The Eagles still do not have the full inside linebacker combination they envisioned when the season started, but the news is getting better about Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso.
Kendricks was a full participant in practice Wednesday and is on track to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Alonso is in Florida rehabbing his left knee injury. He had arthroscopic surgery and is expected to return in about a month, according to a league source. That would mean Alonso does not need surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament, which would have cost him the season.
Coach Chip Kelly said before practice that Alonso would return to Philadelphia on Friday. Kelly said he did not know about Alonso's surgery when he was asked about it.
The Eagles will keep a three-man rotation even before Alonso returns. If Kendricks is healthy enough, the team will combine him with veteran DeMeco Ryans and rookie Jordan Hicks.
"We'll still have a rotation with the healthy bodies that are in there and try to balance it out," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "So a little bit of what their pitch count is [is based] on what the opponent does."
The key is getting Kendricks healthy. In the season opener, Kendricks played every defensive snap. He injured his hamstring at the end of the first half of the Eagles' Week 2 loss to the Cowboys.
"I think with an injury that Mychal had, that it's a progression thing: How does he progress during the weeks?" Kelly said. "We are [encouraged] where he is now."
Kendricks said he'll need to see how his body feels later in the week to know whether he will play, but his full participation in practice a good indicator. The adjustment is getting used to a game after one week off.
"It's just coming off a week of not playing and having to get back into the flow of the game, possibly my wind, but I don't think that's an issue because I'm in great shape," Kendricks said. "One week off, it's not really going to tamper with me too much. It's not like I missed five games and it's like 'Oh, [shoot], I need to get back mentally, physically into the game.' I'm right here."
The Eagles can use Kendricks on all downs, with Ryans playing on base downs and Hicks in sub packages. There's a lot of confidence in Hicks among teammates and coaches. The third-round draft pick played every snap with Kendricks and Alonso sidelined last week and finished with 10 tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
"I really feel like he's better than I was when I was a rookie," Kendricks said.
Ryans said he doesn't see why Hicks wouldn't join a linebacker rotation. In the last two seasons, the Eagles have mostly stuck to Ryans and Kendricks as the inside linebackers.
"He's earned the right to step into the rotation," Ryans said.
But the Eagles envisioned Ryans, Alonso, and Kendricks to be the rotation this year. Ryans' playing time was supposed to be managed while he returned from an Achilles injury, but he played 71 percent of the defensive snaps in the last two weeks because the Eagles were undermanned.
When Kendricks returns, the Eagles can get back to a three-man rotation. And if Alonso returns in a month, the Eagles would have their original group together for the first time since the first half of Week 2.
It's not what the Eagles expected at the beginning of the season, but it's better than what they dealt with last week and what could have been if Alonso required season-ending surgery.
"Injuries happen, but you've just got to bounce back from them," Kendricks said. "Getting to the ebbs and flows of the game, that's all going to be predicated based on who's in there. But like Jordan Hicks did, we have people who could step up."