It’s been years since the Eagles have had a big change to their linebacking corps. Other than showing a disgruntled Mychal Kendricks the door, the core group has remained the same since Nigel Bradham flew in from Buffalo back in 2016. Its led some to believe the position has been seemingly undervalued by the front office. It helps that Malcolm Jenkins so often plays in the box and the team generally relies on two linebacker sets.
Hold onto your hats though Philly fans, the team finally has an abundance of talent, both young and old at the positions. It’s a great problem to have and one the Eagles aren’t used to having. It’s also made for some fantastic position battle fodder this offseason.
Unless something drastic happens between now and September, two starters for Week 1 are all but entrenched. The Eagles stole Zach Brown away from the Redskins for pennies on the dollar to man the middle of their defense, which will send Nigel Bradham back to his natural role at strongside linebacker. Both are talented players in the top 15 of their respective positions. Brown was PFF’s 3rd ranked LB after a career year in Washington; a year he hopes to build on in the City of Brotherly Love. Bradham is perennially underrated but did see a drop off in coverage last season. He was a man possessed stopping the run in the playoffs and should be able to bounce back after resuming his full-time role on the outside.
After that, the waters get notably murky. Running through the remaining backers, each brings something unique to the table. I have highlighted a few of each players’ key attributes that could earn them some playing time, as well as some areas that need some growth. Even with two relatively cemented starters, rounding out the front seven will be a role filled by many hands. Every man on the roster has a shot to see the field, whether on special teams or as sub-package or situational defenders.
The Next Man Up
The first man off the bench should, and most likely will be Kamu Grugier-Hill. The Eagles don’t run a whole lot of base 4-3, but when they do KGH will get the nod to slide in as the weakside OLB. His biggest leg up is his athleticism and time in the system. Not many backers can run a 4.45 at 6’2″. He’s been instrumental on special teams, which makes him a lock on the final 53 regardless of how much play he gets at WILL.
Nevertheless, LB Coach Ken Flajole was quoted saying: “I’d like to think he could be a real factor for us.” When you’ve got the linebacker coach singing your praises, chances are you’re in for an uptick in playing time. He could also very well get some opportunities at MLB on passing downs. As talented as Zach Brown is, he’s not known for his coverage — although he was vastly improved last season. As mobile as he is, mental processing can hold him back in zone coverage.
Despite a quickly improving game, Grugier-Hill likely won’t challenge Brown for playing time on early downs. The guy is rangy, has good length and is a solid tackler, but is a shade light and isn’t the most physical in the trenches. When kept clean, however, his athleticism shines. There’s also the matter of it being a contract year for KGH. That’s always an incentive for players and coaches alike. A great year could spell a big contract, a valuable trade piece or a respectable compensatory pick. Based on his performance last season, it seems that the man will only get better with playing time. The game in which he played the most defensive snaps — against the Cowboys in Week 14 — he also received his best PFF grade.
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports