Eagles mailbag: Breaking down linebackers going into training camp

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Eagles mailbag: Breaking down linebackers going into training camp originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

We answered your first bunch of questions to begin the weekend, but there are plenty more to go.

Let’s not waste any time:

Well, let’s go ahead and give one of those spots to Haason Reddick. While he’s really a pass rusher and not an off-ball linebacker, he’s going to be listed as a starting linebacker. But now let’s get to the meat of the matter. Because the two off-ball linebacker spots are tougher to figure out.

For now, here’s my best guess at the Week 1 starters:

MIKE: T.J. Edwards

WILL: Nakobe Dean

That would leave free agent pickup Kyzir White and former third-round pick Davion Taylor on the bench. But I expect some sort of rotation at the linebacker spot. A lot of this hinges on the health and readiness of Dean. I’m very bullish on the Eagles’ third-round pick and think he has the potential to be the steal of the draft.

Because of my confidence in Dean, it will allow the Eagles to mix and match their linebackers. On primarily run downs, the Eagles can use Edwards in the middle and Dean on the weak side. But on clearer passing downs, Dean can take over as the middle linebacker and then Jonathan Gannon can use White or Taylor as the WILL.

Now, I understand this is a lot to put on the plate of a rookie. In this scenario, we’re asking Dean to play the most snaps of all the linebackers, to play multiple positions and to wear the green dot on his helmet. Maybe that’s a bit ambitious. Because of that, Gannon might let him grow into that role. But I have a hunch Dean will be ready for that pretty soon.

The nice thing here is that the Eagles finally have a decent group of linebackers.

It definitely feels like Taylor is the forgotten guy in this group. Edwards played so well last year and then the Eagles added White and Dean this offseason. It was a shame that Taylor got hurt last season and wasn’t able to return. Because he really could have used all those game reps he lost. When the Eagles drafted him in the third round back in 2020, they knew he was raw. After barely playing as a rookie, he was expected to be a starter for the second half of the 2021 season before he got hurt.

Taylor will be on the roster in 2022 and while his role will likely be reduced from what it was before his injury last year, it’s a product of the depth at the position, not the Eagles’ feelings on him. And even though I penciled in White as the WILL on passing downs in the question above, Taylor should have an opportunity to wrestle away snaps. Because Taylor is super athletic and packs a solid punch for a guy know for his athleticism. I’m still intrigued by him.

The Eagles really like Tyree Jackson. He wasn’t the reason they traded Zach Ertz but one of the byproducts was the chance to see Jackson play more as their tight tight end as he came back from a back fracture in training camp. But unfortunately Jackson tore his ACL in Week 18. So he’s going to start training camp on the PUP list and there’s a good chance he’ll start the season on PUP too. That will buy the Eagles some time to figure out what to do with him. A lot of that will depend on the play of Jack Stoll and Grant Calcaterra ahead of him.

Sure, having a talented offensive line makes running backs look better. But I’m not sure the Eagles have been complacent. They used a second-round pick on Miles Sanders in 2019 and a fifth-rounder on Kenny Gainwell last year. If you think they’re being complacent by not sinking more significant assets into the position, I’d argue that’s just smart. If you have a team deciding on allocating resources for their OL or their RBs, they should almost always lean toward the OL.

You mean there aren’t a bunch of 6-8, 380-pound dudes walking around? How about this: Get Dwayne Johnson to play Mailata and then just hire smaller actors to play literally every other character in the movie. Because maybe The Rock isn’t as big as Mailata, but he’d look that big if Kevin Hart signs on to play Jalen Hurts.

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