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Outside Linebackers Ready To Step Up

Posted Aug 4, 2015

The Eagles suffered their first major injury of 2015 on Monday when outside linebacker Travis Long went down with his third ACL tear in four years. Long walked off the field after a seemingly innocuous special teams drill, but later on that evening team doctors diagnosed the tear.

It was then that head coach Chip Kelly sat down and spoke to the young linebacker, trying to put the right words together to console 24-year old who has never gotten his chance to shine in Philadelphia.

“We were in a punt return drill and it wasn’t even really a contact drill,” Kelly explained. “He just kind of stepped the wrong way, and I think he knew it when it happened just because it’s happened to him before.

“I don’t think there’s a real explanation for it, to be honest with you. You just feel awful because we’ve watched him through the whole process. We’ve watched him rehab and I think all the players felt the same way because they know how much he’s invested in this.”

Kelly also reiterated a point that he made when Long went down last season, saying that he would have made the team had he stayed healthy. But now, it’s time for the other players inside the Eagles' linebackers room to step up.

“We’re going to miss Travis a lot,” linebacker Connor Barwin said.  “It’s really unfortunate, but it happens. Someone needs to step up in our room at outside linebacker, including myself and (Brandon Graham). But we’ve also got great depth at inside linebacker this year, so you work with what you’ve got.”

Perhaps the most interesting name at outside linebacker is last year’s first-round pick Marcus Smith. Smith didn’t see much of the field as a rookie, but now the former 26th overall pick has his best chance yet to live up to his draft status. Despite all the extra eyes that will be placed upon him now that Long is down, Smith is keeping the same focused attitude that he entered Training Camp with earlier this week.

“It doesn’t really change anything,” Smith said. “I think the goal was to be the rotation guy and that’s what I want to be able to do. Travis Long is my guy. I was sad to hear that he tore his ACL. We talk about football every day and you never want to see a guy go down like that, but as far as the mindset, it’s the same. Nothing has changed. I still want to play.

“There’s no pressure. I still want to play and do the same things that I did, but there’s no pressure on me. I’m just going to come out here every day and just keep playing.”

Smith went to Arizona and Atlanta to work out and hone his pass rushing skills over the offseason. He’s also getting some extra work on the NovaCare Complex practice fields, thanks to Barwin, who’s made sure the second-year player takes a few moments each day after practice to prepare for the next day’s work.

“I’ve kind of always done that, and I kind of made sure that he knows he should be doing that with me,” Barwin said of the extra reps after practice. “It’s just a little bit of extra work so you can feel like you can gain on the people who aren’t doing that.

“It just kind of slows things down a little bit and really lets you hone in. Rushing the passer isn’t really something that you can work on that much. It’s hard to replicate, so I think taking 10 minutes to kind of slow things down and work on the technique part of it can help you.”

Like Smith, another player to watch on the outside as Training Camp progresses is Brad Jones, an under-the-radar signing that didn’t draw as much fanfare as that of DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell or Ryan Mathews. Jones has spent the last six years in Green Bay, splitting his time evenly between playing inside and outside, learning the ropes at both spots.

“I think each spot has its own unique characteristics that you really love,” Jones said. “You love getting after the passer as an outside backer, but I do love the vision of inside linebacker. You can really see everything and you can really make an impact.”

Kelly said that Jones will move outside following Long's injury. No matter where he lines up, he’ll be ready to help the Eagles' defense in any way possible.

“I think the opportunity stays the same,” Jones said. “I think you want to try to contribute and be productive in the system by whatever means possible. Since they brought me in, I was always going to be a swing guy. It’s a good opportunity and I think I’ll make the most of it.”

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