Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Philadelphia Eagles: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney
Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Dan Connor, Anthony Spencer, Bruce Carter
After suffering through years of poor linebacker play, the Philadelphia Eagles finally went out and got themselves some capable starters.
DeMeco Ryans headlines the group and will be expected to play all three downs at the middle linebacker position. He had an off year in 2011 playing out of position in Houston, but should be able to turn things around now that he is back at his more natural position.
The team also drafted Mychal Kendricks in the second round of this year’s draft. He will be the starting strong-side linebacker and should prove to be an upgrade in coverage.
The biggest battle will be between Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney for the weak-side linebacker position. Rolle started most of the season at the spot in 2011 and played well. With a full offseason, he should build on his success from last year.
Chaney was replaced by Kendricks on the strong side, and will look to make a name for himself on the weak side. If not, he will be a serviceable backup for all three positions.
The strength of the Dallas Cowboys’ defense resides in the linebacker group, which is stellar.
DeMarcus Ware is the best outside linebacker in the game, hands down. His ability to put pressure on the quarterback as well as his tackling prowess makes him deadly no matter how you look at it.
Unfortunately, he is often double-teamed because he gets little help from the other side. Anthony Spencer is an average starter but does not make his presence known on the field. His future with the team is uncertain after this year.
On the inside, the Cowboys have another stud linebacker in Sean Lee. Equally good in coverage and against the run, Lee does it all and is becoming a vocal leader for the defense.
Next to him, Dan Connor will likely begin the season as the starter, but will be pushed by second-year player Bruce Carter. Both play well against the run, with the younger Carter offering a little more upside.
Few teams have two stud linebackers, and if Bruce Carter develops, the Cowboys may end up with three. The Eagles are improved at the position but are not yet on Dallas’ level.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys