Eagles Camp Countdown: #2 – Linebackers
The Eagles aggressively addressed the linebacker position in the offseason, trading a fourth-round pick to acquire two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans from the Texans in March.
Ryans might singlehandedly take the Eagles linebackers from well below average to being a more than capable unit. The Birds also drafted Mychal Kendricks, an outside linebacker from the University of California, in the second round with the intent of making him their strongside linebacker.
That leaves Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle and Keenan Clayton as the favorites at the weakside spot.
Chaney has the most experience of the trio, but has primarily played as a middle or strong side linebacker. Chaney moved from the SAM to the MIKE four weeks into the Eagles season last year, and held the starting spot the rest of the season. He was the only Eagles linebacker to start every game.
“Right now they got me playing at the WILL linebacker, I guess they’ve got me and B-Roll,” Chaney said during mini camp. “I just go with the twos right now because you can’t win a position right now in mini-camp and OTA’s, so I guess me, B-Roll and Keenan Clayton going to battle it out in training camp.”
Chaney had 92 tackles (67 solo) last year, to go along with a sack and three interceptions. Rolle amassed 54 tackles (41 solo), and forced and recovered a fumble. Clayton notched 31 tackles (24 solo), and comes in as a heavy underdog.
Rolle was the Eagles weak side starter from Week 4 on last season.
Meanwhile, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan and Casey Matthews sit behind Kendricks on the strong side and round out the list of the top eight linebackers who are most likely to make the roster. Matthews is most likely going to land as the backup middle linebacker, but could thrust himself into the mix on the outside if someone falters.
Jordan started at the SAM in seven of the last eight games last year, with the exception being a game in which the Birds came out in their nickel package. Jordan seems destined to battle for a roster spot this year.
Things could get interesting, however, if Kendricks struggles on the strong side. The rookie checks in at 5-foot-11, 239 pounds while Chaney is listed at 6-foot-0, 242 pounds and Jordan is 6-foot-1, 230 pounds.
The Eagles seem to think Kendricks might fare better in coverage against tight ends, a job responsibility for the SAM linebacker, than any of his larger associates.
That said, if Kendricks struggles, the Eagles could look to Chaney, Jordan, Matthews or Fokou at the SAM, leading to a difficult struggle to find the best pieces in the right combination.
For example, if Chaney gets the job on the strong side, he vacates the battle on the weak side and Jordan may also be moved over to join that battle. Fokou could also get into the mix on either side, at 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds.
That plays a big role in making the linebackers the second most important group to watch in training camp. The Eagles always seem to be shaking up the depth chart by moving guys back and forth between the middle, strong side and weak side.
While this year that seems less likely than usual, it’s certainly on the table.
Rounding out the group are Greg Lloyd, Ryan Rau and Monte Simmons. Lloyd, in his second year out of Connecticut, Rau, undrafted out of Portland State, and Simmons in his second year out of Kent State, will be trying to steal a roster spot or land on the practice squad.
Ryans, Kendricks and Chaney will be the starters – even if Chaney and Kendricks end up flipping positions at some point. Rolle and Matthews retain roster spots based on both their current abilities and their youth and potential. Jordan grabs the final spot at the position, beating out Clayton and Fokou.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.