When the Eagles used a third-round pick on Chris Gocong in 2006, it was an intriguing move on many levels.
The Eagles didn't seem like a team that would be in search of a player like Gocong. He fit what is now the all-too-common label of ""tweener."" It seemed like Gocong and his 42 sacks at Division I-AA Cal Poly were destined for a 3-4 scheme. But the Eagles acquired a player who filled an urgent need at the time and then some.
As the Eagles were in the process of injecting youth and playmaking ability at all linebacker positions, Gocong brought a relentless ability to rush the passer and immense size (6-2, 263 pounds). Gocong had to make the transition from playing with his hand down to operating in space. After suffering a stinger injury during the preseason of his rookie campaign, Gocong was placed on the Injured Reserve list.
With the departure of Dhani Jones in 2007, Gocong was thrust into the starting lineup. In his two seasons as a starter, Gocong has produced 153 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown - which came this past season in Week 2 at Dallas. In 2007, Gocong showed off the versatility that caught the Eagles' attention. He notched his first career sack - lining up as a defensive end - against the Patriots. He was sent time after time again as a blitzer off the edge on many different occasions throughout the season.
It seemed as though Gocong found a niche playing back and forth between linebacker and defensive end. Not so. In 2008, Gocong became an outstanding run defender from the linebacker position in terms of penetrating to make plays in the backfield and holding up at the point of attack to funnel plays back inside. Gocong also contributed two sacks, but was not used to pressure the passer as much as expected. Gocong played one of the best games of his career in the Wild Card win over the Vikings as he tied a career-high with nine tackles and posted a pair of tackles for loss. The Eagles, as a whole, were third in the league in tackles for loss and third in sacks in 2008. Gocong was also a key component of the special teams unit with 19 tackles, which tied for third on the team.
Thanks to the drafts in 2006 and 2007, the Eagles have built a solid foundation at the three linebacker positions. Gocong, Stewart Bradley and Akeem Jordan are all 25 years old or younger. Thanks in part to the linebackers, the Eagles had the league's fourth-best scoring defense, fourth-best run defense, third-best pass defense and third-best overall defense in 2008.
There is room for Gocong to improve. One of the biggest challenges of taking over the strongside linebacker position is being responsible for handling the opposing team's tight end. Gocong has had help from the safeties in this matter over the past two years. Opposing tight end production significantly decreased as the 2008 season wore on. In the first six games, tight ends had 39 catches for 503 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In the final 10, they had just 35 grabs for 317 and three scores. Will Gocong be challenged to handle more of this role in 2009? Even though the Eagles had 48 sacks by 16 different players in 2008, will defensive coordinator Jim Johnson want more of them from the linebackers? The linebackers contributed 5.5 of the Eagles' sacks in 2008, which was the third-highest total among positions behind defensive ends (30.0) and safeties (6.0).
It will be interesting to see how the Eagles will utilize all of Gocong's talents in 2009.