Training camp for the Philadelphia Eagles is a week away, and some of the more intriguing stories heading into it are at the linebacker position.
If last year taught Eagles fans anything, it is the importance of having a quality group of linebackers.
Questions still need to be answered about the Eagles’ linebackers, and training camp is where many of them will be answered.
Of those questions, the following are the most important ones to keep track of as training camp progresses.
Every year, the Eagles seem to have a different set of starting linebackers. That lack of consistency is troubling, as chemistry can go a long way toward elevating an entire unit’s level of play.
Similar to the past few seasons, 2012 will see new faces in starting positions. For most fans, however, this is a good thing.
To his left, rookie Mychal Kendricks is expected to start on the strong side. A lot is being placed on Kendrick’s plate early, and he needs to acclimate himself quickly if he wants to make a good impression early on in the season. He is a bit undersized but plays with impressive speed and tenacity.
The biggest question among the starters is, who will be the starter on the weak side come Week 1?
Brian Rolle is the incumbent, and he played very well for a late-round draft pick. Competing with him will be Jamar Chaney, who seems to have already lost his starting job on the strong side to the rookie Kendricks. He is hoping to redeem himself by impressing the coaches enough in training camp to start over Rolle.
In the end, Rolle should end up winning the job, with Chaney being an adequate backup at all three linebacker positions should any of the starters go down.
Chemistry is oftentimes overlooked when discussing the play of a certain unit or an entire defense, but it ultimately plays a bigger role than most people realize.
Knowing where a fellow linebacker will be on any given play is crucial, and the confidence gained from playing with familiar faces goes a long way toward increasing the productivity of an entire unit.
Unfortunately, the starting trio of DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Brian Rolle have exactly zero experience playing next to each other.
They do, however, have all of training camp to establish chemistry, and if they do so quickly enough, they could enter the regular season with plenty of confidence in each other.
There is no question that DeMeco Ryans will start at middle linebacker; the question is whether he will be the answer to the team’s past woes at the position?
He is an obvious upgrade over any of the linebackers the team had had last year—that much is certain. He has the prototypical size of a middle linebacker and is a sure-tackler. His tackling abilities will be extremely valuable in the Eagles’ wide-nine defensive scheme, as it leaves plenty of running lanes up the middle for opposing running backs.
The concern is that Ryans is on the decline after seeing his numbers drop in Houston last season.
However, he played out of position last season and is now returning to his more natural spot at middle linebacker.
With the return to the middle, Ryans should regain his form and confidence. Assuming he stays healthy, he will post the biggest tackle numbers of any Eagles linebacker in recent history.
As was stated in an earlier slide, rookie Mychal Kendricks needs to learn the playbook and adjust to the big leagues quickly if he is to be an effective force early on in the season.
The good news is that the Eagles already believe in him as a starter, which means he will see plenty of action in training camp and in pre-season games. This will allow him to learn the nuances of the pro game and adapt to the increased difficulty prior to Week 1.
Ultimately, it is to be expected that he struggles the first few weeks of the season. However, once he gets enough experience and has the game slow down for him, he should be a refreshing surprise on the strong side. His toughness and tenacity will quickly make him a fan-favorite.
With DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Brian Rolle the likely starters, who will be backing them up?
Jamar Chaney is a “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” kind of player and can fill in for any of the starting spots in a pinch. His experience as a starter will prove extremely valuable if one of the starters were ever to miss time due to injury.
Casey Matthews is also in the fold for some playing time as a backup. He has reportedly bulked up in order to shed blocks better and will likely enter the season as the immediate back up to Ryans. Oftentimes the scapegoat for poor defensive play early last season, Ryans should be a much-improved player after a year of experience and some added weight.
Keenan Clayton, Greg Lloyd and Monte Simmons will be battling for a roster spot, and the one or two who do make it will be the remaining backups.
None of the three have the looks of a starter in this league, but they could make for serviceable backups if need be.