Weak-side starter Keith Adams and strong-side starter Dhani Jones both were inconsistent last season. Adams wasn't re-signed. Jones still is with the team, but it remains to be seen whether he'll hang on to his starting job.
"I don't want to pinpoint the linebackers," said defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. "Keith is a straight-line player who didn't have a good year. He got isolated sometimes. He got exposed in pass coverage sometimes.
"Dhani gives us great effort. But he's not a 'backer who can play on the tight end all the time. So we're going to give some other people some opportunities."
The Eagles signed veteran Shawn Barber as a possible replacement for Adams on the weak side. While Johnson would have no problem doing that, he'd prefer to see 2005 second-round pick Matt McCoy play well enough in training camp to win the starting job and use Barber, who has missed most of the last two seasons with a knee injury, in nickel packages.
McCoy was a rookie disappointment. He struggled to learn Johnson's complex defensive schemes and was inactive for 12 of 16 games.
"Matt struggled with the system last year," Johnson said. "He struggled mentally. When you have to think all the time and can't play (without thinking first), you lose your confidence. That's what he did."
"We played him a little bit toward the end of the year. We saw his toughness. He's been here every day (in the off-season). He's a more mature kid than he was a year ago. He looks now like what a second-year guy should look like."
The Eagles have made no secret of the fact that they weren't happy with Jones' play on the strong side last year.
"He can do a better job than he did," coach Andy Reid said.
Reid spent a third-round pick in this year's draft on a potential replacement - Chris Gocong. Gocong, a defensive end at Division 1-AA Cal Poly, was a pass-rushing phenom, notching 41 sacks the past two years. The Eagles are hoping to switch him to linebacker.
"(Gocong) is a unique guy," Johnson said. "We're going to work him at linebacker and end. He's a good athlete. A high motor guy. And he's a smart, intelligent guy. It'll be interesting to see how he adapts to the linebacker position."
Another candidate for the SLB job is Greg Richmond. Richmond missed all of 2005 with a back injury, but Johnson feels he has a legitimate shot to win the job if he can stay healthy.