Instinctive Walker Could Make Impact with Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When Eagles coach Doug Pederson met the media before the 2016 NFL Draft he admitted that his defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, was lobbying for bodies at the linebacker position.
That was a nod to the reality that Philadelphia entered the offseason very light at the position after trading the disappointing Kiko Alonso to Miami and making the difficult decision that injuries robbed DeMeco Ryans of his NFL skill set.
While Schwartz's efforts to bang the table did not go unnoticed, the Eagles were a little light on draft picks after making the bold move up to No. 2 overall to snare their presumed quarterback on the future in Carson Wentz. And, when it was all said and done, the Eagles' defensive chief was given just one new body to work with, seventh-round middle linebacker Joe Walker.
That was supplemented a bit in undrafted free agency as Philadelphia gave small school LB Myke Tavarres nearly $100,000 to sign and also brought it local, fireplug Quentin Gause, a former Rutgers star.
The plan moving forward is to have second-year standout Jordan Hicks start in the middle with Mychal Kendricks handing the weak-side and a free-agent pickup Nigel Bradham taking over the Sam spot. Jack-of-all-trades Najee Goode is likely the top backup at each position but has spent the voluntary OTAs at the Mike spot, often running with the first team in place of Hicks, who is recovered from his pectoral injury from a year ago but has been having nagging leg issues, including a quad spasm that kept him out of Friday's practice.
With Hicks in and out of the mix during the spring, Walker, a 6-foot-2, 238-pound option known for his instincts, has gotten a lot of extra looks with the second-team defense and he's starting to stand out a little bit.
"I've got to pick it up a little quicker," Walker admitted to 973espn.com on Friday, "but getting the extra reps is definitely helpful."
During Friday's indoor session, Walker helped himself quite a bit when Wentz rolled right near his own end zone and threw a pass that was deflected by defensive end Steven Means. The Oregon product corralled the football for what would have been a defensive touchdown, a splash play in what is a far more aggressive defense than Walker is used to.
"Comparing it to what I did in college, this is just a lot more downhill," Walker said of Schwartz's scheme. "I feel more comfortable and it's a lot of fun."
This is just the first step for the California native but with the team's depth issues and the fact the Hicks continues to struggle with various injuries Walker could be forced into action sooner than anyone expected. For now, though, he's concerned with adjusting to the NFL game.
"Just the speed of the game (is such a change)," Walker admitted. "I have to get in my playbook a little more and make sure everything becomes second nature."
That begins at Philadelphia's mandatory minicamp next week and then it's off to training camp in late July and hopefully a 53-man roster spot come September.
"I've had a lot of fun." Walker said. "Everyone in the organization has been so helpful. I'm just looking forward to the next step."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen