Linebackers: Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims, Moise Fokou, Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan, Joe Mays, Alex Hall, Jamar Chaney (R), Keenan Clayton (R), Simoni Lawence (R)
There is one question when addressing the linebacker core…will Stewart Bradley be the Stewart Bradley that Eagles fans are hoping for? He was sidelined all of 2009 with a torn ACL and was expected to be the leader on a highly anticipated defense. Instead the defense finished the year ranked 19th in total points allowed (21.1 per game), 12th in yards given up (321 per game), and couldn’t tackle a person for the life of them. All reports indicate that Bradley is back to his old form, so let’s just hope he doesn’t partake in this years’ Flight Night. If for some reason Bradley is not in full form, his projected backup is Omar Gaither. He spent a majority of last season battling injuries and getting playing time shuffling between middle and outside linebacker.
In one of their biggest offseason acquisitions, the Eagles signed former Detroit Lion Ernie Sims. He was the captain of the defense and recorded 100+ tackles during his first three seasons with the Lions. Sims is expected to be the favorite for the weakside linebacker position. Behind him on the depth charts is Akeem Jordan, who continues to improve each season. He was third on the team in tackles last year and also grabbed two interceptions, becoming the first Eagles linebacker with two interceptions since Ike Reese in 2004.
Finally, the most talked about linebacker position is at the strong side. Everything I have read indicates that Moise Fokou is the leading candidate for the job after his success at the position to close out the 2009 season. He was mostly used on special teams but filled in for Chris Gocong while he was injured. The main reason why Fokou is probably the favorite is because two rookies sit behind him on the depth chart—Keenan Clayton and Ricky Sapp. Clayton is recognized for his speed and coverage skills, which makes sense considering he started his college career at safety. Similarly, Sapp was a sprinter in high school and will most likely be used in nickel formations at defensive end or linebacker as a speed rusher or “joker”/hybrid position.
Even though there are three clear favorites for the starting positions, don’t be surprised if there is a lot of swapping at Lehigh. Reid and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott love to shuffle around their linemen and linebackers depending on defensive matchups and to throw off opposing quarterbacks.
Cornerbacks: Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Joselio Hanson, Macho Harris, Trevard Lindley (R), Dmitri Patterson, David Pender (R), Geoff Pope
Everyone agrees that the cornerback position is the biggest question mark heading into training camp. More specifically, who will fill the role of Sheldon Brown? Clearly Asante Samuel is the Eagles top cornerback, but Sheldon Brown was the most consistent player in the secondary last season and he will be very tough to replace. Many people believe that Ellis Hobbs has the advantage despite still rehabbing neck and back problems that could keep him sidelines for some of training camp. The Eagles only drafted one substantial cornerback in Trevard Lindley, who doesn’t seem to have the talent to start come opening day.
The main position battle is going to be between Hobbs, Joselio Hanson and Macho Harris. Hobbs’ injury really concerns me because it is to his neck (anterior cervical decompression and fusion for a herniated disk to be exact) and he plays a physical position (not to mention he gets beat up as the Eagles kick returner too). Hanson finished the season with two interceptions despite really only playing in nickel formations. Harris spent all of last season at free safety, but played cornerback in college and will most likely see action at corner considering how thin the depth chart is right now.
There is no definite player (other than Samuel) that the Eagles can rely on at this point during the season. However, changes need to be made during training camp so that the Eagles secondary can avoid allowing 27 passing touchdowns and ranking 17th in pass defense like they did in 2009.
Safeties: Quintin Mikell, Quintin Demps, Nate Allen (R), Macho Harris, Kurt Coleman (R), Ryan Hamilton (R), Brett Johnson (R)
Quintin Mikell is coming off a Pro-Bowl caliber season where he led the team in tackles (122) and had two interceptions. He is definitely a lock again to start at strong safety in his eight season, but the Eagles are still hoping that he continues to breakout and be the “Brian Dawkins-like” safety they were hoping for.
The guy with the most pressure starting Monday is Nate Allen, the Eagles second round draft pick from South Florida. Often regarded as the “Donovan McNabb pick” since he was the Redskins second round pick, Allen is already listed as the starting free safety on the depth charts. He finished his collegiate tenure with 224 tackles, nine interceptions, and four defensive touchdowns. Reid and McDermott believe that he has what it takes to start as a rookie and have been working hard with him to learn the playbook before the regular season.
Similar to the rest of the secondary, there are a lot of questions still lingering behind the projected starters. Kurt Coleman, Ryan Hamilton, and Brett Johnson are all rookies and have nothing to prove other than their collegiate statistics. Quintin Demps, who has been with the Eagles for the last few seasons, has been a huge bust and failed on several attempts to contribute to the starting defense.
Now we sit back, somewhat relax and watch as the 2010 Eagles training camp unfolds…hopefully with limited or no injuries.