We continue our position-by-position analysis of the four NFC East teams with a look at the Philadelphia Eagles' linebacker situation.
Potential strength: A unit that lacked any kind of experience in 2011 gets a big jolt of veteran leadership from the acquisition of Ryans. He was one of the best middle linebackers in the game until an injury prematurely ended his 2010 season and a scheme change in Houston limited his production last year and led the Texans to deem him expendable this offseason. Assuming he's healthy enough to be the player he was in 2009 and early 2010, Ryans will bring speed, tackling ability and badly needed competence to a linebacking corps that was one of the teams' most destructive weaknesses in 2011.
Potential weakness: Rolle is working with the starters at the weakside linebacker spot, but he's going to have to show improvement as a tackler in training camp if he wants to hold onto that job. Chaney, who has been a starter at the strongside and middle spots the past two years, has the speed and size to claim the spot if he takes to it in practice and Rolle keeps whiffing on tackles. The linebackers in the Eagles' "Wide-9" defensive scheme need to have enough speed to cover tons of room, but they also need to be able to wrap up in the open field. If Rolle is a liability in that area, the Eagles could find themselves mixing and matching at linebacker again.
Keep an eye on: Kendricks. It was his speed and athleticism that led the Eagles to select him in the second round of the draft in April, and they see him as an ideal fit in their defense. He will get every opportunity to win the starter's job on the strong side, and early reports from OTAs indicate that he's been one of the fastest players on the field and shown a nose for the ball. The Eagles obviously aren't afraid to throw a rookie into the mix as a starting linebacker. They did it last year, to their detriment, with Matthews. But Kendricks has more going for him right off the bat than Matthews ever did, and if he is the starter in Week 1 it won't be by default. It will be because the Eagles are excited about what he can do for them on defense right away.