After Jeremiah Trotter: The Eagles' New Look at Linebacker

Adam BrooklandCorrespondent IAugust 21, 2007

IconBy all accounts, Jeremiah Trotter was the leader of the Eagle's linebacking corps. He and Brian Dawkins were the heart, the mouth, and the flexing biceps of the defense.

Monday night, though, the Eagles cut ties with the four-time Pro Bowler—for the second time in his career.

Trotter had three years left on his contract. He was slated to make $2.635 million this year, $2.72 million the next, and $3.28 million in his final year.

By any measure, Trotter was not a cap casualt—the Eagles have as much cap space as anyone. Which begs the question:

Why was Trotter cut?

First, the obvious reason: Trotter's body is prematurely aged, and he's lost more than just a step. He's a liability in the pass game, and good enough against the run to justify playing him.

If performance were the only problem, though, Trot would probably still be an Eagle—he simply wouldn't start. In fact, the team's decision to cut Trotter loose is less a knock on him than it is a testament to the talent and depth of the Philly linebackers.

Trotter's immediate replacement, Omar Gaither, was a pleasant surprise as a fifth-round draft pick. Gaither had two games with double-digit tackles in 2006, and really stepped up when Matt McCoy got hurt.

Gaither is much lighter than Trotter, weighing only 235 compared to Trotter's 260. His size and agility are a good fit in Jim Johnson's shifty, blitz-happy defense. Gaither can play the Mike linebacker spot without becoming roadkill, and can move outside to the Will position without getting left in the dust. He can also blitz the quarterback or drop into coverage.

Backed by one of the best defensive coaching staffs in the league, the 23-year-old could prove to be one of the most useful linebacker in football.

Chris Gocong is another first-year starter for the Eagles. After spending last season on the IR, he has proved himself to be ready to play at the next level. Gocong will man the Sam position, providing both size and speed.

In college, Gocong spent some time at DE, excelling against the run. His quickness helped him a set a Division I-AA single-season record for sacks while leading the country in tackles-for-loss during his senior year.

Stewart Bradley, meanwhile, was drafted in the third round this year and is currently the backup to Gocong at the Sam. He brings the size and run-stopping power you need from the Sam linebacker.

Even as a rookie, Bradley has an excellent grasp of the defense as a whole and his position in particular. He has come in so prepared that the Eagles, a team that rarely plays rookies, are giving him a real shot to start.

This influx of young talent bodes well for the future in Philadelphia. Putting the new 'backers between a deep defensive line and a star-studded secondary will help them develop as a unit. Even better, seasoned veteran Takeo Spikes will provide the leadership the youngsters need to get better. 

And by playing them now, the Eagles are giving them the shot to mature into stars.