With Stewart Bradley ruled out for Sunday's all-important game against the New York Giants and likely on the shelf for the remainder of the regular season, the Eagles will rely on a rookie seventh-round linebacker to start and be productive for the second straight season. In 2009, it was Moise Fokou at strongside linebacker, where he remains the starter a year later. Now, Jamar Chaney has a chance to stake his claim as he steps in to be the defensive signal-caller.
Chaney, a Mississippi State product, won't shrink from the opportunity, as he showed in last week's win over the Dallas Cowboys, when he led the team with seven tackles after filling in for Bradley. Now, with a full week of preparation with the first-team offense, Chaney faces a daunting challenge in a Giants offense that boasts the fourth-best rushing game in the league, second in yards-per-carry, behind the Eagles.
"It's going to be a huge test, but I think we've been doing a good job when we face really good running backs," Chaney said. "They have two good running backs, both of them should be getting over 1,000 yards this year, but it's going to be a real good challenge for us to go out there and stop their run game."
Head coach Andy Reid echoed the sentiment, but left no doubt about his confidence in the rookie.
"It'll be a great challenge for him," Reid said. "The Giants are a great football team and they'll test the linebackers with that run game and the way the tight end plays and the screen game. They'll test your linebackers. I will tell you that Jamar did a good job (against the Cowboys). You could tell that he did his homework when he stepped in for Bradley and he really didn't miss a beat as far as the calls go. He preps hard and he's one of those guys who comes in early and does all that stuff and stays late and makes sure he stays on his game. "
Brandon Jacobs has taken over the role of starting running back for the Giants, although Ahmad Bradshaw continues to get his fair share of carrier. For Chaney, Jacobs could present the more imposing problem. After all, Jacobs is 6-4, 264, while Chaney is only 6-0, 242, one of the primary reasons he fell all the way to the seventh round of the draft.
What Chaney does have on his side though, is speed, as he posted the best 40-yard dash time (4.54 seconds) of any linebacker at the combine. In one way, that speed was a curse, because Chaney was able to simply run around blockers at the college level. That's why his primary project as a professional has been to improve the use of his hands to shed blockers.
"We work on shedding blocks, getting off blocks. That's something they've been harping on since day one," Chaney said. "In college, sometimes you might be faster than everybody. I'm a pretty fast guy, so sometimes I can run around a block. But in this defense, you have to really maintain your gaps so you have to go through blockers sometimes. So that's what they harp on, make sure you hit your block, get off the lineman and go make the play."
Chaney added that it's important to get to Jacobs early in the play, before he has a chance to get his momentum going downhill. He also said he expects to be on the field as one of the two linebackers in nickel situations.
In Chaney's corner are some veteran role models on the defense. Omar Gaither, who will back Chaney up this week, has been a constant voice in the rookie's ear and Chaney credits Gaither for a lot of his development. He also points to another teammate as a role model for his effort level.
"One of the guys I like to watch out there on our team is Trent Cole," Chaney said, "because he goes 110 percent every play and that's what I like to do when I'm out there."
While Chaney may take after Cole's on-field intensity, this Sunday in the huddle Cole will be the one taking his cues from Chaney.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 1:09 p.m., December 15