Inside linebackers coach Rick Minter is warming up as he speaks to a corporate "Chalk Talk" crowd last week at the NovaCare Complex. The topic is Kiko Alonso, and Minter is excited.
"He's going to be a big help for us," Minter said. "He does all the things that we want our linebackers to do. He's big, he's tall and he moves side to side and attacks the football. He's really the prototype of what we're looking for inside."
As the shock wore off when it was announced that the Eagles traded running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for Alonso -- the reports came out a full week earlier than the trade was officially completed -- the next step was to investigate Alonso, a second-round pick by Buffalo in 2013 who had a fantastic rookie season with the Bills and then missed all of 2014 with a knee injury.
Minter scouted Alonso heavily prior to the 2013 draft. His responsibility is to write a report on every inside linebacker eligible for every draft, to attend as many Pro Days as he can, and to lend his expertise on the prospects. Alonso was the only inside linebacker who measured 6 feet 3 or taller in that draft, and combined with his long arms and natural instincts, toughness and physical skills, projected as a great fit in the Eagles' 3-4 base front.
"He's got great height, great range and while he looks skinny when you see him in a uniform, he still weighs 240 pounds," Minter said. "He has great pass-field awareness, is excellent defending the pass and has great hands. He had 4-5 interceptions as a rookie, right off the bat. He has a great base, bends real well. He really does it all.
"This is the total player athletically. He can play 'MIKE' linebacker for us where we play in the 'C' gap and he can play where we now play Mychal Kendricks. I really think Kiko can swing to either inside position in our defense. He's very athletic, very fast and can cover people. He's smart, he's aware, he runs his feet on contact. I'm obviously really excited to have him."
Alonso enjoyed a fine rookie season in Buffalo, collecting 159 total tackles (third in NFL) in 16 starts with eight games of double-digit tackles. He had four interceptions, two quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries.
"He made an immediate impact there and we think he can play that way here," Minter said.
Alonso shouldn't have any difficulty assimilating into the defensive structure as it is similar to the defense from his Oregon days. Alonso then played in a scheme in Buffalo overseen by Mike Pettine, now the head coach in Cleveland, which was a descendant of what Oregon ran. So once Alonso masters the terminology of the defense, he'll flow right into things. The Eagles think he will be a major asset in coverage against tight ends and running backs, a problem area at times in the past.
All of this depends, naturally, on Alonso recovering from the knee injury he suffered last June. He's said to be recovering well and should report to the NovaCare Complex in the next week or so to continue his rehab with the Eagles. The prognosis is positive. The thinking is that once Alonso is whole and on the field, he'll add impact to the defense.
How it all works out with a rehabbing DeMeco Ryans -- coming back from his torn Achilles tendon -- and Kendricks remains to be seen. The Eagles were ravaged by injuries at inside linebacker last year, losing Travis Long before the season, Najee Goode in Week 1 for the rest of the year, Kendricks for a handful of games with a calf injury, Ryans for half of the year with his Achilles, and Emmanuel Acho for a couple of games late in the campaign.
Minter is so thrilled to have Alonso to provide a huge talent, more options, great depth.
"We thoroughly investigated Kiko prior to the 2013 draft and I got to know him quite a bit," Minter said. "I've got a funny story. I have hundreds of contacts in my phone, as we all do, and each year at this time I've got about 30 linebackers to check out for the upcoming draft so I just plugged in their contacts into my phone, just in case. I'm scrolling through my phone the other day on the plane, killing some time, and I said, 'I've got to get rid of some of these contacts from the past, I've just got too many of these.' I started with some of the guys from past draft classes that aren't Philadelphia Eagles.
"I'm scrolling and x-ing out this guy and that guy and I came to Kiko's name and, I swear, I said, 'I'm going to keep that one.' Something told me to keep that one.
"Two days later, Kiko Alonso was an Eagle. You're going to like him a lot."