Who Makes the Roster: Inside Linebackers

Eagles linebackers Demeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

The Eagles need to get from 90 players to 53 on their roster by 6 p.m. Aug. 31. They’ll get to 75 by Aug. 27. Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman still have a lot of work left to do as they whittle their roster down. The Inquirer’s Eagles beat reporters will spend the next two weeks predicting who stay and who goes. Here’s the lineup:

Wed, Aug. 14: Defensive linemen
Thur., Aug. 15: Offensive linemen
Fri., Aug. 16: Quarterbacks / Specialists
Mon., Aug. 19: Outside linebackers
Tues., Aug. 20: Running backs
Wed., Aug. 21: Inside linebackers
Thur., Aug. 22: Wide receivers
Fri., Aug. 23: Cornerbacks
Mon., Aug. 26: Tight ends
Tues., Aug. 27: Safeties



WHO STAYS: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Emmanuel Acho, Jake Knott

 The top two are entrenched starters, and they’re probably the strength of this defense. Ryans is as solid as a linebacker comes. There is legitimate concern about how he’ll play in the 3-4, but in terms of talent and intangibles, he’s a reliable player. You know he can tackle, you know he can understand a defense. He doesn’t think the move to a 3-4 will be a problem, and neither do the coaches. Time will tell.

 Kendricks is promising, and the Eagles believe he’ll make a major leap from Year No. 1 to Year No. 2. Coach Chip Kelly pointed out that he’s both the best coverage linebacker and pass-rush linebacker on the team, which is a big statement. It’s probably true. Look for Kendricks to make the play better in this scheme than last season. It will be interesting to see the snap counts for the linebackers this season.

There aren’t many positions in the new defense that one can identify as a strength, but Ryans and Kendricks could start on most NFL teams.

They cannot afford to get hurt, though, because there are major questions behind them. There are four linebackers (Acho, Knott, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney) likely competing for two spots. Maybe they keep three if one is designated for special teams. Two are roster holders, two are newcomers. It could go either way.  I’m going with the newcomers.

The reason I went with Acho and Knott is simple: I think the way they play has merited inclusion on the roster. Acho has been the third best inside linebacker throughout camp. He’s a good athlete who looks recovered from last year’s injury. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis knows him, which is a plus. Knott has also popped in camp – especially in the first game against the Patriots. Kelly noted how he’s always around the ball, which is a good compliment to play a middle linebacker.

Of course, these two spots will depend on special teams. So Dave Fipp will have much influence here.

WHO GOES: Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney

These are two players with six combined years of NFL experience, which should count – especially compared to two players who have not played in the NFL before. And I could see either one – or both – making the roster. That’s how close this seems. Matthews, who played for Kelly at Oregon, had a knee injury that kept him out one game. All missed time is valuable when one tries to make the roster. He played well on special teams in the first game, though, and maybe his experience and history with Kelly helps come cut-down day.

As for Chaney, he might be a scheme cut. I think he can be a starter in the NFL in the 4-3, and the team moved him around too often in his first three season to get comfortable. He’s fast and he can tackle. But in this defense, he just hasn’t jumped out. Maybe he will on Saturday. Right now, though, I have him on the outside looking in.

Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.