Linebacking Questions Getting Early Answers

With the addition of an NFL veteran and a third round draft pick, the Eagles look to build an impressive group of linebackers. The development of a couple other young players isn't hurting either.

The Eagles upgraded their linebacking corps in the off-season with the addition of Takeo Spikes. They hope to play him on the weak side, but that will depend on what happens at the other two linebacker positions during camp. Early on in camp, Spikes and Jeremiah Trotter have become fast friends and are often seen joking around and sharing insights on plays and situations. It appears that the addition of Spikes was a strong move for the Eagles and he'll be able to fit in wherever the Eagles decide that they need him to play.

Jeremiah Trotter (left) and Takeo Spikes have become fast friends at Eagles Training Camp. They're often seen hanging around each other and joking around together both on and off the field. Spikes appears to be an impressive addition to the Eagles defense. (AP/Rusty Kennedy)
Speaking of Trotter, there are no signs of the knee pains that hampered him late last season and he looks to be in near perfect condition. He's dropped weight and is moving well and it almost looks like he's having too much fun in the oppressive heat of Lehigh University. Just how well his knees will hold up throughout the season is anybody's guess, but Trotter believes that playing at a lower weight will be the key to keeping himself healthy throughout the season and give him the stamina that he'll need late in the season.

The Eagles are also going to continue mixing Omar Gaither into the middle linebacker spot and it's a position that he seems completely comfortable with. Leadership comes easy to Gaither and he's quickly gained the respect of his defensive counterparts and the coaching staff. Gaither's presence gives the Eagles some depth and also give them the opportunity to spell Trotter and not miss much, if anything inside.

Meanwhile, most eyes are on second-year man Chris Gocong, who is trying to make the transition from a college defensive end to an NFL strongside linebacker. Gocong has plenty of size and has shown the ability to handle the agility part of playing at linebacker, showing off some nice moves through the first couple days of practice with the pads on. Trotter himself has said that he thinks Gocong's transition is going smoothly and he doesn't see anything to be concerned with for Gocong to fill the new role. Gocong's success likely means that Spikes can play on the weak side, especially with a healthy Trotter anchoring the middle. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was very pleased with Gocong's progress during spring mini-camp.

Every camp, there are one or two players that seem to step up and this summer, the Birds are seeing some good things from rookie Stewart Bradley. He's been rotating in at middle linebacker and has gotten the attention of the other members of the linebacking corps and the coaches. He's shown himself to be strong covering backs out of the backfield and has been taking advantage of every opportunity. Bradley, who was taken in the third round of this year's draft, is more accustomed to playing strong side linebacker, but Gocong's presence has Bradley looking to be more of a utility type player who can do a number of things for the Eagles defense.

After struggling against the run last season, the Eagles looked to improve their fortunes and went to work reshaping their linebacking group. The moves appear to have worked and the chemistry among the linebackers has been very noticeable in the early days of camp. On Thursday, the defense looked sharp in drills against the run and hope to continue that progress and even look to have increased depth among linebackers.


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