- Alex Hand
Why it’s Time to Start Worrying About the Eagles LB Core
Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Nigel Bradham was arrested by Miami Police for a misdemeanor concealed weapons charge on Sunday, per TMZ Sports. This news hits the Eagles in the middle of their bye week after beginning the season with a perfect record, and had been relying quite heavily on the success of their defense.
Anger and disappointment being the obvious initial reaction, the pessimistic feeling of a drop-off in defensive production could also occur sooner rather than later. Throughout the start of this season, depth at linebacker had been concerning, but defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz put minds at ease when he said that the linebacker position tends to get scarce deep into the season.
For some reason, the basic statement of “that’s how it’s always been” was good enough for Eagles followers and the Birds did not add to that linebacker core until late in the summer with Stephen Tulloch after rookie Joe Walker tore his ACL. The defense also thrives in its ability to rotate and keep guys fresh, therefor keeping more linemen than linebackers under contract and on the 53-man roster.
Mychal Kendricks has accumulated a dismal four tackles and only 29 percent of the total defensive snaps thus far. While his production might suggest an increase due to the increased snaps, those results may not be guaranteed.
The last time Kendricks was lined up at the weak-side linebacker position, he tallied 9 pass deflections, a sack, and 58 solo tackles. That season possessed a rookie linebacker that weighed in at 237 lbs., not the 250 lbs. he is posted at now. While his added weight should allow him to stuff the run and take on tight ends more efficiently, it has appeared thus far that the added mass could have come in exchange for his lightening quickness around the edge.
Tulloch could also see an increase in playing time if things go extremely south for Bradham and the Birds, but the problem is that the former fourth-rounder is 31-years-old, and was not signed until a week prior to the team’s third preseason game. Depth behind him is no more than Najee Goode who has had a sizeable drop-off in production this year, and Kamu Gruiger-Hill, a rookie who was originally drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth-round.
If any season-ending injuries should occur, this franchise is going to be in serious trouble. While the D-line and secondary are more important to scheme and pass-oriented football, respectively, asking the linebackers to play a majority of snaps without rotations could cause harm to the unit as a whole.
Jordan Hicks is trying to stay healthy this season, as is Kendricks, and with Tulloch’s age this trio will be playing a majority of all the defensive snaps and will become more susceptible to the soft tissue injuries that two-thirds of this unit is known for. So say that the secondary will be forced to play big nickel in order to compensate for the increased snaps taken on by the linebacker core, then there could be a potentially massive drop-off in production for a defense that is relatively new to stellar DB play.
This will be another test for Philadelphia as they prepare to face the Detroit Lions in Michigan, and likely result in an All-22 as to why the Eagles will eventually have to draft – or trade for – a stud outside linebacker to fit this Schwartz-scheme.