After a lot of poor play from the Eagles linebackers in 2009, things seemed to be looking up with the return of a healthy Stewart Bradley in 2010. Although there was more consistency out of the middle linebacker position in 2010, it still wasn’t an overly impressive year for the linebackers.
Along with the return of Bradley, the Eagles brought in Ernie Sims to play on the weakside. Sims seemed like a solid addition, as the Eagles didn’t have to give up a whole lot to get the former top-10 draft pick. Early in training camp, it looked like Sims was going to be solid as he received a lot of praise from Sean McDermott and was told he was being overly aggressive.
For the Eagles opener, Sims and Bradley were joined by Akeem Jordan at the strong side, but he was eventually replaced by a more physical Moise Fokou who ended up starting the majority of the season.
The unit did a good job early in the season shutting down running backs like Frank Gore, Michael Turner and Chris Johnson. However, the Eagles' run defense ended up 15th in the league and really failed to step up in the playoffs as they let little known James Starks run all over them.
Unlike some of the top defenses in the league, the Eagles don’t have a linebacker that teams really fear. They’ve proven that they can be effective, but they still have a lot of room for improvement. Bradley led the unit with 60 tackles, while Sims accounted for 55 and Fokou recorded 51.
The unit had a decent amount of speed, but no player proved to be a guy that could make plays all over the field. Yet again, the linebackers struggled in coverage and gave up too much yardage to opposing tight ends. I thought Sims could be a guy to run with tight ends down the field effectively, but it simply didn’t happen.
When Bradley went down late in the season, rookie Jamar Chaney jumped into the lineup and put up some decent numbers. In three games as a starter, Chaney recorded 33 tackles. He showed promise as a young player and should only improve next season.
The Eagles will have some decisions to make this offseason as Bradley, Sims, and Omar Gaither are slated to hit free agency.
I’ve never been high on Gaither and he’s continually shown that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a starter in this league. He’s been good on special teams, but I think it’s time for the Eagles to let him walk.
After looking promising early, Sims really had a disappointing year. He put himself out of position on too many plays and wasn’t as big of a factor as he could have been. I expect that he’s going to want more money then the Eagles would possibly give him, so I expect him to be playing somewhere else in 2011.
Although Bradley has been hampered by injuries, I expect the Eagles to bring him back. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in the past, and needs to learn to play at a more consistent level. With such a young group on defense, I expect him to be re-signed as he’s one of the leaders on defense.
The linebacker position isn’t as high of a priority as some other positions for the Eagles, but I believe they’ll look to bring in a linebacker or two in the 2011 draft.