Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Looking at the Eagles' linebackers

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Trolling a lockout-infected Internet for ... well, any content at all, really, I came across this Tim McManus rundown of the Eagles' linebacker situation. I think the Eagles are going to be big free-agency players on the defensive side of the ball, but a lot of the speculation so far has focused on the secondary (they need a cornerback, will likely pursue Nnamdi Asomugha and may have to replace safety Quintin Mikell if he leaves) and the defensive line (where new line coach Jim Washburn will be asking for new toys, including maybe a pass-rushing end to play on the side opposite Trent Cole).

But as Tim points out, the linebackers' roles in the new defensive scheme are likely to change. With the plan apparently to "let the front four loose," the linebackers will have more responsibilities. That may mean -- especially if Stewart Bradley leaves -- that the Eagles will need to find a veteran who's comfortable handling more responsibilities than the young guys they have at the position might be.

For me, a big key to this whole Eagles linebacker situation is Jamar Chaney. If Bradley departs via free agency, Chaney likely takes over the middle linebacker spot. He played that spot well last year and showed signs that he might be able to handle it long term. And he's got the speed to cover a great deal of the field. If Bradley comes back, Chaney's an obvious fit at one of the other two spots. But the Eagles' decision on how badly they need a free-agent veteran who can handle the extra responsibility brought on by the fact that the line is apparently going to be invading backfields on every play could come down to how much of the new scheme Chaney grasps -- and how quickly he grasps it.

Tim throws Stephen Tulloch, Paul Posluszny, Barrett Ruud and Keith Bulluck out there as potential free-agent names. I might add Manny Lawson to the list, and there will be other options if the Eagles decide they need to hit the market. My guess is that they're planning to spend big at corner and maybe on the line, so they might be in the market for a lower-tier veteran who can help the young guys along with the new scheme. Maybe a guy like Bulluck, who might wear down as the season goes along, makes sense, thinking one or more of the younger guys might be an option in the second half.

Anyway, it's an issue. The Eagles will be putting together a new-looking defense once the lockout ends, and linebacker is just one of the positions they have to assess before they figure out how to fix it all.