Eagles could use depth at linebacker and on O-line

Posted: May 15, 2014

As far as alarms go, the Eagles' failure to address their depth at offensive line and inside linebacker in last week's NFL draft hardly rang a bell.

They return all five players from one the league's best lines and both starting inside linebackers. And although they had opportunities to upgrade at each position this offseason, the Eagles were confident about their returners.

They saw the need to inject some young talent into the pipeline, but they didn't.

"Dagger," general manager Howie Roseman said about not drafting any offensive linemen. "Dagger in the heart."

Coach Chip Kelly wasn't as dramatic after the Eagles avoided a class of inside linebackers that he said dipped significantly after the Ravens took Alabama's C.J. Mosley with the 17th overall pick.

"We had C.J. rated really, really high, and then after that we thought it kind of . . . it tailed off after C.J.," Kelly said.

Roseman said before the draft that he thought it offered a number of talented tackles, especially at the top. Five tackles were taken in the first 19 picks. But he said afterward that the offensive line group, overall, was not great.

The Eagles had targets in the third or fourth round, though.

"I thought we'd have some opportunities to get some O-linemen," Roseman said. "But there was a run in the third round that was like nothing I've ever seen in my life. . . . All of a sudden we looked back up and our board was depleted, and we weren't going to reach."

Six linemen - two tackles, two guards, and two centers - went before the Eagles' first third-round pick, which they traded for a fourth and fifth. And five linemen - three guards and two tackles - went after they chose wide receiver Josh Huff with their second third-round pick.

The Eagles went on to draft a cornerback, a defensive end, a safety, and a nose tackle on the third day, adding to the outside linebacker and two wide receivers they selected in the first three rounds.

The Eagles may claim to pick the best available players, but Roseman and Kelly ended up expending six of seven selections to fill glaring holes at those positions, and you won't hear many fans complaining.

Of course, there will be gripes if any starters on the line or at inside linebacker suffer noteworthy injuries and their replacements struggle. But almost every team has the same issues after the first string.

What could come back to burn the Eagles is not having developmental players at either position, or at least ones who have potential to start. Three of five starting linemen are over 30 and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans will be 30 in July.

Of the over-30 linemen, guard Todd Herremans, 31, would seem to be the one most likely nearing his expiration date with the Eagles. He recovered after a slow start last season, but there's no getting back the step he has lost.

Guard Evan Mathis earned all-pro honors in 2013 and doesn't appear to be slowing down, but he'll be 33 in November. The Eagles gave tackle Jason Peters a four-year contract extension in February, but only the first two years are fully guaranteed, and he'll be 33 in January.

Right now, Allen Barbre, 29, is the first tackle or guard off the bench. After that, there isn't much experience. Tackle Matt Tobin was the first name Kelly brought up when asked about his line depth, but the former undrafted rookie is still waiting to take his first NFL offensive snap.

"Really excited about his future," Kelly said.

Tackle Dennis Kelly started in 10 games as a rookie in 2012, but back surgery set him back early last season. Mammoth tackle Mike Bamiro (6-foot-8, 335 pounds) spent all season on the practice squad and remains a project.

Tackle Andrew Gardner was added in the offseason but he has a short resumé, despite this being his fifth season. The same goes for centers Julian Vandervelde and David Molk. The Eagles did sign four undrafted rookies - guards Josh Andrews, Karim Barton, Donald Hawkins, and tackle Kevin Graf.

"We need some of those young guys to step up," Roseman said.

The need at inside linebacker is more immediate if Kelly's comments about cutting Ryans' snaps are taken at face value. Ryans played 96 percent of the team's snaps last season, more than any other defensive player in the NFL.

The Eagles don't have his obvious heir on the roster. Mychal Kendricks is the other starter at inside linebacker, but the 23-year-old is better suited in the freelance role.

Najee Goode starred the few times he played a year ago, but he's behind Kendricks. Jake Knott was technically Ryans' backup, but he will miss the first four games this season after he was suspended by the league for using a banned substance.

Emmanuel Acho is also on the roster. Jason Phillips missed all of last season after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He was a veteran brought in to help on special teams. The Eagles could move Casey Matthews back inside.

They have passed so far on undrafted rookie inside linebackers, but there will be plenty of chances to add to the roster before the season starts in September.

Huff signs

The Eagles signed the first of their seven draft picks, agreeing to a four-year deal with the wide receiver.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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