Examining Eagles' LB depth after Kendricks cut, Worrilow injury

Examining Eagles' LB depth after Kendricks cut, Worrilow injury

One day into their organized team activities and the Eagles are already down two linebackers. 

It’s unclear how the timing of it all went, if Paul Worrilow went down (see story) before or after the Eagles told Mychal Kendricks they were cutting him (see story). But it doesn’t really matter anymore. The Eagles entered Tuesday with 10 linebackers and they left with eight. Not only did they release Kendricks, who was (sort of) a starter, they also lost a veteran depth piece. 

At least we know the top two linebackers are set. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham are the two true starters because the Eagles are in their nickel package for about 75 percent of their defensive snaps. 

The releasing of Kendricks, more than anything, might mean the Eagles are very encouraged by the progress of Hicks as he recovers from a torn Achilles. Kendricks’ playing time increased only when Hicks went down in 2017. Bradham’s role increased then too. 

So for now, we know Hicks is at the MIKE, Bradham is at the SAM and … after that? 

Here’s a look at the Eagles’ linebacker depth as it stands now: 

Corey Nelson
Age: 26

When Nelson signed a one-year, $1.6 million contract in March, he said he was told he’d be competing for the starting weakside linebacker position. At the time, that comment rose eyebrows because the WILL was Kendricks’ job (see story). Now, that obviously makes more sense. 

Nelson was a seventh-round draft pick in 2014 but has been a special teamer since entering the league. He viewed coming to the Eagles as an opportunity to show that he can be a defensive force as well. 

Nelson is coming off a torn biceps injury that ended his 2017 season early but was on the practice field for OTAs Tuesday. 

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Age: 24

In his two seasons with the Eagles, Grugier-Hill hasn’t played much on defense but he has become one of their best special teams players and had a real case to make the Pro Bowl in 2017, even if he didn’t fill in as a kickoff guy early in the season. 

During Tuesday’s OTAs, Grugier-Hill was lined up with the starters but that was without Kendricks and with Hicks still not participating in team drills. Last season, Grugier-Hill played just 85 defensive snaps and 53 of them came in the meaningless regular-season finale. 

Nate Gerry 
Age: 23

The Eagles seem to like Gerry, who was a fifth-round pick out of Nebraska last year, but he’s still a work in progress. Listed at 218 pounds, he’s one of the Eagles’ lightest linebackers and he’s converting from playing safety in college. In fact, that hybrid quality is something that drew the Eagles to Gerry. 

Like Grugier-Hill, Gerry got some run with the first team Tuesday but didn’t see much defensive action as a rookie, playing just 20 total defensive snaps. But he did have a role on special teams and it doesn’t seem like the Eagles are opposed to extending that. 

Joe Walker 
Age: 25

The Eagles used a seventh-round pick on Walker when he came out of Oregon in 2016, but the former Duck suffered an ACL tear that ruined a really good training camp. Walker returned last season but was buried a little on the depth chart. He played in 12 games and got 99 defensive snaps before the Eagles decided to use Dannell Ellerbe heading into the playoffs. 

Then, to make matters worse, Walker landed on IR with a neck injury to end his 2017 season early. There’s some promise there, but Walker has had difficulty staying healthy. He didn’t practice Tuesday. 

LaRoy Reynolds
Age: 27

Reynolds was just added last week, so we haven’t seen much of him so far. But he’s been in the league since 2013, playing for the Jaguars, Bears and for the Falcons in the last two seasons. With Atlanta, he played in 25 games with three starts. He began the 2017 season on IR with a pec injury but was able to play some down the stretch. Like Worrilow, Reynolds played in Super Bowl LI with Atlanta. 

Asantay Brown 
Age: 23

Brown is an undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan. The 6-0, 215-pound linebacker is the lightest listed on the Eagles’ roster. He has a history at safety, having played that position his first two seasons at Western Michigan before moving to linebacker. 

Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Every conversation we’ve had about Josh Adams this offseason, every podcast, every roster projection, every Twitter discussion, has come to the same conclusion.

“Oh, he's not going to make the team.”

It’s an understandable opinion.

The Eagles’ backfield is crowded. Corey Clement is back, Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard have been added, Boston Scott had an impressive summer. Wendell Smallwood always seems to find a way to stick around. One-time fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey is still here.

And Adams? Because his production dropped late in the season and then he was the forgotten man in the postseason, playing just one combined snap against the Bears and Saints, we’ve all just kind of assumed he’s gone.

And maybe he is.

But let’s take a minute to take a fresh look at Adams.

There was a stretch in the middle of last season when he was actually one of the more productive running backs in the league.

From Week 7 through Week 14, a span of seven games, Adams averaged 5.1 yards per carry, seventh-best among all running backs in the league who had at least 75 carries during that stretch.

Look at this stretch from the Jaguars game in London through the overtime loss to the Cowboys in Dallas:

9-for-61, 6.8 at Jaguars
7-for-47, 6.7 vs. Cowboys
7-for-53, 7.6 at Saints
22-for-84, 3.8, vs. Giants
20-for-85, 4.3 vs. Redskins
7-for-36, 5.1 at Cowboys

That’s solid, consistent production, especially for an undrafted rookie who began the year on the practice squad.

Here’s one thing I really liked about Adams: He was always good for at least one long run per game. During the seven-week stretch from the Jaguars game through the first Redskins game, he ripped off six runs of 18 yards or longer, and during that period, only Saquon Barkley (8) and Joe Mixon (7) had more in the entire NFL.

Now at some point late in the season, Adams hurt his shoulder seriously enough that he needed post-season surgery to repair a torn labrum.

It’s not clear when Adams got hurt, but he kept playing, and the injury would certainly help explain the late-season drop in production.

Adams averaged just 2.7 yards per carry the last three weeks of the regular season and then got that one postseason snap, a two-yard carry against the Bears.

But when evaluating Adams and his possible future as an Eagle, we have to take the injury into consideration.

Adams did enough during that two-month stretch in the middle of the season to at least warrant an honest look this summer.

Even starting the season on the practice squad, getting just 11 carries the first seven weeks of the season and then getting hurt, Adams still led the Eagles in rushing and became the 20th undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 500 yards, three or more TDs and an average of 4.3 yards per-carry or higher.

When you step back and look at his season, he was pretty darn good in all but the two December games against the Rams, the NFC champs, and the Texans, who had the No. 3 rush defense in the NFL.

Obviously, Sanders and Howard project to be the heart of the running attack. A healthy Clement can catch, run, block and play special teams. Smallwood and Scott can both run, catch and return.

Adams is limited. He isn’t a polished receiver — he caught just seven passes last year — and he plays very little on special teams — just 48 snaps as a rookie, only two in the last six games.

That puts him at a disadvantage from the start. So for him to win a spot on the 53 the Warrington native and former Notre Dame star has to have a healthy training camp and show exceptional production as a runner.

The odds are against him. But Adams is 22, he was the Eagles’ leading rusher last year, and undrafted rookies don’t have an eight-game stretch averaging 5.1 yards per carry by accident.

If we got rid of every rookie running back who had two mediocre games at the end of a productive season there wouldn’t be any running backs left.

Adams is talented. It’s tough to say where he fits in, but it’s way too early to say he doesn’t.

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More on the Eagles

Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive end?

AP Images/Winslow Townson

Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive end?

It was out with the old, and in with some more of the old for the Eagles at defensive end this offseason. Will the returning players make the unit better or worse in 2019?

Key additions: Vinny Curry (free agent, Buccaneers), Shareef Miller (draft, fourth round) 
Key departures: Michael Bennett (trade, Patriots), Chris Long (retired)

Why they could be better: Derek Barnett’s potential

Barnett had a nice rookie season with 6.0 sacks, including playoffs, and finished fourth on the club with eight tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits, all while playing only 41 percent of the snaps. It was looking like he could take the next step in 2018, too, with 2.5 sacks four games into the campaign — until a shoulder injury struck. Then it was a matter of weeks before he wound up on the injured reserve list. Up to that point, it looked like the former 14th-overall draft pick was very much on the verge of a breakout season.

There’s really no reason that can’t still be the case. At least, nobody ever expects a shoulder injury to derail a defensive end’s career. The Eagles are likely penciling him in for the starting job on the opposite end from Brandon Graham, and why not? As long as he’s healthy, Barnett’s body of work thus far suggests he’s on his way to enjoying a successful NFL career.

Why they could be worse: Michael Bennett’s proven production

One can assume the real reason the Eagles’decided to part ways with Bennett was over something (or things) behind the scenes. It wasn’t the return — a fifth-round pick for Bennett and a seventh. It wasn’t the contract, because the Patriots only wound up giving him an additional $1.25 million in base salary and no new years. And it sure as hell wasn’t production, because the three-time Pro Bowler was the Eagles’ most disruptive pass-rusher off the edge by a wide margin.

Bennett finished with 10.0 sacks last season, including playoffs, and it should’ve been 12.0 except for two blatantly incorrect roughing penalties. He also ranked fourth in the entire NFL with 30 quarterback hits, and narrowly finished outside the top-10 with 15 tackles for loss. Granted, Bennett turns 34 in November, and it’s possible his personality simply wasn’t a fit here. Regardless, the numbers speak for themselves.

The X-factor: Brandon Graham’s inevitable decline

Everybody loves BG. The sack totals haven’t always been there, save for the 9.5 he registered in 2017 — plus one pivotal strip sack in the Super Bowl — but he was always more productive than traditional counting stats indicated. Graham is 31 now, though, and last year was his least effective rushing the passer in a long time. His 4.0 regular season sacks and 1 forced fumble were his lowest since 2013, and this wasn’t merely a matter of racking up a bunch of Mamulas, either, as he landed just 11 quarterback hits.

Fortunately for the Eagles, who just signed Graham to a new three-year deal worth $40 million in the offseason, there are reasons to believe he could bounce back. First, he was coming off of offseason ankle surgery and only rejoined the team in mid-August. Second, he was still stout against the run. Third, Graham showed signs of life in the playoffs with 1.5 sacks and a strip. So, was his down season a matter of circumstance, or is this the new BG?

Are the Eagles’ defensive ends better or worse?

If he’s 100 percent, Barnett has the ability to blossom into a star. He was well on his way last season. Yet, the Eagles are depending on him to replace Bennett’s production, re-signed Vinny Curry to replace retired Chris Long’s production, and Brandon Graham to stop aging so noticeably. It also wouldn’t hurt if one of Shareef Miller, Josh Sweat or Joe Ostman became a reliable fifth rusher. The Eagles got younger, and arguably more talented, but there are too many questions to say the ends are better on paper. 


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