Omar Gaither knows the way things work with the Eagles’ linebackers. His next opportunity could come any day. For Akeem Jordan, that day was Sunday. Week 1
Starting LBs Under Reid:
1999: James Darling-Jeremiah Trotter-William Thomas
2000: Mike Caldwell-Jeremiah Trotter-Carlos Emmons
2001: Mike Caldwell-Jeremiah Trotter-Carlos Emmons (whoa, no change!)
2002: Shawn Barber-Levon Kirkland-Carlos Emmons
2003: Nate Wayne-Mark Simoneau-Carlos Emmons
2004: Keith Adams-Mark Simoneau-Dhani Jones
2005: Keith Adams-Mike Labinjo-Dhani Jones
2006: Matt McCoy-Jeremiah Trotter-Dhani Jones
2007: Chris Gocong-Omar Gaither-Takeo Spikes
2008: Omar Gaither-Stewart Bradley-Chris Gocong
2009: Akeem Jordan-Omar Gaither-Chris Gocong
It took just two days for ring-around-the-linebacker to get rolling again. Two days and a grand total of three practices.
Just when you think the Eagles finally have something settled at linebacker, the starting trio changes… and changes… and changes. Ergo the more things change, the more they stay the same. Whether it be injury, ineffectiveness or coach’s indecision, it’s always something. The only reason for optimism is that at least this time the Eagles are not pulling guys off the street to fill the starting lineup, which happened just last year!
The first-team linebackers were Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims and Moise Fokou when the Eagles veterans began practicing Friday. Less than 48 hours later, Bradley and Fokou were gone from the starting group — for vastly different reasons.
Bradley — the key to the unit’s success — is out with a hamstring spasm the team was adamantly terming “minor.” It is, however, the same right leg where Bradley needed his knee reconstructed around this time last year.
Fokou, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, was a coach’s decision. Even after the Eagles declared him the starting strongside linebacker (SAM) throughout the offseason, he was not working with the first team less than two days into camp. Fokou was informed of his demotion to the second team prior to Sunday morning’s practice.
Instead, Akeem Jordan, who has rarely played the position during his three professional seasons, was working with the ones at SAM.
“We’re just trying to find the best combination of the first three [linebackers],” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “Akeem is a good football player, he’s been productive for us over the years, so that’s why he’s in there.”
Jordan has played mostly middle and weakside linebacker throughout his career. Now he’s going to get his chance at strongside as the Eagles promised earlier this offseason. What is surprising is that it happened so soon.
“It really goes with the territory,” Sean McDermott said. “If you’ve been around sports long enough, this happens all the time. At the same time, it’s a challenge for Moise or the player in question to rise up and respond to the challenge.” McDermott insists the almost immediate demotion has nothing to do with Fokou’s performance during the first three practices of camp. The Eagles only had one practice with tackling prior to Sunday morning. Fokou, though, isn’t surprised. He saw first-hand last season how the merry-go-round spins with the Eagles’ linebackers.
“You don’t let it affect you. When you do, you’re going to be putting your mind on that and not focusing on the practice,” Fokou said. “They’re just doing a little shuffling to see what the best combination is.
“Tomorrow you don’t know what it’s going to be. It could be me back there, it could be [Omar Gaither] at SAM, you never know. All you can do is keep working hard and let things happen for you.” The free-for-all is likely to stretch well into camp and probably the regular season. At least this season the Eagles have serious depth at the position.
Jordan, a former starter, stepped in for Fokou on Sunday. Gaither, a former starter, stepped in for Bradley. Veteran Ernie Sims is the new weakside linebacker (WILL) and two speedy rookies with potential (fourth-rounder Keenan Clayton and seventh-rounder Jamar Chaney) wait in the wings.
Bradley and Gaither suffered season-ending injuries early last year and Sims, Clayton and Chaney were not on the roster. That left the Eagles recalling Jeremiah Trotter from the business world, using veteran special teamer Tracy White as a nickel linebacker and shifting Jordan from position to position in between injuries. Gaither’s versatility was sorely missed in 2009. He has proven to be a competent starter at middle and weakside linebacker throughout his career. As long as he can get on the field, he’s willing to play anywhere.
“Right now, to be honest with you, I just want to get out, get my foot broken back in and just play,” Gaither said. “But obviously i want to be a MIKE. I made that clear. I’ve enjoyed my most success there. But obviously Stew’s got that pretty entrenched. Still, I’m going to compete and let the best man win.”
The best man at each of the linebacker positions might be the one who is healthy when the season starts. Or the one who impresses the coaches the week before the regular-season opener. It’s clear the Eagles aren’t afraid to switch linebackers anyplace or anytime. That’s especially true in Lehigh.
“In camp, the point is to win the job, so that’s what we’re doing,” Jordan said. “We’re going to compete, see who wins at every position.”
Before they’re done, the merry-go-round is likely to make a few more rotations.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org