Andy Reid did not hesitate to say "Yes" yesterday when asked if he thought DeMeco Ryans was a three-down player.
He also avoided saying too much about the team's plans at the other linebacker spots. The Eagles currently have nine linebackers on their roster, and that number is likely to grow as free agency continues and the draft takes place in late April.
Below is a player-by-player breakdown of the different pieces the Eagles currently have and how they might fit going forward.
Jamar Chaney - He played 82.5 percent of the Eagles' snaps last season, starting out at SAM, before replacing Casey Matthews in the middle in Week 3. Chaney struggled throughout, and Juan Castillo began to use him more as a situational player towards the end of the season, taking him off the field in many passing situations.. Chaney played about 47 percent of the team's snaps from Weeks 14 to 16, before suffering an injury in the season finale. He had surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck in January.
True or false: DeMeco Ryans will make a huge difference as an Eagles linebacker.
Reid was smart to not say Chaney has the edge at SAM. It was only a two-game tryout, but he really struggled in that spot last year (see my game writeups here and here). To be fair, the lockout-shortened offseason affected not only rookies, but second-year players like Chaney too. However, he should have to compete for a starting spot next season. Chaney showed flashes of being a good player as a rookie, but had far more downs than ups in 2011.
Brian Rolle - A sixth-round pick in 2011, Rolle probably had the best season of any Eagles linebacker. He took over at the WILL position in Week 4, showing he could compete against the run despite his size.
By the end of the season, he was being replaced in certain nickel packages. Rolle played about 62 percent of the team's defensive snaps; only Chaney was on the field more among linebackers.
I'd say Rolle is more of a favorite to win the WILL job than Chaney is to win the SAM job, but he'll still have to compete for it. The Eagles could sign or draft a player to compete at WILL. And several of the linebackers currently on the roster could at least be given the chance to unseat Rolle.
Casey Matthews - It was a roller coaster rookie season for Matthews, who was obviously not prepared for the role the Eagles put him in. He spent the first two weeks at middle linebacker, switched to WILL for a week and then barely saw the field until Week 14. But in the final four games, he was on the field for about 61 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.
It's probably unfair to judge a player after one season, but if Matthews is going to develop into an every-down linebacker at some point, he'll have to prove himself to anyone who saw him struggle against the run in 2011.
Assuming Ryans never comes off the field, that leaves one nickel linebacker spot open. Matthews had some good moments in coverage towards the end of the season. He should be in the mix to play in that package, but will have to fight for playing time.
Keenan Clayton - Heading into Week 11, Clayton had played a total of 11 defensive snaps. It would be an understatement to say the coaching staff didn't trust the speedy fourth-round pick from 2010. Despite the Eagles' struggles at linebacker, not only did Clayton spend most of his time on the sideline, but he didn't even dress in Weeks 6 and 7.
In the final four weeks, though, he played about 37 of the Eagles' defensive snaps, entering the games in nickel and dime situations. Clayton played relatively well too. At this time last year, I thought he would compete for the starting WILL position. That obviously didn't happen. If he's going to get on the field now, it will likely be in a specialized role in coverage, similar to what I described with Matthews.
Or the Eagles could get a little creative and try him out at safety, which the Daily News' Paul Domowitch recently suggested.
Either way, Clayton is no lock to make the Eagles' 53-man roster.
Moise Fokou - His 2011 season ended in late November, after Fokou suffered an ankle injury against the Patriots. Before that, he played both WILL and SAM, staying on the field for about 39 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
If the Eagles don't make any more significant moves at linebacker, he'll likely get a chance to at least compete for the starting SAM job. But Fokou is probably best suited for a backup/special teams role.
Akeem Jordan - The same can be said for Jordan. He filled in for Fokou at SAM in the second half of last season and could get an opportunity to compete for that spot if the Eagles don't add any more pieces.
But more likely, he'll get a chance to fill in as a backup/special-teams player. Jordan led the team with 14 special-teams tackles in 2011.
Greg Lloyd - A seventh-round pick in 2011, he spent most of last season on the practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster. But Lloyd was never active on gameday. He's a longshot to make the team in 2012.
Monte Simmons - He was an undrafted free agent out of Kent State, who spent 2011 on the 49ers' practice squad. The Eagles signed him earlier this offseason.
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