When the 2011 season ended, the Eagles had just one linebacker on the active roster with more than two years of experience - Akeem Jordan.
The other five linebackers all consisted of rookies and second-year players. The only other veteran linebacker on the squad, third-year man Moise Fokou, finished the year on injured reserve.
Jordan and Fokou combined for 14 starts last season. Fokou opened the year on the weak side, but he and Jordan took over the strongside linebacker duties after Jamar Chaney moved back to the middle.
Experience at the linebacker position is not an issue after this offseason. The Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans to play middle linebacker. The two-time Pro Bowl selection is entering his seventh NFL season. Mychal Kendricks was drafted and immediately inserted into the lineup on the strong side, which means that the Eagles have Fokou and Jordan - and their 55 combined career starts including postseason - on tap if needed.
"We had a lot of changes," Fokou said. "(DeMeco and Mychal are) coming in here and shaking up the room a little bit. It was necessary. Competition gives us depth in the room."
The linebacker play was criticized for much of 2011. However, they improved as the year went on and helped the defense finish in the top 10 in both points and yards allowed.
"It was kind of difficult. Everyone was new pretty much. As the year went on, it's all about learning. We got better as the year went on," Jordan said. "We're trying to pick up from where we left off at and not go backwards and build on what we were doing at the end of last season."
Fokou was not able to be a part of the four-game win streak that ended the 2011 campaign. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery in the Week 12 loss to New England.
"It was awful. You always want to be out there with your guys through the ups and downs, wins or losses. When we started getting hot at the end, we knew it was coming all along. We were that close to going to the playoffs," Fokou said. "It gave us hope for what we could look forward to this year. It was disappointing having a .500 season."
Both Fokou and Jordan are backing up Kendricks during the Organized Team Activities. They also are experienced special teams players. Jordan was fourth on the team last season in special teams production points. Despite missing the last five games, Fokou was fourth on the team with 10 special teams tackles.
"Everybody is bringing something to the table - experience, youth or knowledge of the game," Jordan said. "With the experience, you can help the other guys out. With the youth, it keeps the veterans on their toes. Competition is the best thing. If people feel like they are settled in, then they become mediocre."
Fokou and Jordan were once longshots to make the Eagles roster and despite their experience their spots on this year's team are not guaranteed. Fokou was a seventh-round draft pick in 2009 and Jordan was a rookie free agent in 2007. The Eagles also have Jamar Chaney, who has 18 regular season starts in two seasons, in a reserve role. Casey Matthews, Keenan Clayton and Greg Lloyd are the other backup linebackers from 2011 who are battling for a job in 2012.
"That's been my life story, persevering through the thick and thin," Fokou said. "I guess you could call it another challenge in front of me, but I'm going to do what I do - put my head down and keep grinding."
Jordan said that when the linebackers work out they have a saying, "It's good or great!" The goal for them is simple this year.
"We're trying to be the best and not let the other eight (men on defense) down," Jordan said.
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