In a five-part series from Monday to Friday, Eagles insider Geoff Mosher and columnist Reuben Frank preview five Eagles flying “under the radar” as the team heads into training camp and the 2014 season. These unsung Eagles have a chance to make a bigger impact this season than people may expect.
Position: Outside linebacker
Height/weight: 6-4, 255
Acquired: Rookie free agent (2013)
Long, who didn’t sign until the Eagles had already started training camp, still managed to make the practice squad. He probably would have been drafted if not for a torn ACL in the penultimate game of his senior season at Washington State. He had recorded 9½ sacks that season and was named All Pac-12 honorable mention. For his four-year career, Long racked up 201 tackles and 20½ sacks.
This is a strange case of a guy who either won’t make the team or will steadily carve out some kind of role in the pass rush. At the end of last year several Eagles, including DeMeco Ryans, touted Long as someone to watch out for in 2014. He’s got a high motor, has experience playing the 3-4 defense and was known in college as a legit pass rusher, which makes him less of a long shot than most guys who sign as rookie free agents. Problem is, Long could be a victim of numbers. The Eagles used a first-round pick on outside linebacker Marcus Smith, signed free agent Bryan Braman and bring back Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. Unless Chip Kelly wants to keep six outside linebackers, he’ll have to make a difficult release to clear room for Long on the 53-man roster. It took Long a few months last year to have get his knee fully right and learn the defense, but once he was 100 percent and comfortable, he made an immediate impression. It helps that he played in the Pac 12 and had 4½ tackles for a loss in his career against Oregon. I’m thinking somehow, someway he makes the team and becomes more of a known name late in the season.
Generating pass pressure has been a problem for the Eagles for a while now, under a couple head coaches and a bunch of defensive coordinators. The only guys to record more than eight sacks in a season for the Eagles over the past decade have been Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Juqua Thomas and Darren Howard. The only Eagles under the age of 28 to record more than eight sacks in a season in the last 20 years are Cole, Corey Simon, Mike Mamula and Andy Harmon. Wow. Few things can change the course of a football game like a big hit on the quarterback, maybe a sack and a fumble, maybe shake up the QB. Obviously, it’s not easy to find capable pass rushers, so a guy like Long -- productive in a big-time college conference before a severe injury -- is going to get a long look this summer. Where will he fit on the roster? Look at it this way: If he proves in training camp and the preseason games that he can get to the quarterback, Kelly and Howie Roseman will make room for him.