Les Bowen: Eagles think they are ready to do the linebacker shuffle
You know how Charlie Manuel desperately shuffled through relief pitchers much of this season, because he knew he didn't have really good seventh- and eighth-inning guys? So you got B.J. Rosenberg for this batter and Joe Savery for that batter, Manuel desperately working the righty-lefty percentages, trying to tiptoe his way to the ninth inning.
The Phillies have Manuel's bullpen, the Eagles have their linebacking corps.
Andy Reid confirmed Friday what became apparent over the previous few days of practice - he plans to use all six linebackers in Sunday's season opener in Cleveland.
"We had success with [using linebackers situationally] toward the end of last year. Guys know their role and can focus in on it. They're all interchangeable, which is a good thing. They all know each other's position and have gotten reps at all the positions," Reid said. He said he planned to rotate linebackers, much the way the Eagles have rotated groups of defensive linemen over the past several years.
Reid said he didn't think constantly shuffling linebackers in and out, in addition to d-linemen, would hurt consistency or flow. (When an opponent goes no-huddle, Andy's theory will get a nice test. No, surely there won't be any situations with either 10 or 12 Eagles on the field, and people pointing frantically at the sideline.)
Reid insisted this latest shuffle was not a commentary on the play of new middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, brought in to play three downs and eliminate the patching and filling.
"I've been very happy with DeMeco. I'm giving everybody an opportunity," Reid said.
It isn't clear Ryans' playing time will be dramatically affected. He is the base MIKE starter, with rookie Mychal Kendricks at SAM and veteran Akeem Jordan at WIL. As Jamar Chaney noted Thursday, Chaney got some work in the nickel, along with Kendricks, this week, Ryans not on the field, but then Friday it was Ryans with Kendricks again, without Chaney.
"It doesn't bother me," Ryans said. "That's coaches' decision, and we just roll whatever the coaches say."
Is it difficult, when everything is split up into packages and you seem to be playing with a different grouping every down?
"It's not hard. I've done things where I've rotated before," Ryans said. "It's nothing new to me. Once again, it's the coaches' decision who goes out there."
It seems that in addition to Chaney working in nickel, subs Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle will at least get short-yardage work. Matthews - a year ago the starter in Ryans' spot, as a fourth-round rookie - said he has pretty much recovered from his preseason high-ankle sprain. He was asked about the challenges of just playing a down or two here and there.
"You've got to be focused during the game," Matthews said. "Sometimes if you're not playing you might go off and just start watching a little bit. You've actually got to keep your head in it, know the situation."
Maybe Bo knows,
but Bryce Doesn't
In a conversation with ComcastSportsnet.com reporter Reuben Frank Friday, LeSean McCoy compared rookie running back Bryce Brown's running style to that of Bo Jackson, the baseball/football star whose sports careers were curtailed by a hip injury.
Frank ran this comparison by Brown, and received a blank look.
"I guess that's a compliment, right?" Brown asked. Brown was born in 1991. Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn, last played in the NFL in 1990 (though he played major league baseball well into the 1994 season).
Brown (6 feet, 220) seems to be an extraordinary talent who is extraordinarily inexperienced, having played only one "real" season of college football, at Tennessee, before leaving for Kansas State, where he played only one game last season.
"I'm taking a lot more reps than I have in the past, but I'm not letting it get to my head," Brown said, when asked whether he might get more work than the No. 3 running back usually does in a Reid offense. Reid, by the way, wouldn't confirm Friday that Dion Lewis (who is battling a hamstring problem) is still No. 2 and Brown is No. 3 - he made a joke about needing to keep at least a few secrets.
It's been surprising that Brown has seemed so sharp, given that his season at Tennessee was 2009. Brown said he "never stopped working," even during times he wasn't eligible to play in college, or was injured.
The main rookie barrier is that usually, backs have to have blitz pickup down cold to get on the field for the Eagles.
"It's something I'm getting better at," Brown said. "If they ask me to go out there and do it, I'm going to stick my nose in there and give my best effort, learn from that block and just keep going."
Run game Peters out?
Now that it's time to play real games, the Eagles seem to be getting increasingly realistic about how life will be different with King Dunlap manning the left tackle position instead of Achilles' victim Jason Peters. A frequent image during LeSean McCoy's 1,309-yard season in 2011 was Peters rampaging ahead of the running back, demolishing a linebacker or safety 10 yards downfield. The King (6-9, 330) will not be zipping along ahead of Shady very often.
"Anytime you lose a great player like that, any team, you're going to miss him," McCoy acknowledged Friday. "It'll be tough, but I think we can battle through it . . . Any guy that's that talented, that fast, that athletic and that big, you're kind of used to seeing him out in the open blocking for you . . . It's football. You've just got to deal with it."
As previously announced, safety/special-teams ace Colt Anderson (knee) and wide receiver Riley Cooper (collarbone) are the only Eagles ruled out for Sunday . . . LeSean McCoy agreed that with quarterback Michael Vick having played only 12 snaps in the preseason, the other offensive weapons ought to try to make sure Vick doesn't have to be Superman on Sunday. "We don't need Mike to make a million plays by running, getting banged up," McCoy said. "I feel like we have enough great players in this locker room, especially on offense, to make plays . . . He doesn't have to make every play himself" . . . In Cleveland, Browns coach (and former Eagles quarterbacks coach) Pat Shurmur said rookie QB Brandon Weeden "had a great week of practice. He's been crossing all the hurdles from the day we drafted him."
Contact Les Bowen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at eagletarian.com.