Year Two: LB Joe Mays' Opportunity To Play for the Eagles in 2009

Leo PizziniAnalyst IJune 24, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 1: Linebacker Joe Mays #51 of the Philadelphia Eagles gets set during minicamp practice at the NovaCare Complex on May 1, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

In the sixth round of the 2008 draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected linebacker Joe Mays from North Dakota State University. 

Mays is a guy that die-hard Eagles fans love to see on the field.  He's not so big or fast but when he hits look for a flying shoe or helmet.

Linebacker Prospect Joe Mays

Joe Mays stands at 5'11" tall and weighs in at 245 pounds. The man is built like a statue chiseled from granite. He is, at times, a bit stiff in his actions, but his game is getting downhill on an appropriate angle, shedding blockers with his upper body strength, and tossing a ball carrier to the ground.

Mays has been working on his coverage in the offseasona questioned aspect of his game.

He has said that he's improved in his ability to more effectively read a play as a pass or a run, a necessity for linebackers in the Jimmy Johnson scheme. 

In coverage over the middle of the field, wide receivers need to fear Joe Mays.

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Exhibit A: Limas Sweed

In the 2008 preseason, Mays delivered what the fans wanted: A warrior.

Exhibit B: Preseason Highlights

Mays does not have elite speed (about a 4.8 second 40-yard dash) but he does explode out of his stance, read the play, take solid angles, and utilize his incredible upper body strength very well.

He can sniff out and react to a run as good as anyone can. 

He tackles a bit high but that is to his strength.

Once he wraps his arms around a player or a part of a player, there is not much hope for escapehe is just too strong. Ball carriers don't have a chance in Mays' grasp. He can just lift them off of their feet and throw them to the ground. 

That is what he does.

Affectionately dubbed "Head Buster," Mays is a fan favorite who has the attention of the coaches and the respect of his team. He hits hard and fast, and wraps and twists slams ball carriers to the ground.

What's not to love?

At North Dakota State, Mays was the top small-school linebacker prospect recording 285 tackles during his time there. He was a Division I-AA third team All-American and his conference's defensive player of the year despite being hampered by a hip pointer. (If you have never had one, they heal well, but are very debilitating.)

Setting Role Expectations for 2009

Mays was an excellent wedge-buster in 2008. It will be interesting to see what he does without a wedge to bust in 2009.

He will definitely be expected to play a big role on special teams.

Mays does not have a viable opportunity to supplant returning middle linebacker Stewart Bradley who appears to be in control of the position for the foreseeable future.

Chris Gocong has the starting strong side linebacker position locked up as well for now.

The weak side linebacker is still an open competition although the contest is currently between Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither.

In a recent interview on PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Mays took a cue from Omar Gaither and said he just wants to get on the field and doesn't care where. 

He also said that he wants to learn all the linebacker positions and further desires to be capable of stepping in for any of them.

I still wouldn't expect to see Mays at weak side linebacker as a standard. It is a position of open field coverage in the J.J. scheme. He can cover well in the middle of the field because the receivers are coming to him. In open field coverage, Mays is unproven.

Unfortunately, I just don't see Mays starting at any position in 2009, barring an injury to a current starter, so his contribution will be limited in a pool full of young promising linebackers. 

The Eagles will not likely play a 3-4 defense any time soon either.

How do Eagles fans get some "Head Buster 2009?"

Mays' talent cannot be allowed to go unexplored in some fashion and the Jimmy Johnson tradition of creative defensive packaging will likely continue in the Jimmy Johnson-Sean McDermott era.

I have to think that Mays will get time in the goal line package over Omar Gaither at some point. Mays' downhill nature fits that bill very well.

Aside from getting goal line action, Mays may find himself in a position to play in some other run-stop situations.

A good opportunity to put Mays on the field would be in their 4-3 defense at weak side linebacker in the fourth quarter when the Eagles need to stuff the run to get the ball back.

If the Eagles are too concerned about his pass coverage to play him at weak side in the aforementioned scenario, Mays could be put in the middle or the strong side and shift either Bradley or Gocong to the weak side for a more dominant run stopping 4-3.

In the long run, that may be an eventual evolution.

Hopefully Johnson and McDermott find a way to get Mays on the field in 2009 in some capacity. He is an exciting player who brings it on game day. 

Mays inspires a higher level of game play from his teammates with his aggressive style. 

Joe Mays is in fan demand.

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