Eagles Linebackers Young, Not Necessarily Bad

Eagles Linebackers Young, Not Necessarily Bad

Such an obvious,
yet important distinction. There is understandably going to be some
concern when the most tenured starter at linebacker is only entering his
third season, and a rookie is penciled in at the middle. Take two
minutes to look around the league, heck, just a glance at the NFC East,
and you will find this is not typical of how most teams operate.

But
since the Eagles are the franchise in this predicament, it's worth
stating that while they are an inexperienced bunch, and lack any clear
cut stars or even players who are on the brink of such recognition, that
doesn't mean it's a terrible group. In fact, it doesn't even mean they
will automatically be a weakness once the games begin.

One of
life's great cliches is people fear the unknown, and in this case it's
true. While most fans are still celebrating this summer's great free
agent haul, the most cynical are quick to point out this club has "no
linebackers."

No linebackers... imagine that. Juan Castillo's
defensive strategy is suddenly very clear: four linemen, seven defensive
backs. Because he's an offensive line coach!

The matter is
further complicated by the fact that linebacker has become something of a
perennial weakness for the Birds. First the outside positions fell into
disrepair as capable performers such as Carlos Emmons and Shawn Barber
departed, and over the last few seasons, the production in the middle
has started to slip along with Jeremiah Trotter's ability. Some of that
is injuries or time taking its toll, and some of that is the front
office "doesn't value" linebackers.

Yes, that hollow complaint is
accurate to a degree, particularly on the outside. Then again, outside
linebackers in 4-3 defenses are fairly interchangeable around the NFL,
with standout players being in exceptionally short supply.

Whether
the Eagles are right or wrong about the value of linebackers still
misses the point though. What nobody seems to be talking about, or
apparently believe, is the group they have here now has the potential to
develop into a unit of strength.

Is Casey Matthews going to take
his lumps as a rookie starter in the middle? Absolutely. Is he going to
fall flat on his face? That possibility exists, but I would bank on the
Matthews bloodlines producing an acceptable pro at least. Before we
know it, he could become so much more than that, perhaps that
all-important anchor in the heart of the defense.

Will Jamar
Chaney have to make some adjustments in his move to strongside? Of
course. Will he be a disaster out there? Doubtful. In his albeit limited
playing time last season, Chaney showed both the instinct and
athleticism to play at this level. There will be a learning curve, but
he shouldn't suddenly be inept because he slid over one spot.

And
is Moise Fokou the answer on the weakside? Who knows. Is he their only
option? Not at all. The Eagles also have Keenan Clayton, a fourth round
pick out of Oklahoma last season, who can compete for, and perhaps win
that job. Akeem Jordan was also retained, giving the unit a veteran
option if all else fails.

I'm well aware of my reputation as
something of a homer, and I admittedly and frequently take the team's
side on issues some people would deem indefensible. That said, I'm not
here to promise you it will all work out according to some grand plan,
and you should just take my word for it that they will be great.

But I also don't think the situation is quite as grim as it's being painted.

We've
already gotten a taste of what Chaney brings to the table, and it was
enough that the Eagles refused to rush Stewart Bradley back from injury
for the playoffs last season, much less sign him to a contract extension
two weeks ago. Matthews and Clayton were both fourth round picks, which
doesn't assure a starting caliber player, but these are guys other
teams coveted in the past two drafts. And Fokou and Jordan aren't studs,
but you can't have stars at every position, sadly.

My motto for
this group, if nothing else, would be simply give them a shot. They are
surrounded by Pro Bowl talent on the defensive line and secondary. They
are young, athletic, and full of promise. In fact, their only definitive
weakness at all is their collective inexperience, and that alone
doesn't make them bad.

As always, the proof will be there on
Sundays. Until then, I'm not going to fear the unknown. I'll be the guy
hoping for the best.

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

For the most part, Carson Wentz had a pretty successful rookie season. 

Sure, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record, but Wentz did enough to continue the franchise's belief that he is indeed the quarterback of the future. 

Another guy in Dallas did the same thing with the Cowboys. Actually, Dak Prescott had an even more impressive rookie season, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins, while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, had a great year, but didn't try to do too much. And that's what impressed Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the most. 

"[Prescott] understood this right away, that he didn't have to win the game for them," Pederson said on The Doomsday Podcast, hosted by Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. (Pederson also talked about running the Rocky steps). "He knew that he had a good defense, a tremendous offensive line, a great runner, he had some veteran players that he could rely on and he learned that early. As soon as he had the opportunity to play and that was early, from Day 1. 

"That's something that a young quarterback, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out the game that way. That's the impressive thing, that he learned how to handle that business that well, utilize the people around him and understand that he didn't have to go win the game."

While Prescott had plenty of help during his rookie season, it was pretty evident Wentz was lacking in that area. 

Prescott had a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and others. Wentz had an offensive line that was missing Lane Johnson, an often-injured Ryan Mathews and receivers like Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham playing serious snaps. 

So it made sense when the team went out this offseason and signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and recently LeGarrette Blount, as free agents, finally getting Wentz some real help. 

"We had opportunities to get those two guys and it was obvious last year, we were young at the wide receiver position," Peterson said. "We needed some leadership, some veteran presence there and we went out and got that with Torrey and Alshon. We still want to build through the draft, we still want to acquire young talent. 

"LeGarrette Blount now is a guy that gives us that big back, running back, that can come in and compete and hopefully he does everything he did at New England the last couple of seasons. He had 18 rushing touchdowns for over 1,000 yards and we just expect that same level of performance here."

Maybe having weapons will allow Wentz to do what made Prescott so impressive to Pederson in 2016: not too much. 

Tonight's lineup: Michael Saunders dropped to eighth in order

Tonight's lineup: Michael Saunders dropped to eighth in order

Pete Mackanin is still searching for answers to the Phillies' offensive woes following Sunday afternoon's disheartening 1-0 loss in Pittsburgh during which the Phils could only muster three hits.

The latest lineup twist as the search for an answer continues will see Michael Saunders bat in the eight-hole tonight as the Phils open a four-game series with the surging Rockies tonight at Citizens Bank Park (see game notes).

When he has started this season, Saunders has been a fixture within the middle of the Phillies' order. After all, the offseason free-agent signing was an All-Star for Toronto last season when he hit 24 homers and drove in 57 runs.

But this season hasn't gone as planned as Saunders is hitting just .232 with four homers and 15 RBI in 41 games with the Phils this season.

With Saunders' drop down the lineup, Tommy Joseph will bat fourth, Maikel Franco fifth and Odubel Herrera sixth against Rockies spot starter Jeff Hoffman.

Tonight's full lineups can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Aaron Altherr LF
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Maikel Franco 3B
6. Odubel Herrera CF
7. Cameron Rupp C
8. Michael Saunders RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff SP

Rockies
1. Charlie Blackmon CF
2. D.J. LeMehiau 2B
3. Nolan Arenado 3B
4. Carlos Gonzalez RF
5. Mark  Reynolds 1B
6. Gerardo Parra LF
7. Alexi Amarista SS
8. Tony Wolters C
9. Jeff Hoffman SP