The rookies and selected vets report to Training Camp on Sunday with the first practice taking place on Monday. Our Training Camp Position Preview series is in the final stretch. Let's look at the linebacker position which underwent a lot of change this offseason with the switch to a 4-3 defense.
1. What Will Jordan Hicks Do For An Encore?
Jordan Hicks missed the final eight games of his rookie season due to a torn pectoral tendon injury he incurred in the overtime win over Dallas. However, he still managed to finish tied for fifth in the league among rookies with seven impact plays (sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions and fumble recoveries combined).
Hicks was expected to take his time adjusting to the NFL with DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso ahead of him on the depth chart. But the third-round pick was thrown into the fire and instantly became an impact player for the Eagles. At the time of the injury, Hicks led the team with 54 tackles and was the league leader with three fumble recoveries. Earlier in that overtime win against Dallas, he returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown.
Entering his second season, Hicks will be the starter at middle linebacker as Ryans was released, Alonso traded and Kendricks moved to the weak side. Hicks played in a 4-3 front at Texas and relishes the leadership role that comes with being in the center of the defense.
2. Mychal Kendricks Returns To The 4-3
Unlike Hicks, Kendricks was inserted into the starting lineup right away after he was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Kendricks played on the weak side in the 4-3 and had 88 tackles, 11 pass knockdowns.
In the first year of the 3-4 in 2013, Kendricks had career highs across the board with 137 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions. Injuries have limited him in the past two years, but he still posted 199 tackles and seven sacks in that span.
It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz utilizes Kendricks. Historically, Schwartz has not done a lot of blitzing. Kendricks is an athletic playmaker who can wreak havoc as the defensive line makes life miserable for opposing offenses.
Our Training Camp Position Preview series is winding down. The starters might be set at linebacker, but there's an interesting battle for the backup positions.
3. Will Nigel Bradham Thrive Under Schwartz Again?
In his one season with Schwartz in Buffalo in 2014, Nigel Bradham had career highs in tackles (102), tackles for loss (6), sacks (2.5), forced fumbles (2) as well as his only interception. In his other three NFL seasons combined, Bradham notched 142 tackles, seven tackles for loss and one sack.
Bradham is set to play on the strong side in Schwartz's defense. His ability to run and hit fit in perfectly with Schwartz. Bradham said that Schwartz knows how to play to his players' strengths and is a straight-shooter. Bradham jumped at the opportunity to play for Schwartz again. The Eagles hope that he can recapture the magic from the career year.
4. Who Emerges To Provide Depth?
The Eagles' starting trio of linebackers offers a lot with three players who have thrived in the 4-3 scheme.
The biggest question is what happens if one of these players suffers an injury? Najee Goode is the top backup and offers experience as a starter. But there will be a good opportunity for players line seventh-round pick Joe Walker, and rookie free agents Quentin Gause and Myke Tavarres to earn a roster spot. Deontae Skinner also has NFL experience, while Travis Long is trying to overcome his third ACL injury to make the squad.
|Training Camp Roster: Linebacker
|2015 Games Played (Started)
|Eagles Practice Squad