On the heels of the Eagles' acquisition of linebacker Ernie Sims in exchange for a 2010 fifth-round draft pick, let's take a closer look at the linebackers position by position.
Four linebackers who ended the 2009 season with the Eagles are no longer on the roster. Chris Gocong was traded, along with cornerback Sheldon Brown, to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for linebacker Alex Hall and a fourth- and fifth-round pick - the same fifth-round pick that was sent to the Denver Broncos in the three-team deal that brought Sims to Philadelphia. Will Witherspoon, who was acquired in a mid-season trade, was released and is now a member of the Tennessee Titans. Jeremiah Trotter and Tracy White are both unrestricted free agents and have yet to sign with another team.
So who's still left? Here's a look.
Weakside Linebacker: The ninth overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, Sims, 25, is expected to primarily play on the weakside for the Eagles. Sims said on a conference call with Philadelphia reporters that he is capable of playing all three linebacker positions, but at 6-foot, 230 pounds, he's best suited to play in space at the WILL. The position is by no means Sims' though, as he will have significant competition from two players with starting experience for the Eagles.
Akeem Jordan, who will be 25 in August, is the incumbent starter on the weak side. The coaches and front office have spoken highly of Jordan this off-season after a 2009 season in which he made 82 tackles in 12 games and added two interceptions. A rookie free agent out of James Madison in 2007, Jordan claimed the starting weakside job from Omar Gaither towards the tail end of the 2008 season.
Gaither, a restricted free agent who was retained on a one-year deal, is perhaps the Eagles' most versatile linebacker. He's started at the WILL and the MIKE for the Eagles, and he did a good job of filling in for the injured Stewart Bradley in the middle at the start of the 2009 season. But Gaither suffered a Lis Franc injury in the fifth game of the season against the Oakland Raiders and missed the rest of the season. Capable of starting, Gaither may be best suited as the Eagles' insurance policy as the top backup linebacker.
The Eagles now have three quality players at the weakside spot, which will make the position one of the most intriguing to watch during training camp. Surely, Andy Reid and co. are expecting the competition to bring out the best in all three players and for someone to earn the starting job through their performance on the field.
Middle Linebacker: Following his sterling 2008 season, Stewart Bradley was considered one of the Eagles' cornerstone players and was even selected by Peter King of Sports Illustrated as the first-team All-Pro middle linebacker. Bradley was ready to build off that campaign in 2009 until he tore his ACL before the pre-season even began. As a result, the Eagles spent the season scrambling at the position, mixing and matching with uneven results. However, the upside to Bradley going down so early was that it meant more recovery time. By all accounts, Bradley is fully recovered and expects to reclaim his spot in the middle of the Eagles defense without a hitch. Bradley will start in the middle if healthy, and his impact as a leader will also be welcome to a defensive unit that missed his presence in 2009.
Gaither is likely the top backup in the middle if healthy, but third-year linebacker Joe Mays is also a young player with potential at the position. Mays started one game in 2009, but earned valuable experience on defense throughout the season. At 5-foot-11, 246 pounds, Mays is a hard hitter who should be more comfortable in his third year in the league. He's also a very valuable member of special teams.
Strongside Linebacker: Moise Fokou surprised everyone by forcing his way into the starting lineup as a rookie seventh-round draft pick in 2009, and he is the incumbent at the SAM spot. At 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, Fokou started five total games last season, including the playoffs, and ended the season with three consecutive starts, displacing Gocong. Fokou is an on-the-rise player for the Eagles as he enters his second year, traditionally the season in which players make the biggest jump in performance.
But this is another position that is by no means locked up. The final linebacker on the current roster is Hall, a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who will turn 25 in August and is entering his third season in the league. Hall was acquired from Browns, where he played in a 3-4 defense, and is expected to be a contributor on defense and special teams. General manager Howie Roseman also said that Hall will have a chance to put his hand on the ground as an edge rusher in passing situations.
Another option on the strong side that has been mentioned in the past is Bradley. Bradley was originally projected to play the strongside linebacker by many analysts when he was drafted in 2007, and he certainly has the flexibility to move over if the Eagles come across another option in the middle. Of course, the other factor in play is this week's draft. Now with 10 picks in hand, the Eagles can still add young talent to a linebacker corps that currently boasts five players who have started at least five games in the NFL, all of whom are under the age of 26.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 3:05 p.m., April 19