Chris McCoy, Emmanuel Acho and Jake Knott combined for 22 tackles and three sacks in the Eagles' preseason finale vs. the Jets. (USA Today Images)
The way things have been around here lately, it’s a miracle to have one promising young linebacker trying to make the team.
The Eagles have three.
Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho and Chris McCoy all showed Thursday night at the Meadowlands why they’re making the Eagles’ roster decisions at linebacker interesting ones.
Knott, an undrafted rookie free agent inside linebacker from Iowa State; Acho, a first-year inside linebacker originally drafted last year in the sixth round by the Browns; and McCoy, a former seventh-round pick of the Dolphins, were among the best players on the field Thursday, when the Eagles finished the preseason with a 27-20 loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
“Those guys, they’re all around the ball, just running to the ball, causing things to happen, making plays,” veteran starter DeMeco Ryans said.
“I feel like they did a good job. It’s definitely good to see. Those guys are quality players and can help us out.”
With the exception of Ryans and Trent Cole, the Eagles are young across the board at linebacker, a position that’s been a wreck in Philly for years. Mychal Kendricks is 22, Brandon Graham is 25 and even Connor Barwin is only 26.
As for the backups, let’s start with Acho, acquired from the Browns in the offseason trade that sent running back Dion Lewis to Cleveland.
He’s pretty much locked up a roster spot with his consistently productive play throughout the preseason. Acho led the Eagles with 11 tackles Thursday night along with a sack and forced fumble, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss.
Acho was the Eagles’ leading tackler in three of four preseason games, although he said he was disappointed with his 11 tackles against the Jets.
“I wanted 12 to 15,” he said with a laugh. “But definitely satisfied with the overall performance, the sack, the forced fumble. The team needs big plays, that’s what they’re looking for out of the defense, and those are the big plays that need to be made.”
Final cuts from 75 to the regular-season limit of 53 must be made by 6 p.m. Saturday, although the Eagles are expected to make many of them on Friday afternoon.
The Eagles are carrying 12 linebackers and will likely keep eight, so four guys will get bad news on Friday or Saturday.
All of which was on Acho’s mind up at the Meadowlands Thursday night.
“Go out there and leave a lasting impression,” he said. “It’s the final preseason game. Some people think, ‘Oh, there’s not a lot on the line, the coaches already have their minds made up.’ But for me, go out there and leave a lasting impression and prove I can start in this league, if not now then sometime down the road.
“Prove I belong in the NFL and also prove that I belong on the roster.”
Acho spent last year on Injured Reserve with the Browns, where his head coach was current Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and his linebackers coach was current Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
Whatever they saw in him before he got hurt, they’re seeing it even more this summer.
“You try to leave it all out there,” Acho said. “Four preseason games, I feel like I got better each one, statistically I got better each one, so it’s just a matter of hopefully the coaches, the general manager and the scouts take note of it.”
Knott has been just as good as Acho, and the two have developed a nice rapport playing together as the inside linebackers on the Eagles’ second-team 3-4 defense.
“I feel like we communicate really well out there,” Knott said. “We practice together, we play together a lot, and it’s starting to form a chemistry out there. We start to talk right before the play happens about what’s going to be coming, little tips, I think it goes a long way in helping us make plays.”
Knott at this point is a lock to make the roster. The release of Jamar Chaney made that clear. The Eagles are expected to keep four inside linebackers, and Casey Matthews will likely be the odd man out.
But Knott said he won’t sleep easy until he returns to the NovaCare Complex next week after final cuts are history.
“You never know,” he said. “I’ll just wait and see and pray that it all ends up good for me. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than here. It’d be awesome if I made it.
“I’ve shown the good and the bad. I haven’t been perfect but nobody is, really. I hope I’ve shown them enough. I know I can still improve and I can improve every single day, and I hope they know that as well.”
As for McCoy, he’s older and more experienced than Knott and Acho and he’s an outside linebacker, but he too opened a lot of eyes Thursday night.
He sacked Jets starting quarterback Matt Simms on the second play of the game and then sacked him again later in the first quarter, forcing a fumble that the Jets recovered. He also dropped a sure pick-six on the first play of the game.
“I did a good job,” McCoy said after the game Thursday night. “Could have done better but for the most part I did a good job. I did everything I could do and we’ll see what happens.”
McCoy, 26, has bounced around since the Dolphins made him a seventh-round pick in 2010. He spent two years in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders and has also been on the practice squads of the Seahawks, Texans and Dolphins.
But he’s never made an NFL roster and will find out this weekend if that will finally change.
There are currently seven outside linebackers on the roster, with Cole, Barwin and Graham locks and McCoy, Everette Brown, Travis Long and Adrian Robinson also in the mix and probably battling for one spot.
Brown, the former second-round pick of the Panthers, had a big game as well Thursday night, with two sacks and a forced fumble, and may have worked his way back in the picture.
For all of them, all they can do now is wait.
“You’re sitting there waiting, man, you don’t really know,” McCoy said. “But I did everything I could do in my control, and that’s all I could do.”