The Eagles have a young defense across the board and the outside linebacker positions are no exception.
Akeem Jordan joined the Eagles in 2007 as a rookie free agent from James Madison. He came in with no fanfare and little expectations. Then, in the preseason finale against the Jets, Jordan impressed with nine tackles displaying his amazing ability to quickly swarm to the ball.
Jordan led the Eagles in special teams tackles as a rookie and was poised to do the same in 2008 until the coaches decided to get him involved in the defense. Jordan took over as the starting weakside linebacker for the final six regular season games and three postseason contests. He finished with 52 tackles, two pass knockdowns and a fumble recovery.
On the other side of the field is strongside linebacker Chris Gocong. A pass-rush demon in college, the Eagles have turned the former Cal-Poly sack artist into a fierce run stopper. Gocong also has the ability to play defensive end, which he has done on occasion for the Eagles. Ever since sitting out his rookie season of 2006 on the injured reserve list, Gocong has played in every game and has recorded 153 tackles and three sacks.
Backup weakside linebacker Omar Gaither personifies versatility. As a rookie in 2006, Gaither took over the starting weakside linebacker job late in the season and flourished. He was moved to the middle in 2007 and was very productive with a mind-blowing 170 tackles. The Eagles moved him back to the weakside spot in 2008 and he had 63 tackles and 2.5 sacks despite losing his starting job.
Tank Daniels is the backup on the strong side, but he's utilized as a key special teams player. Daniels had 18 special teams tackles for the Eagles in 2008. Tracy White is the third-string weakside linebacker, but like Daniels, is a focal point of the special teams unit. The Eagles also added Charleston Hughes from the Grey Cup-winning Calgary Stampeders in the off-season. Hughes had 71 tackles and five sacks in 18 games, including the playoffs.
It took some time, but the Eagles have done an excellent job at fortifying the outside linebacker positions in recent drafts.
Here's a trivia question. Everyone knows that Donovan McNabb was the first draft pick of the Andy Reid era. Who was the second? It was Barry Gardner, the 35th overall pick of the 2000 draft. Gardner never turned into the playmaking 'backer the Eagles hoped he would. He started on the weak side in 2000, but was replaced by Mike Caldwell in 2001. By the 2003 season, Gardner was out of Philadelphia.
At leasr Gardner started for one season. Quinton Caver, a second-round pick in 2001, was out of town before the middle of his second season after playing in just 16 games with the Eagles. Caver never started a game.
Matt McCoy could have been a decent player. The only problem was he didn't have the size to hold up as an every-down 'backer. A second-round pick in 2005, McCoy overcame a disappointing rookie season and started as the weakside linebacker for 10 games in 2006. However, McCoy lost his starting job at the end of that season to Omar Gaither. With the rise of Akeem Jordan, McCoy was released in the middle of the 2007 season.
In the 2006 draft, the Eagles stunned many with the selection of Chris Gocong in the third round. His ability to rush the passer had many 3-4 teams looking at him as a perfect fit for their scheme. Two rounds later, the Eagles got a steal in Gaither. The fifth-round pick out of Tennessee has enjoyed a more productive career than some of the first-round picks from that draft.
PREVIEWThe Eagles have to decide whether they want Akeem Jordan, Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither to be the future at the outside spots. Gocong and Gaither enter the last year of their respective contracts, while Jordan's runs out the following year. There is a catch here. If the 2010 season is uncapped, neither Gocong nor Gaither would be unrestricted free agents. They would only be restricted free agents which means the Eagles would be able to tender them one-year deals.