With a new coaching regime and a change in philosophies on offense and defense, there’s a great deal of uncertainty heading into this Eagles 2016 season. There’s one position that is especially uncertain in terms of how they may (or may not) produce – the linebackers. The Eagles are long way off from dominance at this position and for good reas0n. We really don’t know what to expect from this crew. There are simply too many questions about their level of talent, development, plus injury history of these players over the years.
Here are the current linebackers on the roster: Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Quentin Gause, Najee Goode, Jordan Hicks, Ty Powell, Deontae Skinner, Myke Tavarras, and Joe Walker. It seems logical that Bradham, who was acquired in free agency is slated to start, as are returning bruisers Hicks and Kendricks. What should we expect from these players.
Some have been excited to see what Bradham can bring to the table after having played in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense two years ago in Buffalo. But in reality, he has been a role player and is basically being forced into a starting role (you saw the names above, right?). He accumulated 42 total tackles, 15 assists, one sack, and three passes defended last season. However, under Schwartz as a Bill, he performed better: 66 total tackles, 38 assists, 2.5 sacks, seven passes defended, and two forced fumbles. Since 2012 he’s started in only 38 games.
I’ve said before on the podcast show that I’m still not sure what to expect from Kendricks. He’s explosive and strong, yet there are times when he’s running around the field like a chicken without a head. He’s one of those linebackers who will make a fantastic play getting to the ball. Then the very next play we’re yelling at the screen, “Mychal, what the heck are you doing?” Like Bradham, he’s entering his fifth season. By now, we should know what to expect from his level of play on the field. But we don’t. In August 2015, he signed a contract extension after dealing with injuries the previous two seasons. Has he provided value at his position? Absolutely. I’m just not sure he’s the player he should be at this point in his veteran career. Pro Football Focus ranks him the No. 60 linebacker in the NFL. His brother Eric Kendricks – a rookie last season – was ranked No. 56. Inconsistency from week to week should not be continuing to plague Kendricks.
Hicks is the guy we’re clamoring to see play this season. Before his season-ending injury, he dominated the early part of the 2015 season as a rookie. Having only played seven games (and only five starts) in the NFL, he accumulated a total of 42 tackles, seven assists, two interceptions, one of those for a touchdown, and three passes defended. Oh, there’s more. He also put himself in a position to recover three fumbles and generated one sack. That’s what you call dominance in such a short period of time. The question is; can he replicate that this coming season? That’s a lot of pressure to be putting on a second year player who still hasn’t played a full 16 games. He’s a special linebacker. But how special he’ll be remains to be seen.
Again, a new defensive scheme implemented by Schwartz is going to yield varying results for these starters than we’ve seen in previous years. Bradham, Kendricks and Hicks may excel or falter based on Schwartz’s demands. Bradham could become a star and Hicks may look clueless. There’s just too much uncertainty as to how the starters will gel and whether consistent dominance in coverage and generating pressure will ensue. Let’s not hold our breath when it comes to this linebacker corps this coming season. There’s just too much uncertainty.