Rolle, Chaney Battle to Start, Celek MCL Sprain
Last year, Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle were perhaps the steadiest presence in the Eagles linebacker unit. This year, the two are battling for the starting job on the weak side.
“It’s not really a surprise, we know that every year they’re going to bring in competition,” said Rolle. “That’s why it’s the NFL and very few people can do it.”
Rolle took over the starting job at the WILL (weak side linebacker) in Week Four last year, while Chaney started every game in the middle.
“I can play all of [the linebacker positions],” Chaney said. “I played WILL in college. I played WILL when I first got here.”
Head coach Andy Reid said the weak side might be a more natural fit for Chaney and praised his play, but stopped short of handicapping the competition.
“I think they have [both] gotten better,” Reid said. “There is a lot of competition at the weak linebacker spot. They trained like crazy in the offseason.”
While Reid wouldn’t say it outright, Rolle comes into camp with the starting spot, but both are likely to get repititions with the first team throughout the next month.
Last year the Eagles asked several linebackers to swap positions, some more than once, which led to difficulty adjusting. Chaney said that won’t be an issue this year.
“I think it’s difficult when you’re learning a new defense, like we were last year,” Chaney said. “It won’t be difficult because it’s the same defense and we had the offseason and all that so you pretty much know all three of them already.”
Both linebackers, like all of the Eagles embroiled in position battles, spoke of competition driving them to perform at higher levels. They also know that for the vast majority of players in the league, nothing is a given.
“You’ve got to have the motivation and be ready to prove yourself every year, no matter who you are,” Chaney said. “Even if you’re one of the so-called high profile guys. If you don’t have a good year they won’t be talking about you next year.”
Toward the end of last season, the Eagles began utilizing their outside linebackers in situational packages. Depending on the down and distance and the opponent’s personnel, the Birds would send someone else onto the field.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and linebackers coach Mike Caldwell have both indicated that that’s a possibility this year, but Chaney says no players are completely satisfied in that scenario.
“We’re all competitors and there ain’t none of us that want to go out there and keep coming back and on and back and on the field,” Chaney said. “So the linebackers that are going to be out there, they’re going to try to be the best to stay out there on all three downs.”
For now, Chaney won’t have to worry about that. The Eagles will first find their three starters, then look for opportunities to find situational specialists, according to Caldwell.
While positions battles can sometimes breed contempt, Chaney and Rolle are good friends and they’re trying not to let a heated competition change that.
“You would never know we was in a battle to be a starter just cause we know it’s a business, we know what we’re here for,” said Rolle. “Ultimately it’s to win the Super Bowl. So if it’s me on the field or him on the field as long as we get to the Super Bowl and win it, then it doesn’t matter.”
Celek Day-to-Day, Eagles Considering Adding a Tight End
Brent Celek underwent an MRI, which confirmed that he has a mild MCL sprain in his right knee. The injury is completely unrelated to his offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia and a torn labrum in his left hit.
Celek could be out a few days or perhaps a week, according to head coach Andy Reid. General manager Howie Roseman and Reid will discuss adding another tight end, but any free agent who wasn’t previously in another training camp would have to sit out three days before joining practice.
For now, the Eagles plan to use their full backs at the tight end position when necessary. Emil Igwenagu, an undrafted rookie from UMass, played both positions in college.
There are a handful of veteran tight ends on the downside of their careers who are currently available. Reid said the Eagles have no plans to sign Jeremy Shockey at the moment, despite reports that the Birds have some interest.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.