used to the defense.
As a matter of fact, every time Reid or Castillo have been asked about Ryans so far, the only answers we get for the most part are things like “he’s improving and getting faster every day” and “he’s bringing leadership and setting an example of how to prepare.”
That’s all well and good, but, how about his play? At the end of the day, if he doesn’t produce on the field, it doesn’t matter how good of a leader he is.
Ultimately, we might be relying on Kendricks to make the biggest difference amongst the linebacker corps this season. As I stated earlier, he’s been making plays in camp and has carried that over into the preseason.
Hell, against New England, I saw him make a play that I haven’t seen a linebacker on this team make in years…
On the third play of the game, Shane Vereen caught a short pass and was looking to get up-field. Kendricks was making his way to Vereen while taking on a block from the offensive lineman.
Kendricks simply fought off the block with one arm, then grabbed and pulled down Vereen with the other. It was a great play that often goes unnoticed, but that is the kind of play we’ve been lacking from the linebackers.
Basically, we need linebackers who can plug gaps, shed blocks and still make plays. Kendricks appears to be able to do that thus far. Or, at least I’ve actually witnessed him doing it.
Ryans and Jordan? That’s yet to actually be seen this year.
Ultimately, the linebacker rotation is Castillo’s call. If he continues to rotate players in and out like he did last year, we can pretty much expect similar results as last year.
If he decides to stick with at least Ryans and Kendricks as 3-down players for the most part, that will help with cohesion and on-the-field leadership, if not improve over last season.
Therefore, the success of this year’s linebacker corps will depend on Ryans stepping up his play and Castillo stepping up his play-calling.