Linebacker Shuffle: Bye-Bye Rolle Edition

The Eagles cut Brian Rolle this morning and replaced him with linebacker Adrian Moten. Tim McManus talked to Rolle, and got some interesting quotes:

“I felt like I didn’t get the chance. People saw how productive I was last year. Why I am I not in there this year?” he said.

Um, I hate to break it to you, but the Eagles gave you the starting job and you couldn't hold on to it. Also interesting what Rolle said about "there’s been tension the last couple weeks." Tough to say what that's about, but this move is almost certainly about the atrocious special teams play. Rolle was not doing a good enough impression of Akeem Jordan. Eagles linebackers should keep in mind that there are only two roster-worthy types at their position: potential starters and special teams standouts. Be neither at your own peril (looking at you, Casey).

Also, for what it's worth, Jamar Chaney got a big "Way to go" from Howie Roseman in the locker room after Sunday's game.

Breakout? Maybe in a Different Uniform

Continuing the theme of hyping up fringe linebackers, John Breitenbach called Keenan Clayton a breakout candidate today:

Clayton still has a ways to go if he wants to see any meaningful action on the Eagle's defense. Still he's shown improvement from year 1 to year 2 and if the same happens as we move into year 3, he could surprise some people. He's buried on the depth chart at the moment but one injury could give him the chance he needs. Clayton also tends to show up in pre-season games (as he did in his rookie year) and he should thrive against third stringers. The Oklahoma product at least deserves a chance to show what he can do in the nickel, where he has the potential to be better than the rest of the Eagles' linebackers.

My take: Clayton seems to be above average in coverage, which is why he was used almost exclusively in the dime packages (1 LB, 6 DBs) last year. But he's still just a tweener: too slow to be a safety, too small to be an every-down linebacker. If the Eagles believe that Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, and Brian Rolle have starting potential, Clayton will have to beat out Akeem Jordan for the special teams LB job just to make the team.

Where They Stop, Nobody Knows

Sheil Kapadia describes the latest movement in Linebacker Musical Chairs™. At least Ryans is back as a three-down player again:

When Juan Castillo asked for the first-team nickel defense, Chaney was the man called on to go in alongside DeMeco Ryans. Up until today, Brian Rolle had been occupying that spot at Lehigh. And in the spring, it was rookie Mychal Kendricks.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Chaney said, when I asked him if he expected to be part of that package for the next few days. “I just do what they tell me to do. Whether I’m out there with the twos or the ones, I just go out there and do my best. My job is just to make the decision hard on them.”

(Note that I resisted excerpting just the first part of Chaney’s quote.)

Disturbing Tackling Numbers for the Eagles LBs

Brian Rolle Tackling

In my recent linebacker review, I evaluated all the youngsters with a fairly skeptical eye. However, in discerning some difference between their various deficiencies, I noted what now seems to be patently false.

I said, “Brian Rolle is the opposite of Chaney, smaller but smarter and a better tackler to boot.” Well, the last part just isn’t true, according to the statistics provided by Pro Football Focus. Derek Sarley alerted me to this article by PFF from a year ago.

The stat they come up with is Total Attempts (sacks, tackles, assists, and missed tackles) per Missed Tackle. From 2008 to 2010, the top 15 linebackers in the NFL had more 20 or more attempts for every miss. Meanwhile, the bottom 15 qualifying linebackers registered fewer than 8.8 attempts per miss. Here are the numbers for returning Eagles:

Eagles Linebackers tackling stats

The thing that should stick out to you is Rolle’s atrocious number. According to PFF’s charters, he had a missed tackle once every five times he had the chance. None of the linebackers really have good results here, but Rolle’s is by far the worst. If he had qualified for PFF’s study last year, he would have been the single worst LB tackler in the league.

I was never that high on Rolle, given his limited upside. But apparently my eyes deceived me about his tackling. If he’s both small and a poor tackler, that makes him a real liability, and an underdog to retain his starting weakside role.

Chaney, Casey Matthews, and Moise Fokou were all pretty poor tacklers last year as well, and in truth their numbers above may actually underestimate the problem. At the risk of relying on my memory of last season again, Chaney’s problem was often that he failed to even get to the ball. That poor diagnosis and reaction wouldn’t factor in to this statistic, which just counts actual tackling attempts.

Still, we might be able to count on at least one of the youngsters to improve in 2012. Want a scarier statistic? Over the last three seasons, DeMeco “Savior” Ryans has a 9.3 attempts/missed tackle ratio. That’s no better than Chaney or Matthews.

Photo from Getty.

Small Fish in a Big Pond

Tommy Lawlor on UDFA Damaris Johnson:

Damaris is very quick and he has a good burst. He is able to gain initial separation. He just lacks the long speed you would ideally prefer. One thing I really like about him is that he plays fast. There is very little dancing and hesitation when Johnson gets the ball. That’s partly why he’s such a good KOR. He gets it and goes. That style of play actually makes him look faster than he is. One other thing about that…Johnson is able to make cuts at close to full speed. This is where his size is a benefit. He’s got good body control and is able to stop/start quickly and change directions on the move.

Damaris does look much faster on tape than his 40 time indicates — and he better be, considering his tiny stature. On a broader note, when was the last time the Eagles had so many potential contributors who were small in stature? I’m not sure anyone other than Barry Sanders did as much as Brian Westbrook at 5’8”, but this team has DeSean Jackson, Dion Lewis, and whoever emerges from the Johnson-Chad Hall roster battle. And that’s just on offense. Brian Rolle is one of the smallest linebackers in the NFL, and the slot corner competition is between two 5’9” players.

Notes on the Rest of the 2012 Eagles Draft

Vinny Curry Marshall Philadelphia Eagles

The NFL draft is now in the books, and by almost all accounts the Eagles did little to complain about. Here are my miscellaneous thoughts on what happened on days two and three:

  • Watch the Vinny Curry interviews, then watch them again and again. His Eagles fandom is clearly as raw as yours and mine, and it’s awesome to see the excitement one of us would undoubtedly have, had we the talent to end up playing for our hometown team.

  • Nick Foles, the big reach. There has been serious quarterback inflation in the last two drafts, something which will be the focus of my post tomorrow. Until then, just consider that Nick Foles was the seventh quarterback selected, at pick 88 overall. Mike Kafka was the fifth off the board in 2010, at pick 122. A round and a half earlier, for a worse quarterback? Maybe. (Also, I’m 95 percent convinced that Russell Wilson was the real target.)

  • The Eagles have drafted defensive players with 9 of their last 11 first, second, and third round picks. So far, the results have been atrocious. Let’s hope this last batch can turn things around.

  • After complaining in recent years that the Eagles had become too safe in the late rounds and undrafted free agency, I certainly can’t complain about the wave of longshot, troubled players the Eagles snagged this time around. I actually like the strategy, especially at running back, where the team took a major athlete with limited production and questionable work ethic (Bryce Brown) and a productive talent who was taken off seemingly everyone’s draft board due to injuries (Chris Polk). Especially at running back, which other than pass protection is relatively easy to pick up, one of these longshots could pay off. A veteran back up would still be nice, though.

  • There are some other interesting names on the UDFA list. Kentucky punter Ryan Tydlacka should give Chas Henry some much needed competition. Another long snapper is a shot across reliable Jon Dorenbos’s bow. And not one but two fullbacks means we’ll have a healthy fight for one of the most marginalized positions on the team.

  • Please direct all your “steal” or “reach” designations here.

  • Two things granted: Brandon Boykin had great college production and the slot corner role is becoming more and more important. That said, I’m a little hesitant about drafting a guy whose size has made every draft expert who has looked at him say, “what a great nickel back.” In some ways, this pick was the opposite of the Curtis Marsh selection last year, when the Eagles went for physicality over refined performance. It will be interesting to watch which pick turns out better for the Birds going forward.

  • There’s a lot riding on Mychal Kendricks being Andy Reid’s first successful second round linebacker — and the results need to show right away. Under no circumstance should more than one of last year’s linebackers start in 2012. Right now Brian Rolle has the inside track on keeping his weakside job, but Casey Matthews could push him there, after ending last season on a relative high note.

  • My draft predictions weren’t half bad, if I do say so myself.

Photo from Getty.

No, Seriously, Howie's Doing a Great Job

Chris McPherson, for the Eagles website:

The Eagles’ prolific run in free agency last offseason overshadowed the fact that the foundation for the team’s long-term success has been built in the past two NFL drafts.

Through aggressive maneuvering and clever moves, the Eagles have acquired eight starters in the past two drafts. None of the 2011 playoff teams in the NFC and only one playoff team in the entire league, the Denver Broncos, has drafted more starters in that timeframe…

Among the playoff teams this year, seven of them have first-round picks from the past two seasons that have yet to crack the starting lineup. The Eagles, overall, have drafted two starters on offense, five on defense and another on special teams in the past two years.

Those eight “starters” would be:

  • Brandon Graham — Not a starter, not healthy, not Jason Pierre-Paul.
  • Danny Watkins — Below average 27-year-old starter at right guard.
  • Jamar Chaney — Chaney is closer to the CFL than the Pro Bowl.
  • Brian Rolle — Better than Chaney, but shouldn’t be more than a 4th LB right now.
  • Kurt Coleman — Good backup, bad starter.
  • Jason Kelce — Promising young player, best rookie season of the bunch.
  • Nate Allen — Inconsistent, needs improvement to really own starting spot.
  • Alex Henery — He’s fine, but he’s also a kicker.

And yet, surprisingly, the Eagles are not in the playoffs. There’s a disconnect somewhere, I just can’t find it.