Marcus Hayes: Revitalized Jordan poised to make impact on Eagles' defense

Posted: August 29, 2012

BY THE TIME Juan Castillo's first training camp began, Akeem Jordan was buried.

Buried, but alive.

Castillo spent the long lockout of 2011 watching terabytes of video from 2010, analyzing the abilities of the players he would inherit. Castillo was moving from offensive-line coach to defensive coordinator. He was doing so without the benefit of offseason workouts or a full training camp. Castillo needed to ingest information, especially about his remade linebacker unit.

Castillo watched 2010, and saw Jordan emerge above a crowd of ordinary linebackers in training camp. Jordan's effectiveness waned after the first month, and he lost his spot as a starter on the strong side. Jordan remained effective on special teams, and he occasionally played a defensive snap, but he never really . . . popped.

So unimpressed were the Eagles with Jordan in 2010 that they didn't re-sign him until late July last year. So, when Castillo went about constructing his first NFL defense, Jordan was insurance.

Jordan didn't mind. He never played with a pedigree. He attended James Madison University, a Division I-AA school. Even attending JMU was a big step for a kid from the worst neighborhoods in Harrisonburg, Va. Jordan then was undrafted in 2007, but he stuck with the Eagles as a rookie free agent.

So Jordan was happy to spend the first half of 2011 on special teams, except for Game 2, when he was inactive.

"I thank God for every day, every hour, every minute I'm in the league," said Jordan, 27. "Where I came from - not too many people make it out from my city to play in college. Not too many people make it to the NFL from JMU."

As the linebacker play deteriorated into absurdity last season, Jordan got another look.

He was a starter at strongside linebacker the second half of 2011, and the unit's play improved, but Jordan never really . . . popped.

So, when the Eagles signed DeMeco Ryans and drafted Mychal Kendricks, it was second-year man Brian Rolle, not Jordan, who got the first chance. Rolle is listed at 5-10, perhaps 3 inches too generous, and, optimistically, at 240 pounds, which, given his enormous heart, might be only 10 pounds too much.

But heart doesn't make tackles or cover slot receivers or shackle tight ends.

Meanwhile, lately, Jordan is popping all over the place.

Jordan this week replaced Rolle as the starting weakside linebacker. Jordan forced the move.

"He's been overly productive. He's been making plays," Castillo said. "Early in camp, we saw Akeem making plays. It was, like, 'Hey, Akeem made another play. Whoa.'

"All of a sudden now, everybody is talking about Akeem. And we're, like, 'Wait a minute: Why are we always talking about Akeem making plays?' "

Simple: Because Akeem finally is healthy and comfortable.

Jordan suffered a bone bruise and hyperextended his right knee in early November 2009. The injury cost him four games and his starting spot at weakside linebacker. He played the final four games, but the injury limited his insane offseason program and lingered into 2010.

"It was a little tougher. It wasn't bending like it had," Jordan said. "You couldn't explode through routines. I still pushed through it."

When 2011 came, and with it, Castillo, Jordan had no equity. A concussion and a shoulder injury last season further stunted Jordan's growth in the system.

After the death of Jim Johnson and the dismissal of his successor, Sean McDermott, Jordan had to adjust to Castillo, his third defensive coordinator in 4 years.

The adjustment is complete.

"When you're more comfortable with the scheme, it's second nature," Jordan said. "You don't have to think about what you're doing. You just play."

From the first practice through the first preseason game of this year, Castillo could hardly believe his video-bleary eyes.

"He did some things athletically in the New England game, as far as matching routes and running with receivers. We said, 'He deserves an opportunity,' " Castillo said.

It doesn't hurt that Jordan is 6-1 and about 250 pounds. Jordan dwarfs Rolle, and Jordan is moving like a smaller man.

Like a man with two good knees, Castillo acknowledged.

"That's what you see: the athletic ability that initially I didn't know he had," Castillo said. "You're saying, 'Look how he covered this receiver. Look at him on this blitz.' He seems more athletic than he's been."

Jordan can't appreciate the wonderment. He doesn't feel much different in 2012 than he did in late 2009.

"An injury like that, you just play through it. When you get back on the field, you're just so happy to be playing, you don't think about injuries," Jordan said. "I guess I look different on film. Maybe I am getting there quicker than I used to.

"I guess I feel quicker. But I don't know why."

He doesn't care why.

Jordan is just happy to be moving forward with his career. Things could get better, but they could be much, much worse.

"I just thanked God there were no tears in my knee," Jordan said. He hopes for more, sure, but, for the moment, he is delighted to be settled among the starters.

Buried no more.

"The sky is always the limit," he said, "but I'm just thankful that I'm here."

Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

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