Moise Fokou is an interesting topic of discussion this off-season. Some fans think the Eagles are crazy for penciling him in as the starting SAM linebacker. Other fans are just curious about what he can do. Some people just want to know what happened to Chris Gocong. Why did he lose his job?
We'll start with Gocong. This is a complicated subject. I haven't talked to the coaches so I can only speculate. You need to start by looking at Gocong's career. He missed 2006 due to injury. He then started all of 2007 and 2008. He developed into a good run defender. Gocong was tough and physical. He could battle offensive linemen or lead blockers. He was able to stuff run plays. His coverage skills got a little better each year, but he wasn't making the kind of progress the Eagles hoped for.
Gocong was especially valuable in 2008. Think about the NFC. The Giants were the best team and featured a big-time power rushing attack. The Vikings were the best team in the NFC North and the team was built around Adrian Peterson. The Panthers had a devastating 1-2 punch in runners DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Anyone wanting to win had to be able to stop the run in the postseason.
Things changed in 2009.
The Cowboys were the best team in the NFC East. They ran the ball, but did so from the shotgun a lot of the time. The Vikings now had Brett Favre and were more balanced than ever. The Saints were the class of the conference. They ran the ball well, but the key to that team was Drew Brees and their dynamic passing game. Gocong wasn't going to be a significant player against these teams. We needed the SAM linebacker to be more than just a run stuffer. While Gocong had shown good progress in the past, he somewhat flat-lined in 2009. He was basically the same guy from 2008.
The Eagles were impressed with Moise Fokou starting in the off-season camps. He played well in training camp and really got their attention. He must have looked good enough in practice that the coaches felt like getting him on the field was a good idea. Gocong got hurt at midseason and Fokou started in his absence. We held Dallas to 16 points in that game. Fokou started the next few games and showed a lot of promise. He made plenty of mistakes, but they reflected a lack of experience as opposed to a lack of talent.
Fokou had a good motor and was a very active player. He showed some promise in coverage. He had a terrific pass break-up down the field in a late-season loss to Dallas. Fokou looked agile and athletic. He tackled well. He was around the ball a lot more than Gocong. Fokou is a natural linebacker. He's much more instinctive. Fokou is a better run defender than some people give him credit for. He had a couple of impressive stops of Frank Gore, a power runner. Fokou had a very good tackle of Darren Sproles on a third-and-inches play. That play was stopped for no gain. Unlike Gore, Sproles is a speedy back.
I didn't see anything from Fokou to make me think he's the next Seth Joyner or Carlos Emmons, but I did see a talented rookie who got better as the season went along. I think he can be an effective starting SAM linebacker in 2010. Honestly, I'm not sure what his ceiling is. I know some people are concerned with his size. Fokou is 6-1 and is up to 236 pounds. He'll probably be in the 240-pound range by the summer. That is OK size. Besides, as I was pointing out earlier, there is a need for linebackers to be more athletic now. The return of Stewart Bradley gives us a big, physical run stuffer inside. Having a pair of guys on the outside that can be tough and athletic is important. We'd all love a 250-pound guy who could cover and stuff the run, but those players aren't exactly easy to find.
I want the Eagles to challenge Fokou for the starting job by either bringing Gocong back or adding a capable backup. I think Fokou has good potential, but we do need competition and depth at that spot.