Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2016 is almost here. Coaches and players report as soon as Monday, July 25. 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. We continue today by taking a look at the linebackers.
Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode, Joe Walker, Deontae Skinner, Myke Tavarres, Quentin Gause
The linebacker position is one of boom or bust nature for the Eagles (hence the title, duh). There's no question the Birds have some talented players. The question is whether the linebackers will play up to their talent.
The Eagles are excited to welcome Jordan Hicks back to the field after he suffered a season-ending injury as a rookie. Hicks, 24, has dealt with injury issues throughout his career. He needs to prove he can stay healthy. If he is able to stay on the field, he can be a star for the Eagles. As we saw last season, Hicks is a play-maker. He finished with two interceptions, one forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, and one defensive touchdown in just five starts. Hicks easily could have been Defensive Rookie of the Year if he stayed healthy. It remains to be seen how Hicks will fit in Philadelphia's new 4-3 defense compared to previously playing in the two-gap 3-4 scheme.
Mychal Kendricks struggled last season. He missed a team-high 12 tackles and often got beat in coverage. It's odd because Kendricks was so good in 2014. Kendricks can be an erratic player at times. It's hard to know if the Eagles can really count on him. It's not like he doesn't have the tools to be good. He's fast and athletic. Kendricks is also a very good pass rusher, especially relative to his position. The problem is that Jim Schwartz might not use Kendricks to blitz as much as the linebacker is used to doing in past seasons. The 4-3 wide-nine defense will emphasize getting pressure with the front four.
Nigel Bradham might quietly be the most reliable linebacker of this starting group. While it's true he had a down year last season, part of that could have been due to the scheme change. He wasn't a great fit in Rex Ryan's 4-3 defense. Bradham played very well under Schwartz in 2014 (who didn't?). Bradham might not be a star talent but he fits in as a capable starter, at the very least.
Philadelphia's linebacker depth is very questionable. That's putting it lightly. Najee Goode is likely the top backup at all three positions. His versatility in a nice bonus. Goode might be a fine backup but he's not an ideal long-term answer at linebacker. Outside of Goode, there isn't much. Seventh round rookie Joe Walker took second team middle linebacker reps during the spring. He might be able to make the team if he can contribute on special teams. Undrafted rookie free agents Myke Tavarres and Quentin Gause are long-shots who need good summer performances in order to have a chance at making the final cut.
How will it play out?
The starters are locked in: Kendricks is the WILL, Hicks is the MIKE, and Bradham is the SAM. Goode is the first guy off the bench. Then it comes down to whether Skinner and/or the rookies can impress for depth jobs.
Who could be a surprise cut?
No real surprising cut candidates here. If you want to consider Walker a surprise cut since he was a draft pick, fine, but he was the third to last selection in the entire 2016 draft order.
How about a surprise addition? Except it's not surprising because everyone has already talked about him: Stephen Tulloch. The veteran linebacker has experience with Schwartz. It's unclear if he'd be OK with signing on as a backup, though.
If not Tulloch, the Eagles could look to add another linebacker (or two) before camp starts. The Birds currently have two open roster spots.