“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I felt good at the end of the year. I felt good about our linebackers coming around. Stewart Bradley showed he could play at middle linebacker. Omar can play the middle or outside backer. Chris Gocong, Akeem Jordan, I really like the way they played. Takeo Spikes, coming off that [shoulder] injury, I think he’ll be fine.”
It sounds like Johnson is saying Stewart Bradley will be the teams starting MLB in 2008! The real question is, who is going to start at OLB, and who is the odd man out?
Takeo Spikes is due to make 5 million this year, and there is a small chance he could get cut because of that. If he remains with the team, then he will be a starter for sure. Spikes on the weak side last year, but he is versatile to enough to play any linebacker spot.
Omar Gaither played well at MLB last year. I do not see Stewart Bradley taking over that spot as a demotion to Gaither. I think Gaither played well enough to remain a starter, but where would he fit in? Omar played on the strong side in college, MLB last year, and the weak side his rookie season. He is capable of playing anywhere, and I see him starting at one of the OLB positions.
Chris Gocong started all 16 games on the strong side, but was really inconsistent. He really seemed lost at times, and LB just does not seem natural to him. He played DE all throughout his college career, and lead the nation in sacks at Cal Poly. Gocong had his best game of the season against the Patriots, when he had his hand down and was rushing the QB. That is what Gocong does best, and I think the Eagles will plan on that being a new role for him.
When asked specifically about Gocong, Johnson had this to say about the third year LB:
“I think Gocong is going to play more in nickel situations like he did at the end of the year,” Johnson said. “We’ll probably do more things like that. When you have good athletes on the field like Chris, you have a guy who can spy the quarterback because he’s got that kind of speed. He can be a rush guy or a guy who can drop into coverage. I think he can get better at rushing the passer. We’re going to work with him a lot in the off-season on just rushing the passer.”
Putting Gocong in more nickle situations will allow him to rush the QB more. Johnson can use Chris as the teams “joker”, which would allow him to choose where he is going to rush, and keep a defense guessing because he could possibly drop into pass coverage. There is also a slight possibility depending on who the Eagles pick up, that Gocong could be in the defensive end mix. That versatility is valuable to have.
The Eagles seem to be very strong at LB right now, and I don’t see them signing any free agent LB. The team has versatile guys, which gives them plenty of options. This is the first time in a long time that you could say the Eagles have talented young linebackers. Even undrafted rookie Akeem Jordan showed some promise late last year, and could possibly get some playing time this season.
The top linebacker available is Lance Briggs from the Bears. He should probably get a ton of interest and a big fat contract to go with it. Surprisingly the Patriots cut linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. He should also get a ton of interest from teams that run a 3-4.
Here is the list of free agent LBs:
Free Agent Linebackers
Key Restricted Free Agent Linebackers
|-||Michael Boley||Atlanta Falcons|
|-||Tyjuan Hagler||Indianapolis Colts|
|-||Marques Harris||San Diego Chargers|
|-||Darryl Blackstock||Arizona Cardinals||Signed with Bengals|
|-||Heath Farwell||Minnesota Vikings|
|-||Adam Seward||Carolina Panthers|
|-||Isaiah Ekejiuba||Oakland Raiders|
>>No worries at linebacker (Philadelphia Inquirer)