1. Who will man the middle?
The questions begin with last year's starter in the middle, Stewart Bradley. There are a few question marks facing the future between Bradley and the Eagles. First, the 2007 third-round draft pick is one of the in-house candidates to hit free agency. Most indications are that the Eagles would welcome Bradley back, but in what is surely to be a chaotic free agency period, anything can happen. Of course, one of the factors that both sides will consider is Bradley's health. He played 12 games in his first season back after missing 2009 because of a torn ACL, but the prevailing notion is that a torn ACL takes two years to fully heal. If the Eagles believe Bradley can get back to 2008 form, when Sports Illustrated named him an all-pro, then they'll make every effort to bring the 27-year-old back in midnight green.
The second piece of the middle linebacker puzzle is Jamar Chaney, a 2010 seventh-round pick who stepped in as a rookie to play middle linebacker in Bradley's absence. Chaney acquitted himself quite nicely and gave teammates, coaches and fans alike a glimpse of a player who could be part of the linebacking corps for years to come. At 6-0, 242, Chaney is considered a bit undersized for the middle, but his speed (he ran the fastest 40-yard dash of all linebackers at the 2010 Scouting Combine) allows him to make plays across the field. If Bradley returns, Chaney will likely get more work at weakside linebacker, where Ernie Sims is not expected to return. Also, don't rule out a third contestant at middle linebacker, fourth-round pick Casey Matthews. The former Oregon Duck with the famous bloodlines will be at a bit of a disadvantage because of the short-term nature of the offseason, but he should have all the requisite intangibles to learn quickly and he'll have every opportunity to impress early.
2. Which strong will survive?
Really, there's no position settle at linebacker as we head to the 2011 season. The strong side appears to be Moise Fokou's job to lose, after Fokou won the job back in 2010 and performed well in his 11 starts. ProFootballFocus rated Fokou as a top-20 4-3 outside linebacker overall in 2010, tops on the team, and as a top-10 linebacker against the run. After two seasons, Fokou, 25, should be ready to take another step forward.
Also in the mix will be Rashad Jeanty, a somewhat forgotten component to the roster since he was signed immediately following the season. Jeanty, 6-2, 243, has starting experience and is hungry to get his shot to prove himself. The former Cincinnati Bengal missed the entire 2010 season after suffering a broken fibula in a 2009 playoff game, but he's said to be fully cleared and ready to resume a once-promising career.
The other wrinkle to consider is Bradley returning, but shifting to the strong side, his collegiate position, while Chaney stays in the middle. Again, with each position unsettled, the permutations at linebacker are many, especially if any outside free agent is brought in.
3. Who among the young linebackers will emerge?
With a new defensive scheme in place, the Eagles made it clear that they were hoping to change the dynamic of the linebacker position in April's draft, when they added three rookies to the fold. Matthews, who is said to have the versatility to play all three positions, has been mentioned. Also added were sixth-round pick Brian Rolle, 5-10, 227, an Ohio State standout who projects as a special teams ace and potential overachiever at weakside linebacker, and seventh-round pick Greg Lloyd, 6-1, 247, a middle linebacker at Connecticut who excelled his junior season before fighting through an injury-plagued senior year. Lloyd will do well to follow in the footsteps of Fokou and Chaney, both of whom went on to impress as fill-in starters as rookie seventh-round draft picks.
And don't forget about 2010 draft pick Keenan Clayton. Clayton was utilized in some specialty packages as a rookie, notably in the victory over the Indianapolis Colts, and, as a former safety, may profile as the unit's best cover linebacker. Chances are someone from this group will emerge as a pleasant surprise in 2011. Who's your money on?