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Position Preview: Linebacker

Posted May 6, 2014

A Look At The Linebackers
Name Age Exp. Signed Through Note
Emmanuel Acho 23 3 2015 Intelligent special teams contributor.
Connor Barwin 27 6 2018 Eagles' "Jack of all trades" on defense.
Bryan Braman 27 4 2015 "Kill. Maim. Destroy."
Trent Cole 31 10 2017 Can the Hunter stay strong at 31?
Najee Goode 24 3 2015 Played well in spot duty in 2013.
Brandon Graham 26 5 2015 What's his best role in 3-4 scheme?
Josh Kaddu 24 3 2015 Former Kelly pupil; can he regain spark?
Mychal Kendricks 23 3 2015 What's next for ascending talent?
Jake Knott 23 2 2015 (RFA) Undrafted LB earned spot in '13, facing suspension.
Travis Long 22 1 2015 (ERFA) Prolific collegiate pass rusher spent '13 on PS.
Casey Matthews 25 4 2014 Special teamer can play all LB spots.
Jason Phillips 28 6 2014 Looking to recover from '13 ACL tear.
DeMeco Ryans 29 9 2015 Leader of the defense.

Position Preview

The Big Questions

1. How does the pass rush improve in 2014?

In 2013, the Eagles' four starting linebackers racked up a total of 21 sacks. Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans each notched 4.0 quarterback takedowns, which is decent considering the fact that they were relied upon much more for their coverage and run-stopping skills than for rushing the passer. On the outside, Trent Cole picked up all eight of his sacks in the second half of the season, and while Barwin did an excellent job of setting the edge and batting down passes, it's clear that there is room for improvement in his ability to get to the quarterback.

As a team, the Eagles had just 37.0 sacks last season, good for 20th out of 32 NFL teams. Heading into the draft, there has been a great amount of discussion about whether or not the Eagles should address the need for a pass-rusher in the first round, and while that debate will remain unanswered until Thursday night, it is a possibility that the Eagles take an outside linebacker/edge player at some point of this weekend's draft.

But what Eagles on the current roster could make more of an impact in 2014? In limited action, Brandon Graham recorded three sacks, but he showed flashes of becoming a force off of the edge. As for new additions like Bryan Braman and Josh Kaddu, it's hard to look into the crystal ball and forecast their futures. Braman is thought of as a key special teams piece, and Kaddu has appeared in five games over two seasons.

Could Barwin or Cole have a monster season in their second year under the tutelage of Bill Davis? Of course, but the Eagles may also rely on the entire linebacking group to generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2014.

2. Can veterans Cole and Ryans maintain high level of play?

Trent Cole's ninth NFL season got off to a slow start, sack-wise. Entering the year in third place on the Eagles franchise sack list, Cole played well out of the gates, but getting his first sack of the season eluded him time and time again. Finally in Week 9, Cole took down Raider's QB Terrelle Pryor, and it looked like the hunter was finally back on the prowl. It should be noted that while Cole was able to stay healthy for all 16 regular season games, he recorded all eight of his sacks in just four games. There were 12 games last season where Cole left the field without a sack.

The bright side for Cole and for Eagles fans as well was that Cole took his game to another level as the season pushed on into the final weeks. In the past, Cole's high-motor style of play caused him to wear down at the end of the season, but that didn't happen in 2013, thanks to the Eagles sports science program. Cole will turn 32 at the beginning of October, but if he picks up where he left off last season, he could be in for a big season.

Ryans is coming off of another strong season as well, racking up 177 total tackles. Since coming to the Eagles via trade in 2012, Ryans has been the quarterback of the Eagles defense, and he's quickly become the leader of the unit. That leader mentality will always be there for Ryans, but will his own level of play be able to stay as high as what he expects out of his teammates? Ryans set career highs last year with 177 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, but
will he be able to increase those numbers after turning 30 in July?

3. How high is the ceiling for Mychal Kendricks?

After starting 14 games for the Eagles at outside linebacker during his rookie season of 2012, there were a lot of questions surrounding Kendricks heading into his sophomore season. It's difficult for any linebacker to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, yet alone for a player heading into just his second NFL season.

But Kendricks came out and passed the test with flying colors. Flying is the appropriate word, because Kendricks was all over the field in 2013. He's always been known for his aggressive style of play, but in 2013 he cut down the number of missed tackles and took a huge step towards becoming a star defensive player. Kendricks became one of three players in franchise history with 4+ sacks and 3+ interceptions, joining William Thomas and Seth Joyner.

Kendricks finished the season second on the team with 137 total tackles and led all NFL players with four fumble recoveries, but what comes next? How big of a step can the California product take in his second year in the Eagles defensive scheme? One thing is for certain: Kendricks is learning the inside linebacker position from Ryans, one of the best players at his position. The arrow for Kendricks is pointing up, but it will be up to him if he wants to make his third NFL season his best.

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