Philadelphia Eagles News

The Linebacker, Defense And More

The initial reaction to the Ryans trade has been overwhelmingly positive. The Eagles paid a reasonable price -- a fair comparison is the trade the Jets and the Saints made in 2008 when New Orleans acquired linebacker Jonathan Vilma in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2008 and a third-round pick in 2009 -- for a player they think fits perfectly into what they are doing defensively.

Time will tell, of course. A lot of Ryans' production will come as a result of his surrounding cast on defense. The Eagles have an aggressive, relentless front four that will funnel the ballcarrier his way. It's important that Ryans, who plays about 250 pounds, has some freedom to run to the football, rather than get swallowed up by a pair of 320-pound offensive linemen.

Would a big, 340-pound defensive tackle help? Of course. That kind of player, at a high level, helps every team. There just aren't that many huge defensive tackles out there who are really good football players. And the Eagles have a healthy situation there with Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon, a 320-pounder who could thrive with a full offseason under line coach Jim Washburn.

Unrestricted free agents Trevor Laws and Derek Landri have not yet reportedly made visits to other teams, so one or both of those players could return. And yes, the Eagles could use a high draft pick on the position, one that is said to deep and talented in April.

The linebacker positions appear to be an open competition. Brian Rolle played well on the weak side last season and could make a leap to the next level in his second year. Casey Matthews was thrown into the starting job at middle linebacker and had his ups and downs, and then seemed to thrive in a role as a nickel linebacker who snuffed out screens and who blitzed effectively. With a full offseason to develop, both of those players are going to get long looks.

Jamar Chaney, who started in the middle for much of last season, is coming off a neck injury which is said to be healing well. He has been in the NovaCare Complex and working hard every day. But Ryans is the starting middle linebacker, so Chaney has to move, perhaps to the strong side. Is he a good fit there, particularly in coverage?

There are other players to consider, most of them young and developing. Where is Keenan Clayton in the mix? Akeem Jordan? Moise Fokou? Greg Lloyd, Jr.? Newcomer Monte Simmons, who played on the 49ers' practice squad last season?

Asking to name the starting linebackers right now is a foolhardy exercise, so why do it? The Eagles have a lot to sort out prior to the start of their Offseason Training Activities, which begin in May.

The same goes for the safety spots, and even, to a degree, at cornerback. What is the future of Asante Samuel here? Will the Eagles keep Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and try to work all three into productive roles?

At safety, of course, the Eagles are banking on young players returning to full health and, at the same time, developing into big-time players. Nate Allen was wildly inconsistent last year after coming back from his patellar tendon injury. Kurt Coleman was a productive safety who was around the football a lot and then he suffered a biceps injury late in the year. Colt Anderson, the special-teams star, is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett is the wild card here. How much are the Eagles counting on him to develop? Do they think he is ready to assume a major role as a physical, lay-the-wood type of safety who is also able to cover? Or are they going to challenge Jarrett and the entire safety corps with more talent.

Ryans is a key piece, a major upgrade and someone who should reliably fit into the defense in many ways. The Eagles have not had that true, legitimate defensive leader, that "voice," since the glory days of Brian Dawkins. Now they have Ryans, who was the man in Houston. He will be looked at to take over as the emotional leader and tactical captain of the defense right away.

From a talent standpoint, the Eagles certainly upgraded. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Jason Babin, Trent Cole and Jenkins up front (Patterson is not far behind). Ryans is at that level. Samuel, Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie command that kind of respect and deserve to be included in the conversation.

More pieces are on the way, rest assured. Who they are and how the Eagles acquire them, I don't know. But the Eagles have time and they have resources to bring talent on board.

And what they do to surround Ryans is going to go a long, long way toward determining just how effective he is going to be. A Pro Bowl talent needs the right cast of players around him to play at his maximum level.

NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT

  • As I write this, there are no scheduled visits to the NovaCare Complex for unrestricted free agents. Just thought I would let you know.
  • Haven't heard much about players on the 2011 Eagles roster getting a lot of attention in free agency, and that includes Landri, Laws and offensive tackle King Dunlap. I could see a role for all three of those players on this roster.
  • Maybe there have been talks, because the Eagles talk about every player, but I don't get a lot of sense that the Eagles are going to make a move in the direction of quarterback Tim Tebow, who is expected to be traded by Denver now that the Broncos have signed Peyton Manning. Obviously, that can change at any time ...
  • That said, I would be not shocked at all if the Eagles use a draft pick on a quarterback if they have one they really like. The draft is five weeks away. Tick, tock ...
  • Who is the backup running back here? At this time, it is Dion Lewis, who I think can be a dynamic contributor to the offense. The Eagles will add help here, in some way, shape or form.
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