No one expected sixth-round pick Brian Rolle to start 13 games as a rookie. After all, the Ohio State product, like the rest of the rookie class, had no offseason and was thrown into the NFL deep end right away at training camp. But the scrappy Rolle fought his way into the starting lineup at the weakside linebacker position prior to the fourth game of the season and never relinquished that role. So what's the next step for Rolle, the only holdover among the three projected starting linebackers?
"You get to start from ground zero rather than being thrown right into (training) camp and thrown right into the fire," Rolle said of this offseason. "But it's a lot of fun for me. I know most of the defense, but at the same time, there is still some stuff I was unclear about because we didn't get a lot of time last year jumping into camp and then preseason coming so fast. So I'm just working on the small things.
"It's just little intricacies of the defense that you didn't get in camp and stuff last year. You had to kind of learn it on the fly. Now, you get a lot of time to talk to the coaches and go over the little things that you were confused with last year."
The coach who works closest with Rolle is second-year linebackers coach Mike Caldwell, himself a former Eagles linebacker. Caldwell was impressed, if not shocked, at Rolle's rookie performance.
"I wasn't surprised," said Caldwell. "I was just encouraged at him being able to take what he's been doing all his life and take it to the next level. What do I expect from him? I expect that to continue. Like right now, he's coming out here and - did he do everything perfect last year? No, but he understands that and he's working day to day to get better at what he's doing."
As Rolle knows, one of the first attributes used to describe him is, frankly, short. But that 5-10 frame can be deceiving, lulling the offense into thinking Rolle can be pushed around.
"He has a knack and a strength and a leverage that is hard to teach and he uses it," said Caldwell. "The thing about it is he's been that size his whole life. For him to get to this point, he's had to make some adjustments and understand what he needs to do to be able to play at that size."
Now, with DeMeco Ryans imported from the Houston Texans to play middle linebacker and rookie Mychal Kendricks getting the first-team reps at strongside linebacker, Rolle is all of a sudden the veteran among the three in the middle of the Eagles defense. For his part, Rolle has been impressed with his two new position mates.
"Actually yesterday in the locker room, I walked by (Ryans and Kendricks) and I said, 'Everytime I walk by y'all, you're talking about football'. So they're always going over stuff together. I was in the defense last year, so I kind of know it. Those two guys, they're constantly talking about little things that they don't understand, and that's something you love to see from two new guys. Even DeMeco, he's an older guy, but he still needs to learn a lot and he knows that. They're doing a good job of going over it themselves."
So far, Rolle says, that attention to detail has paid off for the defense.
"You can see it early on in camp, regardless of what defense is called, you've got guys flying to the ball and that's the number one thing in football, flying to the ball," said Rolle. "As far as the defense is coming along, they're putting in a lot of stuff and it's amazing to see how guys are picking it up really fast. I feel like off of those four games last year, we went into the offseason last year saying that what we did was special the last four games and if we work hard this offseason, we could start like that and end like that this year. That way we won't have that disappointment."
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