In 2008, the Philadelphia Eagles linebacking corps showed that youth is not always a negative on the field.
The job of a linebacker is to pressure the quarterback when called upon, help defend against the potential receiving threat a tight end poses, and support the tackles against the run game.
All of these requirements need to be executed efficiently in order to force the opposing offense off the field in a timely manner.
The Eagles linebackers are quick and physical enough to fulfill these expectations.
Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley became the starting MIKE linebacker in 2008. Bradley finished second on the team with 151 tackles for the season.
Bradley at 6'4" 255 lbs., has the size to be a force in the middle. His strength allows him to shed blocks easily in order to make the play.
Bradley has proven to be a force in defending against the run. This is evident in Philadelphia's high ranking in run defense in 2008.
Strong side linebacker Chris Gocong is a unique talent. A converted defensive end; Gocong made the transition to starting SAM linebacker in 2008.
Gocong was a sack master in his collegiate career at Cal Poly; accumulating 42 sacks in 41 games.
Gocong's pass rushing ability has yet to come full circle, but the potential is there for Gocong to let loose and have a big year in terms of pressuring the quarterback.
Weak side linerback Akeem Jordan replaced Omar Gaither as a starter midway through 2008.
Jordan's speed has made him a standout since his 2007 stint on the practice squad.
Originally a special teams player, Jordan's instincts have made this undrafted free agent out of James Madison a pleasant surprise for this defense.
2008 sixth-round selection Joe Mays was the talk of the preseason with his performance at middle linebacker. The hard hitting linebacker made his presence known with his nose for making plays time after time in his preseason appearances.
Mays is an intriguing prospect because of his high motor. It will be interesting to see if he will see time at a position other than the middle, which has been cemented by Bradley. Perhaps, Mays will challenge Jordan for the weak side position.
Omar Gaither is flexible in his positioning in the linebacking corps. Gaither has saw time in the middle in the absence of Jeremiah Trotter in 2006 and started on the weak side for the first ten games of the 2008 season.
Gaither has struggled at times in coverage, which made him expendable when the times got tough late in 2008.
Strong side linebacker Tank Daniels has been primarily a special teams contributor for his career. Daniels has size and toughness to be formidable, but has lacked the intelligence at times to become a complete player.
Weak side linebacker Moise Fokuo, a 2009 seventh-round draft pick, will try to make the roster as a member of the special teams. Fokou has been described as having above average speed, as well as being a non-stop motor, a reliable tackler, and a terrific special teamer. However, Fokou needs to gain more in the way of muscle in order to contribute on a regular basis.
Unit Grade: A-
The grade may be generous, but with the gained experience of Bradley and Gocong; this unit may only improve from here.
The speed and athleticism of this group will prove to be a great strength in the long run.
As mentioned before, Joe Mays is the dark horse of this group. Mays is a workhorse who has a big upside which could be fulfilled if given the chance.