Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2015 is fast approaching. Coaches and players report as soon as Saturday, August 1. The Eagles training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here.
As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. Today we look at the outside linebackers.
Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman, Marcus Smith, Travis Long, Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo
Connor Barwin is the man. Not only is he a good player but he also makes great contributions off the field as well. Barwin likely won't repeat the 14.5 sack performance he had in 2014, but he'll still be a valuable member of Philadelphia's defense. He's everything the Eagles want in an outside linebacker: he can rush the passer, set the edge against the run, and drop into coverage.
Starting opposite of Barwin is Brandon Graham. For the first time in his career, Graham is entering an NFL season as a full-time starter. Graham's career path to this point has been very strange. Many thought the former first round pick wouldn't even return to the Eagles this offseason, but now he's a key member of the defense. Graham has excelled as a pass rusher during limited playing time the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham finished as the NFL's best pass rusher last season in their proprietary "Pass Rush Productivity" stat. He generated six sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 37 hurries in just 225 pass rush snaps played. It remains to be seen if Graham can still be effective now that he will be expected to play a lot more snaps. There are also concerns about Graham's ability to drop into coverage.
While Barwin and Graham are locked in as the starters at outside linebacker, the depth behind them is unsettled. 2014 first round pick Marcus Smith is coming off a disappointing season where he only played a total of 105 snaps. Smith should have an opportunity to step up into Graham's old role rotating in off the bench, but he has to earn that playing time. The Eagles gave Smith some first team snaps during spring practices so they're clearly not writing him off yet. Call me crazy, but I can envision Smith succeeding in a Barwin role one day. He's not the most gifted pass rusher (like Barwin), but he's athletic (like Barwin) and he can drop into coverage (like Barwin). Smith might not ever be as good as Barwin, but he potentially fits that mold.
Bryan Braman is a beast of a special teams player. There are only three words you need to know about him: "Kill. Maim. Destroy." He's a lock to make the roster, especially after receiving a one-year contract extension this offseason.
Returning to the team for the third summer in a row is Travis Long. The Eagles have been high on him in the past. He spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad. It looked like Long might earn a roster spot last year prior to suffering a season-ending ACL injury in the final preseason game. Long is another player in the Barwin mold. He's not so much a dominant pass rusher as he is an athletic player who can set the edge and cover. Long could push for a roster spot, especially if he shows up on special teams. His versatility to play at inside linebacker and at defensive end could help him avoid a numbers crunch at outside linebacker.
Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo is an undrafted rookie free agent. He's a long shot with some pass rush ability.
How will it play out?
Barwin and Graham are locks to start. Barwin played 94% of the team's defensive snaps in 2013 and 87% in 2014 so he'll probably be around the 90% mark. As for Graham, his role could be a little more limited. Trent Cole only played about 70% of the team's defensive snaps each of the past two seasons. Graham will likely take over that role while Smith could inherit Graham's old role of playing about 30% of the team's snaps as a rotational player.
Who could be a surprise cut?
It's hard to say Smith's job is 100% safe if he doesn't show anything this summer. Cutting Smith wouldn't make much sense from a financial perspective, however. The Eagles would actually lose over $3 million in cap space by parting ways with him now.