Philadelphia Eagles: What’s The Plan At Inside Linebacker?


DeMeco Ryans, Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks, and Jordan Hicks: These names make up one of the more intriguing position groups on the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster. A talented contingent tasked with commanding one of the most prolific front-sevens in football, this Inside Linebacker group will heavily influence the fate of the Eagles’ defense. The only problem is as of right now very few, if any, know exactly how the incumbent training camp battle will unfold, and what roles each of the aforementioned Ryans, Alonso, Kendricks, and Hicks will assume.

Diffusing the murkiness starts with the seasoned vet, Demeco Ryans, and as a clear favorite of Chip Kelly, one would assume that he has the inside track to a starting spot. While I tend to agree with this notion, it’s important to remember where Ryans stands at this point.

Coming off an early November Achilles tear, it’s difficult to pinpoint the current state of Demeco Ryans’ health. Being just 7 months removed from such a traumatic injury, particularly at his age (31 as of July 28th), you really wonder just how prepared he is to reassume his role. To be fair, Ryans has a bit more time before meaningful snaps are taken, but the prudent measure would be to assume nothing in regards to his status for week one.

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Chip Kelly and the medical staff appear to be optimistic of Ryan’s status, but rushing an aging vet who appeared to be little more than an above average contributor prior to the tear will be of no benefit; not to Ryans, Kelly, or the team.

When Ryans tore his Achilles in October 2010 he was able to return to the line-up in week one, however, it took him the majority of the season to truly return to form. Despite the teams advances in reconditioning, I find it hard to believe that a now much older Ryans will be 100% when the Eagles travel to Atlanta on September 14th. The best course of action may be to ease Ryans back into the line-up in a limited capacity, allowing him to assume the role of player-coach. It’s clear that Chip values Ryans from a cultural/leadership perspective, so  giving him a role that best aligns with his intangible strengths would maximize his potential despite his being on the mend.

Another player who is recovering from a significant Injury, Kiko Alonso, also seems to have the inside track to a starting role. In contrast to Ryans, however, it stands to reason that Alonso will be ready to assume that role much more quickly. According to multiple reports from Eagles OTAs, Alonso looks fluid and explosive following the reconditioning process.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Alonso is further along in the recovery process than Ryans, given that he is nearly a year removed from his July ACL tear. Not only that, Alonso is much more youthful at just 24, and likely a bit more resilient than his counterpart at this juncture.

Injuries aside, it makes sense that the team would push Alonso towards a starting gig considering what they have invested in him. Expectations are understandably high for a player when you trade a foundational piece to acquire him.

Considering cost, along with Chip’s familiarity with Alonso, and the way he fits the team’s position profile (Tall, long, versatile and athletic), I’d be genuinely surprised if Kiko doesn’t have a starting job wrapped up midway through training camp.

Part of the reason that I’d expect both Ryans and Alonso to share the majority of the snaps is because of the way that the team has handled the other potential starter, Mychal Kendricks.

Through all of the offseason turmoil, it’s hard to imagine Kendricks being a beneficiary of the positional shake-up. Chip wasn’t hesitant in jettisoning declining veteran players, but he was obviously reluctant to part ways with Demeco Ryans, made evident through his newly renegotiated contract. LeSean McCoy was sent packing to Buffalo in favor of Kiko Alonso, and the team opted to burn a 3rd round pick for former Longhorn Jordan Hicks who was later described as “by far the best player available” by Kelly himself.

Now, what about Mychal Kendricks you ask? Well, for one thing, when asked about Kendricks at the owners’ meetings Kelly’s response wasn’t exactly glowing. Then, in April, Kendricks’ name was involved in a myriad of trade rumors, and CBS Sports Jason La Canfora thinks that although Kendricks stayed put through the draft that he very well still may be moved.

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As to why Kendricks has drawn the ire of Chip Kelly is a mystery. It could be a result of his nagging injuries, physical profile, or perhaps even cultural aspects, however, it’s clear that Kendricks is not a favorite of Chip’s, and so far being on Chip’s bad side does not bode well for a player’s long term outlook with the team. Im not so sure that Kendricks is traded, but I’d be shocked if the team opted to renew his contract at season’s end. In the mean time, it’s going to be difficult to keep Kendricks off the field. He’s a dynamic 3 down-linebacker that can attack the offense in a variety of ways, adding more dimension to Billy Davis‘ defense. As previously mentioned, Ryans could still be a ways away from contributing meaningfully, so starting Kendricks and Alonso in the opener at Atlanta would be the responsible measure, regardless of the way the team might feel about Kendricks.

With an eye to the future, the team added rookie Linebacker Jordan Hicks this past April. And while it’s doubtful he has an immediate impact in way of significant snaps, Hicks is undoubtedly a player to keep an eye on moving forward.

Hicks is a heady, maximum effort type player with impressive movement skills, so projecting him to special teams early on makes a lot of sense. I’d expect Hicks to quickly make his mark on the team’s coverage unit, and eventually earn a more significant role beyond 2015 when Mychal Kendricks walks. Chip Kelly clearly likes Hicks’ skill set quite a bit, and given Ryans’ age and injury history I’d assume Hicks was drafted with the intent to be the eventual heir to the captain’s role.

Although we can’t be sure how the position battle will ultimately take shape, I’d be surprised if the team doesn’t push Ryans and Alonso towards starting roles. It’s fair to be skeptical of this decision, given the enticing upside that a duo of Kendricks and Alonso provides, but it may not be all that painful if Kendricks plans on walking at seasons end (a fact that the team could very well be aware of).

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