Eagles Linebackers Too Much Of A Good Thing?
By Bret Stuter
Oct 11, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns linebacker Jordan Hicks (3) in game action against the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma beat Texas 31-26. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Eagles Linebackers Too Much Of A Good Thing?
I expected that many did not see the Eagles selection coming. From the moment the announcement was made, I scrolled to my NFL tracker to see what talent remained on the board: offensive linemen, safeties, cornerbacks, even quarterbacks not named Winston, Grayson, or Mariota were still there. So the draft selection for the Eagles in the third round was the versatile linebacker Jordan Hicks.
"“He was our highest-rated guy by far,” “We had him late in the second round. He’s got a great skill set, a three-down linebaker. … We don’t want two-down linebackers. We want three-down linebackers. We thought there was great value in the pick. We looked at the board and there was nobody near him.” – head coach Chip Kelly said, per Reuben Frank of CSN Philly."
So there it was, a linebacker to a group of linebackers on a team that has struggled to find talent at linebacker. But despite losing linebackers Casey Matthews and Trent Cole, the team was sitting on one of the deepest linebacker groups in the NFL with starting outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham, and starting inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans. You should also add the name recently acquired from Buffalo Kiko Alonso as a possible starter for inside linebacker as well. Then you have Emmanuel Acho who did a respectable job of filling holes when starters were injured. Bryan Braman is an outstanding special teams player and linebacker depth. Marcus Smith II, 2014’s first round draft selection, has bulked up and is determined to play in 2015. Two linebackers who were impactful in preseason games are returning from injury: Najee Goode and Travis Long. Additionally, the Eagles added Brandon Hepburn to the practice squad in 2014 and Brad Jones was signed to a contract in March 2015. To that squad, the Eagles have added additional talent in Jordan Hicks.
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But is that too much?
I don’t think so
Gotta Reduce DeMeco’s Snap Count
In 2013 DeMeco Ryan took more defensive snaps than virtually any player in the NFL. The number was 1,189 snaps, or 97% of the Eagles defensive snaps. That number was alarming to analysts, who pressed DeMeco Ryans hard on his snap count, and whether the Eagles could reduce it in 2014. The question was asked of head coach Chip Kelly, of defensive coordinator Billy Davis, and of Ryans himself:
"“I guess that’s the question this year.. OK. That’s the question everybody wants to ask, but I’m still out here, playing my hardest, giving the team what I have to go out and compete. Surprised at the questions, but then that’s what it is.”"
Well, in 2014 the Eagles found a way to reduce the snap count for both Kendricks and Ryans. Both were injured in 2014, pressing reserve linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews into starting roles, and forcing Billy Davis to modify his defensive schemes to compensate. The lesson learned? The Eagles not only need more depth, but to avoid injuries they must manage snap counts in games as readily as they manage them in practice.
Just to reflect on the snap counts of the other linebackers: Connor Barwin played 1,158 snaps in 2013. Mychal Kendricks played 1,022 snaps. Even Trent Cole had 908 snaps. Brandon Graham had 331 snaps. The remaining linebackers combined for 328 snaps.
The 2014 snap counts were managed much more effectively. Barwin led linebackers with 1,008 snaps. Cole had 800, Kendricks had 762, and Ryans had 513. Graham had 499, Casey Matthews and 434 snaps. Acho had 261 and Smith II had 68 snaps. But while the team found a way to improve spreading the wealth at linebacker snap counts, the defense suffered considerably as starters fell, reserves were promoted to unfamiliar starting roles, and the defense began to rotate a safety near the line of scrimmage to help out.
Spread The Wealth
So the plan is not merely to cut snaps for an individual player, but to do so in such a way that all defensive packages can be run and in such a way that the quality of the defense does not erode in the process. While some have called for nearly every linebacker currently on the roster to be traded for Mariota, some have taken it a bit farther and concluded that Chip Kelly will be forced to trade a Kendricks or a Ryans, despite the extension the Eagles recently gave to their defensive captain.
But if a trade were to happen, it would have occurred leading up to the draft, not afterwards.
Some have taken the roster moves that did happen, and have used that uncertainty to project roster moves that never will happen.
But they won’t. The Eagles have dealt enough talent away. Now they are drafting and signing. They need 90 players, not xx number of draft picks.
So why the number of linebackers?
Well, the Eagles training camp is in intense routine of fast paced repetitious exercises designed to develop NFL talent rapidly by maximizing the number of repetitions for each player. Since several key linebackers are returning from injury, the Eagles have loaded the roster with linebacker talent to ensure that their training program has enough healthy bodies to maintain meaning and relevance.
Secondly, it is those number of injuries: Ryans, Kendricks, Goode, Long, and even Alonso are all returning from injuries last year. Their healing process can have an impact on the number of reps they can handle.
So why would you want to choose another linebacker? Well, because he was the best player available on their board, that’s why.
Next: Philadelphia Eagles Select Jordan Hicks In The Third Round
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