The countdown to Training Camp is whittling closer and closer to the end. Rookies report on Monday. Veterans arrive next Thursday and the first full-team practice is a week from Friday. To help get fans ready, we're taking a look at the biggest questions facing each position group heading into Training Camp. Here is a look at the inside linebackers ...
1. How Will DeMeco Ryans Fare In The 3-4 Front?
The Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans last offseason in a trade with the Houston Texans. Ryans was called one of the best 4-3 middle linebackers in the game. Ryans explained how he was more comfortable in the 4-3 and it showed on the field. Ryans led the Eagles with 148 tackles in his first season with the team. It was the fifth time Ryans eclipsed the 100-tackle plateau. Ryans also totaled more tackles for a loss than any Eagles player since the stat was tracked in 1999.
After one year with the Eagles, Ryans will now play for new defensive coordinator Bill Davis who is implementing a hybrid scheme. Ryans played in the 3-4 in Houston. It should be noted that it was the year Ryans was returning from a season-ending Achilles injury. He had 64 tackles in 2011. With the scheme change and an increasing cap number, the Eagles thought that Ryans was a player who could be available in a trade. In the 3-4, Ryans will rely on his smarts in terms of diagnosing the play and shooting to the ball.
What's just as important when it comes to Ryans is his leadership. Ryans could be counted on to give an excellent performance week in and week out last year despite all of the team's struggles. He's reunited at the second level with former Texans teammate Connor Barwin. There could be as many as seven new starters on defense for the Eagles, but Ryans remains the rock in the middle of the defense.
2. Will The Eagles Unleash Mychal Kendricks?
Two years ago, Mychal Kendricks was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year as he registered 106 tackles and three sacks. He finished his college career with 36.5 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks.
Kendricks was immediately inserted into the starting lineup after he was selected by the Eagles in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Kendricks' athleticism was off the charts. He went through his growing pains as a rookie, but finished the season third on the team with 88 tackles including eight for a loss.
It will be interesting if the Eagles allow Kendricks to use that athleticism to get to the quarterback more in 2012. Kendricks is stout, physical and aggressive. He has the ideal mentor in Ryans. Kendricks has all of the tools and if he can put them together could be an impact player in the middle of the Eagles defense.
3. Who Will Emerge To Provide Depth?
There are a lot of players battling for roster spots behind Ryans and Kendricks.
Jason Phillips was a day one free agent signing for the Eagles. He played in all 16 games last season for Carolina and led the team with 16 special teams tackles. Jamar Chaney has shown promise in his first three seasons starting 23 regular season games including all 16 in 2011. Not bad for a former seventh-round pick. Two seasons ago, Chaney had 104 tackles.
Casey Matthews played for new head coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and thrived earning back-to-back all-conference honors under Kelly's watch. Matthews has persevered through a lot after being placed into the starting lineup as the middle linebacker in his rookie year.
One player to keep an eye on during Training Camp is former Iowa State product Jake Knott, who signed with the Eagles as a rookie free agent. Knott's got good size at 6-foot-2, 243 pounds. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last season despite a shoulder injury which ended his season. He's a tough, physical player who will surely be a fan favorite during the preseason.
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