FanPost

State of the linebackers

 

State of the linebackers

Before the three deal trade that went down on Monday, the linebacker was one of the highest needs on the eagles draft list. Even with return of Stewart Bradley, the linebackers could still use a lot of work. Fortunately the FO did their homework, and brought in another piece to enhance our linebacker position with the addition of Ernie Sims. With our newest player, let’s take a look at what we have at the linebacker position.

At the WILL side, we have:

 

Ernie Sims

Akeem Jordan

Omar Gaither

 

Ernie Sims, a 25 year old versatile linebacker, who is expected to start on the weakside as stated by Roseman. Although he can play all three positions, he primarily suited to play WILL. He’s big, about 6 feet, 230 pounds. The guy was basically Trent Cole (I hope he turns out like him too) on the Lions, a proven, solid starter that played almost every snap but was did not gain get some national recognition for his talents. He's an aggressive hitter and never lets up. Sims has excellent speed, can go sideline-to-sideline, can either slip blockers or take them head on - regardless of their size - and he plays hard every snap. Some negatives about him are he needs to improve his one-to-one coverage skills. If you have seen his career stats he has only made one interception his entire career. He doesn’t force many fumbles either. Not a big turnover creator, but can tackle. If you have not heard, Ernie came in the three way trade that sent our 5th rounder (Cleveland’s) to the Broncos, Tony Scheffler and a seventh rounder to 

the Lions, and LB Ernie Sims to the Eagles. Essentially, we got LB Alex Hall, a high fourth rounder, and LB Ernie Sims from the controversial dumping of Sheldon Brown and Chris Gocong. Seems reasonable.

 

Ernie Sims has not won the starting position. Standing in his way is Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither. The positive thing about the addition about is that we have three starting quality players competing for one position.

 

Akeem Jordan, another young 24 year old linebacker, is the incumbent starter on the weakside. He’s actually one of our better linebackers and was having a great year last year before the injury bug came by. In 2009, he made 82 tackles and notched back to back interceptions. He’s also a valuable contributor on special teams, Jordan has amassed a team-leading 55 career special teams tackles since entering the league. Akeem has been solid but not really spectacular. However, he is young and has a lot of upside. The coaches have much faith in him and he seems ready for a strong season. It should be fun watching both Jordan and Sims compete in training camp.

The underdog, I guess, would be Omar Gaither. Gaither is another versatile linebacker, having started at the WILL and the MIKE position for the Eagles and has done a solid job. Before the emergence of Bradley, Omar was the starter at middle, notching 102 total tackles in 16 games 8 defending eight passes and compiling one interception. He did an ok job filling in for the middle position again at the start of the season. But the injury bug struck again, with Gaither missing the rest of the season. Gaither is still young, 26, and is experienced linebacker who knows the system well. As of now he is backup to Bradley. He’s on a one year deal and will probably be gone by next year. But I think he is valuable player, as he is versatile and serves as insurance policy as the Eagles top backup linebacker.

 

 

Anaylsis:  Like the rest of the linebacker core, the weakside has been a revolving door. Last year, we experimented with so many different players that it just resulted in chaos for the rest of defense. Some fans are tired of waiting and just want a clear cut starter, even if that means we have to draft one high. Options include Sergio Kindle, Eric Norwood, and Sean Weatherspoon. But with three proven players competing for weakside, it’s highly unlikely we draft for an outside linebacker to play weakside.

However, one problem that plagued the linebacker’s ineffectiveness was the linebacker’s inability to cover. In many of the games last season, we heard how the weakest part of our defense was linebacker’s poor coverage skills. How many times have tight ends burned the eagle’s defense last season? Unfortunately, all three of the Weak side linebackers have problems covering. Together, all three players for their careers combine for a total of 28 defended passes and a grand total of five interceptions. Now, if I’m not mistaken, a weakside linebacker needs to be able to tackle but also cover well and make plays. These guys, as of right now, are not really the playmaking type. Akeem Jordan does have a lot of upside however, and he gave us a little preview last year of what he can do. In the first two games of the season, he notched two impressive interceptions and, if I remember correctly, played decent coverage. Sims, arguably the front runner for the weak side, could possibly benefit and become a playmaker from the change of teams. He reportedly did not fit in with the Lions defensive scheme and is why they were so willing to deal him.

 


At the Middle position, we have:

 

Stewart Bradley

Omar Gaither

Joe Mays

 

Stewart Bradley was considered an emerging leader on the Eagles position and more than capable starter at the Mike position. In his first full year as starter, he made 108 total tackles, one sack, defended six passes, and making one interception. Unfortunately he tore his ACL before the 2009 season. A season without Bradley proved to be disastrous for the entire linebacker line. The Eagles were pulling all sorts of moves trying to replace Bradley with little success. The loss of presence of Bradley really showed how valuable Bradley is to this team. Not only is he a solid starter that can play all three downs, but he also provides leadership to a team that sorely needs it. People argue that Bradley won’t be and maybe never be the same player after his injury. The good thing is Bradley is young and went down before the preseason itself. So he had plenty of time to recover. Still fans concerns about Bradley’s health are reasonable and we need Bradley to be 100 percent again. He is the expected starter at the MIKE position and his return makes a big difference to this linebacker core.

 

Both Mays and Gaither figure to be competing for the back-up position behind Bradley, with the edge to Gaither. Joe Mays is a young linebacker that has started only one game his entire career. He was expected to compete for the Middle position in previous seasons. However, he did not meet expectations. Still, he’s a hard hitter who also knows the system in his third year as an Eagle. He’s another key contributor on special teams.

 

 

      Anaylsis:  Obviously, the middle position is a key spot on the defense. We all saw how the defense was affected by the loss of a solid starter in Bradley. Even the acquisition of Will Weatherspoon didn’t work out. So now comes the question if we will use a high draft pick on a linebacker, more specifically a middle linebacker. Some mock drafts have the eagles taking Micah Johnson or Sean Weatherspoon at 24. It would be difficult finding a place for player like Brandon Spikes or Johnson here, with Bradley coming back. One option, if Johnson, Spikes, or Weatherspoon were to be drafted, would be to move Bradley to SAM who also has experience playing, keep Sims at WILL and have Johnson, Spikes, or Weatherspoon in the middle. Although the acquisition of Sims lessens the eagle’s chances of taking a linebacker in the high rounds, the eagles have surprised us before. I could see a rendition of last year’s draft, where the eagles came out of nowhere to grab the second best wide receiver of the draft class and at the same time fortified the wide receiver position. Similarly, coupled with the addition of Sims, a high draft pick on a linebacker could finally create a stable linebacker line much like our own wide receiver core.

Realistically, however, I see this as too high for the Eagles to draft a linebacker especially that we have acquired Sims. We have more pressing holes to fill. Some don’t see how a middle linebacker would fit here with Bradley coming back. Still, what if Bradley does not come back to his former self? The FO loves to add competition and draft for the best player available. Could we still draft a linebacker in the first three rounds even with the acquisition of Sims and the return of Bradley? If a top middle linebacker dropped like Johnson, or Spikes fell to the Eagles second rounder, would you draft them? The Eagles have done crazier stuff before.

 

At the Strongside, we have:

 

Moise Fokou

Alex Hall

 

Moise Fokou was drafted by the eagles in the seventh round in 2009, only the second defensive person taken last year. He was originally was thought to become a depth linebacker in a young Eagles linebacker crew. However, he’s surprised many by pushing his way to starting at the strongside linebacker in 2009. As of right now, he is the frontrunner to winning the job. Fokou is a 6-foot-1, 236 pound linebacker with some speed. He has long arms and big hands, which is very advantageous in the NFL. He has started five games last season, and pretty much beat Gocong for the starting job. With Gocong gone, Fokou has a great chance to impress the coaches. He is very aggressive but sometimes he uses that aggression in the wrong way. He has to take the next step, develop maturity and commit fewer penalties. Fortunately, he has a ton of upside and the coaches seem to have much faith in him.

It would seem that Fokou’s only competition is LB Alex Hall, acquired from the trade from Cleveland. Yet another young linebacker, Hall, 25, was drafted by the Browns in the seventh round in 2008 draft. Honestly, I do not know much about Hall. Many fans did not seem that excited at acquiring Hall. For his career he garnered 38 tackles and 3 sacks. Some of his other career highlights include being included in Division II All-American (2006-2007) and First-team All-CIAA (2006-2007). He’s a big guy 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. He played on a 3-4 defense while with the Browns and is actually listed as a LB/DE hybrid. Roseman has stated that Hall will have a chance to play as an edge rusher in passing situations. Hmm? Could he be better than Gocong? Here’s hoping he is.

 

Anaylsis:  Strongside would seem the weakest part of the linebacker core right now. Of course, we don’t know how Fokou or Hall will pan out. But there’s no competition for Fokou.  I think Hall will be a contributor on special teams and maybe an occasional pass rusher. If Fokou does not work out, the eagles will find a hole on the strongside. If the Eagles were to draft a linebacker, whether the first, second, fourth, or sixth, look for the pick to go to a strongside or versatile linebacker. Some options include Roddrick Muckelroy, Sergio Kindle, Dekoda Watson, Eric Norwood and Sean Weatherspoon.

 

Overall, the trade for Ernie Sims effects how the Eagles draft on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Still just like any position, the linebacker line could use work, and the position is still far from perfect. The Eagles could draft quality linebackers across the board for depth and grooming purposes or the Eagles could even pull a stunner by drafting the top linebacker in the draft.

 

 

 

Top Linebacker Prospects:

Spikes, Brandon

LB

6'3"

249

Florida

Weatherspoon, Sean

LB

6'1"

239

Missouri

Bowman, Navorro

LB

6'0"

242

Penn State

Lee, Sean

LB

6'2"

236

Penn State

Washington, Daryl

LB

6'2"

230

TCU

Angerer, Pat

LB

6'0"

235

Iowa

Muckelroy, Roddrick

LB

6'2"

246

Texas

Norwood, Eric

LB

6'1"

245

South Carolina

Sharpton, Darryl

LB

5'11"

236

Miami

Butler, Donald

LB

6'1"

245

Washington

Coleman, Harry

LB

6'1"

211

LSU

Curran, Rennie

LB

5'11"

235

Georgia

Riley, Perry

LB

6'1"

239

LSU

Chaney, Jamar

LB

6'1"

242

Mississippi State

Cole, Justin

LB

6'3"

242

San Jose State

Watson, Dekoda

LB

6'1"

240

Florida State

 

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