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Eagles Mailbag: Linebacker is officially a problem

The LBs are DOA

Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

We polled you on who you are keeping the closest eye on in the first preseason game and the results are in:


Who are you watching the closest in pre-season Week 1?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Rashaad Penny
    (39 votes)
  • 17%
    Joseph Ngata
    (33 votes)
  • 13%
    Kelee Ringo
    (26 votes)
  • 43%
    The new LBs
    (81 votes)
  • 3%
    The Punters
    (7 votes)
186 votes total Vote Now

In a landslide it’s the linebackers, and for good reason. So let’s start with that.

What exactly are our expectations for the LB position? Kyzir White “popped” in the preseason last year, but then spent the whole year “invisible in a good way” and the defense was statistically very good (and no one was putting the faux pas it did have at the feet of White or Edwards). Sure there is probably less talent behind them at safety (and possibly in front of them depending on how you feel about going from Hargrave to Davis and Milton) but do we really need the LBs to be Kuechly playmakers to have a top defense? - CV Eagles

They don’t need Luke Kuechly but they do need competence, and it’s unclear if they even have that. When you go out and sign two LBs in one day and throw them in the deep end with the starters, you’re obviously in trouble. For preseason, this is worst case scenario that doesn’t involve significant injuries level of bad, and it wasn’t like it was totally unexpected.

  • Nakobe Dean played 7 snaps that weren’t in relief of an injured Kyzir White. The Steelers had two possessions down 35-13 and Dean didn’t play a single snap on either of them or in any other part of the game. Nor did he play a single snap on defense in Week 18 against the Davis Webb-led Giants, who were down two scores in the 4th quarter. If those aren’t times to get your 3rd round rookie on the field, when is? Then in the offseason they wrote in stone that he’s LB1.
  • Nicholas Morrow is on his third team in as many seasons, and the two times he’s been a starter it’s been for terrible defenses. That’s obviously not entirely his fault, but a journeyman who’s only been a part of bad units doesn’t fill you with confidence.
  • Christian Ellis was on four teams in 2021 and has seven career games played, and he was the primary backup to start camp.
  • Behind Ellis was Shaun Bradley, who only played special teams last year; Davion Taylor, who got cut to make room for Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham; and UDFA Ben VanSumeren, who only started playing LB in 2020.

What did the team expect?

The pass rush is going to take a step back from last year, the only question is how big. That’s going to put stress on the secondary, which itself took a step back in talent. And after being 2nd in the league in scoring last year the offense taking even a small step back should be expected, for example four of the top five scoring teams in 2021 went down in ranking in 2022. Which will put more stress on the defense. Those regressions can only be balanced two ways: better talent at the weakest spots to raise the floor, and better coaching. For the better coaching part, the Eagles probably have that because for all the statistical production the defense had, Jonathan Gannon was pretty bad at coaching. Sean Desai is short on experience but he seems to at least have some ideas. For the improved talent… yuck. The Eagles roster building philosophy is that LB and RB are the lowest priorities, which is fine because something has to be the least important position. But the floor of the defense was lowered this offseason.

Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham are journeyman Band-Aids. Both have been starters for their entire careers, but neither have been playmakers.

LB was one of the few spots on the roster that could have been improved. But the team put forth no effort to try to upgrade, and now they’re paying the price.

Very hard and loaded questions… How often will Sean Desai put 3 , 4 safeties on the field? That could include Edmunds who could be lined up at linebacker. How often will Desai be going with 3 , 4 , 5 DL? Looking for percentage of snaps for each guesstimates.


Given the state of the LBs right now, going with big nickel is a nice option to have.

In his one year as a defensive coordinator, with the Bears in 2021, Desai ran a good deal of big nickel. Desai’s safeties were 4th, 8th, 11th, and 13th in snaps, which is a little complicated since none of them played more than 14 games. Looking at it on a game to game basis, three safeties played at least 40% of snaps in a game just six times, and four of those were in the second half of the season after injuries took their toll, Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks combined for 16 games, and only six defenders started at least 14 games. One of those games was the first game of the season, so big nickel was definitely by design, but part of it was also using what he had available (which is a point in his favor). So expect big nickel to be a tool in the tool box on a case to case basis rather than a steady, every game approach. So long as the team does not have a lot of injuries, I would expect three safeties to play at least 40% of snaps.

For the DL, Desai didn’t have a DT group anything like he has now so I wouldn’t read too much into what he did with the Bears. Only two interior DL played even a third of snaps under him in Chicago, though six did average at least 10 snaps a game.

We may see all five of the Georgia defensive players on the field at the same time. Is this good, bad, or not a story? - BroadSt.Bulldogs

Depends. In the preseason, not a story other than a cool item to note. The starters aren’t going to play in the preseason, so there will be opportunities for a Bulldog front (Fugazi reference) with Kelee Ringo in the backfield. Kirby Smart doesn’t need any help recruiting but “here’s half an NFL defense that played here” is a hell of a pitch.

In the regular season though, this would mean that Ringo is on the field, which is only going to happen under one of two circumstances: the game is a blowout, in which case it makes total sense to get these young players on the field and rest the veterans they backup/rotate with.

Or it’s really bad and the Eagles have had several injuries at CB, which obviously is not good. So no offense to Ringo but I hope that if we see five Bulldogs on the field at once it’s only for like 40 snaps all year.

The Birds have to cut 37 players before the season starts. Which 5-10 do you think have probably hit the cutting room floor before preseason starts? Are any predictably trade bait for Howie? - eaglefodder

Last year the Eagles cut nine players between the start of camp and the final preseason game. They’re already up to four so far. I would not be surprised if any of Greedy Williams, Dan Arnold, Nicholas Morrow, Justin Evans, Kentavius Street, Roderick Johnson, Fred Johnson, Greg Ward, or Tyrie Cleveland are cut before the second or third preseason game. They’re all buried or getting buried on the depth chart; and the team is doing themselves, the player, and the player’s agent no favors in keeping them around if they already have no chance to make the team.

Cutting Derek Barnett also wouldn’t surprise me, but they’re probably hoping to get a late round pick swap or conditional late round pick for him.

I wonder about Zech McPhearson. He’s been moved to the slot but hasn’t been getting all the top reps there among the backups, Mario Goodrich might beat him out. And with Sean Desai liking three safety sets the value of a backup slot CB is low, so the return might be worth it for the Eagles. He’s under contract for 2024, which both lessens the Eagles incentive to trade him but also increases his trade value.

Does Tyree Jackson make the 53? - jacol84

The team likes him but I’m having a hard time seeing them carry 4 TEs. Grant Calcaterra should probably watch his back if he isn’t already.

I asked about which UDFA makes the roster last time, let’s go with one that is even harder to determine. Who makes the practice squad and which players the Eagles cut get signed by other teams? - kjb304

Practice squad candidates: Tyree Jackson, Mario Goodrich, Moro Ojomo, Brady Russell, Mekhi Garner, Janarius Robinson, Josh Andrews (if only to handle scout team center duties, so maybe they bring in someone who gets cut elsewhere for that), and maybe Tanner McKee. McKee likely makes the 53 man roster but 14 teams drafted a QB this year, so they might be able to get him through waivers.

As to who might catch on with another team’s practice squad… Ian Book because he’s a QB.

We need to see how they look in preseason but Joseph Ngata might be entering the “someone might claim him off waivers” zone. That can easily change if they don’t stand out in preseason.

Maybe the Eagles would be better off clearing an extra roster spot and letting Elliot handle the occasional punting duties — or just going for it on 4th and whatever unless backed up in their own red zone. Is Siposs really worth a roster spot? Is any punter? - craig_613

I’m all for less punting and more 4th down attempts, but what are you going to do on 4th and 7 from your own 32 yard line? I ain’t going for it there.

This question is a little dark, but.... What injury, other than Hurts, would harm the team the most? And, what is the backup plan at that position? - chewy wellington

Lane Johnson. The Eagles are 12-19 without him, and 6-12 since 2017. Jack Driscoll, as he did last year, or perhaps Dennis Kelly, as they’ve both practiced at RT, will back him up.

Does Hurts even play a snap in preseason? - Ziggy 2020

He doesn’t even put pads on. The Eagles have a joint practice with the Browns on Monday and Tuesday, the starters will get their reps there and then on the 22nd with the Colts, and not play a down in the preseason.

Please define “flashy”. - Swoopin

Webster’s defines “flashy” as “lacking in substance or flavor” which, ouch, that’s harsh. Imagine reading “lacking in substance or flavor” in a scouting report.

I would define flashy as the visual equivalent of “all bark, no bite.”

Or if someone is showing some high thigh.

Jack Daniels or Knob Creek? - Hopkins48!!

Knob Creek. Bulleit and Larceny are also solid in that same price range. I’m not picky, with those I’m making a cocktail anyway.

If I’m just having it straight I’m going with something a tier up. Speaking of which, I need a new bottle for this season. Any recommendations?

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