Are the Eagles heading towards a linebacker crossroads?

In week 2 the Eagles linebacker core appeared to hit a bump in the road. During the second quarter of the bitter showdown with Dallas, Kiko Alonso went down with a left knee injury. But that bump in the road seemed to launch the car 500mph in the right direction as Jordan Hicks burst onto the scene and within four games, established himself amongst the top four linebackers in the league (according to his PFF rating). With both an injured Kendricks and an injured Alonso, Hicks has been given freedom to shine..but what happens when the two linebackers return?

Let’s say in three games time (since Kendricks is day-to-day already) that both Alonso and Kendricks are back in the lineup. What happens to Jordan Hicks? Is he automatically pushed down in the rotation order or does he retain his spot based on his simply exceptional performances?

It’s an interesting scenario, because in the same time frame Kendricks was able to put up 17 tackles, Hicks had already got himself an Interception alongside a fumble recovery and six more tackles. Alonso on the other hand had the Odell of interceptions against the Falcons before having a promising game cut short…and then there’s the slow yet consistent defensive leader DeMeco Ryans.

Ryans unfortunately has had a slow start to the year. His Run Defense has been slightly worrying and according to Pro Football Focus has been ranked lower than Najee Goode…his backup. Ryans is evidently there for his supreme leadership but with the competition around him performing so well, is his spot potentially up for some rotation? (Another story for another day)

In Alonso and Kendricks, the team have a duo of dominant three-down linebackers. In Hicks..they have a trio. Kelly knew exactly what kind of player he was getting with Hicks when selecting him in round three of this years draft and that’s no bad thing. Personally, I would much rather be in this situation than one where the team’s only good linebacker is out with injury and are now struggling hugely..the Eagles have talent and lots of it. It’s one of the best problems to have in a team.

The real problem is going to be finding a way to use it all. For Hicks, the good news is that he at least has one more week under the spotlight. Alonso doesn’t look likely to return and Kendricks is day-to-day. But that in itself could be a blessing for the former Longhorn. If Kendricks returns to play alongside Hicks and the two begin to rip through Offenses as they should, then it means Alonso will rebound from his recent sprain at a disadvantage..because the hot hands would certainly be the two linebackers who have began to build chemistry and an impressive stat line.

But it would benefit Alonso in the sense that he can fully rehab the injury to 100% slowly and confidently. It’s not as though we are desperately in need of Alonso’s services as of right now..the guys are holding down the fort well and once Kendricks returns, the next barrage will be placed against the door. It makes sense to let Kiko gradually rehab his knee back and upon his return just approach it like pre-season. A quarter here, a play there, a tackle somewhere in the middle and then let him rest. We have a long, long season and a player with an injury history…get back to 100%, then manage game fitness and then lets worry about the lineup question.

One topic that could be a factor is going to be value. Mychal Kendricks recently signed a four year extension worth $29million and Alonso was obviously acquired as part of the returns for LeSean McCoy. Hicks on the other hand was a third round pick who many expected to earn his stripes on special teams. Instead, Hicks has broken out and thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to choosing who starts.

There may not be TOO much of a problem, Bryan Braman was able to get a sack on Drew Brees at the weekend which was fantastic to watch but also a sign that the depth is low as of right now. With both ILB stars back on the cards it would almost spread the rest of the core more evenly. With guys like Vinny Curry experimenting at Outside Linebacker, we may well see Chip try something similar with Hicks because..well, why wouldn’t he?! Kelly likes players who can play in more than one role…could you imagine a linebacker core of Alonso, Barwin, Hicks, Kendricks?

The short answer to the question is no. Kendricks is likely to return within two weeks and partnering with Jordan Hicks could well provide one of the most destructive cores in the NFL. A step up from Brandon Graham and some more big plays from Connor Barwin and this linebacker unit is among the best in the league.

When Alonso returns (which is most likely going to be in a few weeks time) we may even have yet more injuries or have a player who hasn’t matched the level of Hicks & Kendricks and would be an obvious choice to move around. For the Eagles, it’s a fantastic problem to have to worry about..knowing that despite two injuries, one of your most important positions is in good hands. But it’s an interesting one to look into.

I don’t think we’re going to see Jordan Hicks automatically benched once either of the two return, that wouldn’t make sense. I think Chip will be smart and ease Alonso back into the game whilst realising what he has with Hicks and partnering him up with Kendricks.

What are your thoughts on the potential shuffle of linebackers? Do you think Hicks could well be sidelined when Alonso returns despite his exceptional form? Let us know your views in the comments or tweet us; @PhiladelphiaSN

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