I think the Eagles have a group of young linebackers who have the ability to get much better, but they must learn to play smarter by anticipating the upcoming plays. They have the physical tools but they’ve got to get better pre-snap reads about what offenses are going to do by seeing the formations, knowing the down and distance, identifying the tendencies of that team and the mentality of the offensive coordinator.
To give you an example. The Eagles offense marched down inside the Packers five yard line and they tried a couple of plays which they had run effectively against the Giants in that historic comeback win.
One was a delayed crossing route from to the left to the right side by Jeremy Maclin and the other was a quarterback draw by Vick to the left side. Green Bay’s linebackers had done their homework and recognized those plays before the Eagles could have success running them. This is one of the reasons Green Bay is still in the playoffs but the Eagles are on vacation.
The defense needs more interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles out of the linebackers. They need them to be impact players in order to have a good defense.
It’s clear that weakside linebacker Ernie Sims hasn’t been the big-time playmaker the Birds were looking for when they traded for him. He started the season playing all 1st, 2nd and 3rd downs but as the season went on they started taking him off the field in nickel situations. I told you during the summer at training camp after checking Sims out, that he was a better athlete than he was an NFL linebacker.
He’s still playing like he did in college where you just run around and hit people, but in the NFL you play with your mind as well as your body. I’ve asked him questions about what the upcoming offense likes to do and he can never give me the information that he needs to be giving.
It’s pretty simple, Sims doesn’t make enough big plays, but he does give them up. He bites on fakes and is caught out of position on a near constant basis. Sims had 55 tackles with two sacks for the season. Despite playing full time, he rarely if ever got his hands on the football or forces any turnovers.
Sims hasn’t been able to advantage from the study of video tapes and statistics. He seems to fall for every pump fake known to man.
I expect Akeem Jordan to compete for the starting Will linebacker job next season. He’s got good speed and is an adept pass coverage linebacker. Jordan does a decent job versus the run but that’s not his strength. He’s a good football player but he’s not a big-time hitter. He needs to be more physical.
Jordan has started at Will linebacker in the past but his work will be cut out for him to do it again.
You might notice that the Birds relinquished less yardage to tight ends as the year progressed. Fokou is an aggressive player, who seems to make a mistake only once and learns from it. Versus the run, Fokou was doing a good job of getting off blocks and making plays on the ball carrier. He’s making good reads and playing an attacking style of ball.
Versus the pass, he has learned the value of a good jam on the tight end. The young outside linebacker plays a very physical style which is a requirement for having success against tight ends. when I saw him getting better the longer he played.
Rookie middle linebacker Jamar Chaney is a keeper. He’s got great quickness and speed for a middle linebacker, which allows him to run down plays and run with speedy running backs. I like the way Chaney attacks running plays and finds ways to work through traffic to make plays. The Birds deserve a pat on the back for this one.
Chaney didn’t become a starter until late in the season yet he was able to register 42 tackles with a few forced fumbles. He’s one of those sideline to sideline guys, who seems to be all over the field making plays. He as well as Antonio Dixon are the best things that happened to the defense this year.
Chaney has the instincts to play the position because he’s always around the football and he has a knack for causing turnovers. The rookie struggled at times in pass coverage, but he should improve tremendously next year with the experience he garnered this season. He’s got the speed and savvy to be as good versus the pass as he is against the run.
The Eagles haven’t made a commitment to him as a starter in 2011, but I think you can rest assured that he’ll be the man in the middle for the Birds next season.
I think you’ll see Stewart Bradley moved to the strongside linebacker position, if Fokou can make the move to the Will linebacker spot. Bradley is just a year away from knee surgery, but he played well at the middle linebacker position. I didn’t say great, but he was part of a much improved run defense.
Rookie outside linebacker Keenan Clayton has the speed to play the safety position and he’s nearly as small as a safety. I like his coverage skills and the way he closes on a ball carrier.
He stays around the ball when he’s on the field and the youngster is willing to throw his body around to make plays. The young linebacker has catch up speed, but the jury is still out on him when comes to stopping the run.
It will be difficult for Clayton to be a full time linebacker because of his size deficiency, but he does fit in as a hybrid safety/linebacker to be used in nickel and dime situations.
I do think he will get bigger in his second year and probably the year after that as well. I remember talking to him after he was drafted when he said he was weighing near the 215-to-220 range.
Who knows if he comes back next year with an extra twenty pounds, he may be in the competition to start at the Will linebacker position because he does have playmaking skills.
Bradley’s height sometimes works against him on the inside because it’s easier to get underneath him as a blocker. He could be competing for a starting job at Sam with Fokou or a starting job at Mike with Chaney.
He doesn’t deliver the impact in his tackling like the top middle linebackers. His instincts are okay but not great.
Bradley was stronger in pass coverage than he was in run stopping, so I think the move will work out. With Bradley’s size and height he’ll be a good matchup versus the tight ends in the league.
Veteran linebacker Omar Gaither didn’t see too much time this year at the linebacker position. Gaither just doesn’t have the speed or size to be a dominant linebacker. He’s a good backup because he’s very smart and has great instincts. The only reason he’s in the league is because of his instincts. It’s too bad they can’t do a transplant and put Gaither’s smarts and instincts on Sims’ body.