Thursday, November 27, 2014
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State of the Eagles Roster: Outside Linebackers

Here is the big picture of Eagles' pass rushers as training camp moves forward.

State of the Eagles Roster: Outside Linebackers

Philadelphia Eagles´ Connor Barwin at the team´s NFL football training facility. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Philadelphia Eagles' Connor Barwin at the team's NFL football training facility. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Eagles enter their second week of OTAs this week, and they will practice throughout the next three weeks. After those practices, Chip Kelly will have a better idea of the Eagles roster. But there’s a lot that will happen between now and then.

To get you up to date, The Inquirer is spending two weeks assessing where the Eagles stand at each spot. So far, we’ve looked at offensive linewide receiver, tight endquarterbackrunning back and defensive line.

Here are the pass rushers:

Projected first team:

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Connor Barwin (6-foot-4, 260 pounds), age 26, 5th season
Trent Cole (6-3, 270), 30, 9th

I’m a bit surprised the Eag4les don’t have more outside pass rushers on the roster or that they didn’t go out and get more outside linebackers with experience playing in a 3-4. Kelly and Howie Roseman were limited to some degree because they can’t move former defensive ends Cole and Brandon Graham. But Barwin was essentially the only notable addition, and if you believe Roseman, the only reason he’s here was because the Eagles were able to get the free agent relatively cheap.

Barwin’s sack numbers dipped dramatically from 2011 to 2012. He had 11.5 sacks two seasons ago, but only three last year. The Eagles claimed that Barwin was asked to drop into coverage more, but the disparity was, in truth, only marginal. Barwin dropped on 101 of 1,137 snaps in 2012 as opposed to 88 of 1,117 snaps in 2011. I think Barwin’s explanation for the dip in production makes more sense. He said that Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was doing more to free up explosive defensive end J.J. Watt and that meant that Barwin had to take on more blockers.

Take it for what it is worth, but Pro Football Focus rated Barwin as Houston’s least effective defender last year. The Eagles are going to have to lean on him, however. I imagine he’ll often play three downs. He looked like the only outside linebacker that was comfortable dropping during the two practices I’ve watched this spring.

Cole is a fish out of water. If it weren’t for his contract – an extension that was one of Roseman’s major goofs of 2012 – he would be gone. He won’t be asked to drop very much, but he has to balance his mental approach and handle chores, like setting the edge, that were never a responsibility before. For eight seasons, it was go-go-go after the quarterback. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

Second team

Brandon Graham (6-2, 268), 25, 4th
Phillip Hunt (6-1, 254), 27, 3d

Graham was the Eagles’ best pass rusher last season, but for most of the season he was behind Cole and Jason Babin. Graham recorded five sacks and two forced fumbles in the final nine games of the season. He seemed to be finally delivering upon the expectations of being a first round draft pick. But the scheme switch and the new coach – Kelly doesn’t prefer short, squatty pass rushers – don’t favor Graham. He played outside linebacker at Michigan, but was primarily a pass rusher. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to get after the quarterback in Bill Davis’ hybrid scheme, though, and could still flourish. I don’t see how Hunt fits in. He did very little last season, and faces the same obstacles as Cole and Graham.

Others

Chris McCoy (6-3, 261), 26, 1st; Everette Brown (6-1, 263), 25, 4th.

Brown took a number of snaps with the second team defense on Monday. He doesn’t have ideal size and has played primarily as a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, but he’s an intriguing candidate to slip onto the roster. McCoy comes from the CFL. He’s been working his way back from a knee injury, so I still don’t know what to make of his chances, nor, I’m sure, do the coaches. Tight end Clay Harbor recently took some snaps at outside linebacker to help his chances of making the team. He hasn’t played defense since high school when he was a safety, though. Let’s see how he does – if he’s still that desperate – when there is contact at training camp.



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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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