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Thursday, April 3, 2014
Linebacker now a strength for Eagles

By Andy Jasner

The linebacker position hasn't always been a priority in the past for the Philadelphia Eagles.

But times have changed under coach Chip Kelly.

Even before the NFL draft, the Eagles will enter the 2014 season with a much-improved group of linebackers.

With linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks anchoring the inside, the Eagles also feature some impressive depth with the likes of Najee Goode, Casey Matthews, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho.

Veteran Trent Cole (eight sacks) was a force at outside linebacker and he received plenty of help from Connor Barwin, who was a key offseason acquisition in Kelly's first season. Brandon Graham made some improvement and the Eagles recently added Bryan Braman, who should get a chance to play at linebacker. Braman was signed as a special-teams player but that role could be expanded.

“You don't find many players of Bryan's size with the ability to run down the field and make plays on special teams,” Kelly said after Braman's signing. “It's an area of the game that we always have our eye on and look to improve. With his size, we also like his potential as a guy who can compete for spot as an outside linebacker.”

In the NFL draft, the Eagles could add a linebacker or two to their ever-improving depth chart.

This group of linebackers showed terrific stamina as Cole, Ryans and Barwin started all 16 games last season. Cole will turn 32 during the season while Barwin will be 28. But Kendricks is just 23 and he had a solid second season in the league.

Kendricks accumulated 106 total tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and four recovered fumbles. He became one of three players in franchise history to record at least four sacks and three interceptions in a single season, joining Seth Joyner (1991 and '92) and William Thomas ('96).

With a combination of veterans and young players, this position continues to be one worth looking at as the 2014 season inches closer.