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Monday, May 3, 2010
Eagles draw a crowd at linebacker

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

In addition to not having a suitable answer at safety, the situation at linebacker played a prominent role in the Eagles being overwhelmed by the Cowboys in back-to-back games at the end of last season. To be more specific, there was no one on the field capable of running with Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten.

Now, the Eagles have gone a long way in addressing their immense needs at linebacker. The return of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who was emerging as a star in the league before tearing his ACL in last year's training camp, should have a huge impact. His ability to cover tight ends and running backs in space gives the Eagles a much better shot against talented players such as Witten and Felix Jones.

For now, former seventh-round draft pick Moise Fokou is the starter at strongside linebacker, and former Lions first-round pick Ernie Sims is penciled in on the weak side. Fokou has reportedly added several pounds to his frame in an attempt to hold up against the run. Sims received praise from second-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott for his approach to the recent minicamp.

"There's a shark in the water right now, and that's Ernie Sims," McDermott told reporters over the weekend.

The Eagles will also work rookies Ricky Sapp and Keenan Clayton into the mix. But let's not confuse all these bodies with quality depth just yet. The only proven talent at linebacker is Bradley, and we still need to see how he responds to the knee injury once everyone is in pads. Fokou was a pleasant surprise last season, but we haven't seen him perform as a starter on a consistent basis.

And then there's Sims. I think he'll be a much better fit in McDermott's defense than Jim Schwartz's in Detroit. Schwartz prefers bigger linebackers who can shed blocks. The Eagles prefer smaller, quicker players who can avoid blockers and make tons of tackles (or at least it appears that way to the naked eye). Sims will have an opportunity to reclaim his promising career. The good thing is that he was considered an excellent leader for the Lions. He simply was a better fit in the previous regime's scheme.

If Bradley's 100 percent after the injury, which we believe he is, the Eagles automatically receive an enormous upgrade. But I'm still a little worried about Fokou and Sims as the other starters. Anyone else share that concern?

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