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Offseason Preview: Linebacker

Posted Jan 19, 2012

The Eagles were able to give their young players an extensive look at the linebacker position in 2011. Two rookies – Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle – started a combined 16 games and second-year linebacker Jamar Chaney in all 16 contests. Here’s a look at how the linebacker position performed and what’s on the horizon this offseason …

2011 Season In Review

In 2011, the Eagles used eight different combinations of linebackers throughout the season - four in their base defensive set and four in their nickel formation. By the end of the season, it seemed as if the Eagles had finally found the correct amalgamation of players at the position.

When all was said and done, the three Eagles who notched the plurality of the team’s snaps at linebacker were second-year man Jamar Chaney and rookies Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews. Indeed, the Eagles’ young group of linebackers grew together as a unit throughout the season.

The Eagles began the season with Matthews at middle linebacker, a position that proved to be a bit overwhelming for the rookie to handle without the benefit of a full offseason. He was moved to weakside linebacker after struggling in the first two games of the season, with strongside linebacker Jamar Chaney reclaiming his role in the middle of the defense from the season prior.

One game after his move to weakside linebacker, Casey Matthews was relegated to special teams, with fellow-rookie Brian Rolle taking over in the base defense. Matthews continued to plug away and he eventually caught the eyes of his coaches as he was installed into the team’s nickel defensive package for the team’s final four games. In those games, the Eagles went 4-0 and the Oregon-alum played his best football of the season.

Perhaps the brightest star last season at linebacker was rookie Brian Rolle, who started every game for the Eagles after taking over for Matthews in Week 4. He tied defensive end Trent Cole for fourth on the team in solo tackles with 47 and Pro Football Focus rated him the top starting linebacker on the team.

Also playing significant roles in the defense by year’s end were Akeem Jordan, who played strongside linebacker in the base, and Keenan Clayton, who worked with Matthews in the nickel formation for the final four weeks of the season. Moise Fokou played strongside linebacker early in the season before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury against New England in Week 12.

Impressive Stat

Going into Week 6, when the Eagles were 1-4 on the year, their rush defense ranked 30th in the NFL. By season’s end, their rush defense had improved to 16th in the league and they went 7-3 during that stretch.

End of Season Depth Chart

WLB: 1. Brian Rolle, 2. Casey Matthews
MLB: 1. Jamar Chaney, 2. Akeem Jordan, 3. Greg Lloyd
SLB: 1. Akeem Jordan, 2. Keenan Clayton
Injured Reserve: Moise Fokou

To Be Answered

The Eagles will have to decide this offseason whether they want to rely upon the progression of the young linebackers already on the roster or try to bring in another draft pick or veteran presence at the position. Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews have started an average of just 11 games each in their careers. Rolle and Chaney each started over three-quarters of the Eagles’ games in 2011 and will look to keep their starting spots going into 2012. Matthews, who stepped up his play in the final four weeks of the season, will push for a starting job, as well.

With Chaney undergoing offseason neck surgery, it is unclear what the timetable for recovery will be for the veteran linebacker. Veterans Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou will also be in the mix for playing time. Keenan Clayton and Greg Lloyd will have a chance to impress in training camp to earn spots on the 53-man roster next season.

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