I don’t know what it is with Andy Reid and linebackers. Maybe before he bulked up to what he is now, he was a star linebacker and some unspeakable accident occurred to him. Maybe his version of Hell is a defense full of stud linebackers. Perhaps, even as a little child, his parents taught him to fear not the dark, but the frame of a 6’2″, 250-pound Mike ‘backer. Whatever it is, there is no love lost between Andy Reid and the position.
Not having good linebackers has been a major obstacle, one that has kept the Eagles from reaching “The Promised Land” many times over the past 13 years. For many years the legendary Jim Johnson ran his ferocious blitz packages, often forcing turnovers and causing sacks. However, if offenses were able to organize an efficient protection scheme to counteract the blitz, the Eagles D allowed a lot of rushing yards up the middle. Good linebackers would have nullified that, but Reid never made enough of an effort to get them.
Need examples? The last time Andy Reid drafted a linebacker in rounds one or two, where the studs live, was in 2001, when he picked up Quinton Caver out of Arkansas with the 55th overall pick. That was 11 years ago, and Caver only recorded nine tackles in two seasons for Reid before being traded to Kansas City in ’03. Frightening for a team that has lacked linebacker talent since Reid took over.
In fact, Jeremiah Trotter and Carlos Emmons are the only two quality linebackers Reid has ever had, and Trotter came before his time while Emmons was a result of GM Tom Modrak.
Sure, Reid has drafted guys like Chris Gocong and Stewart Bradley in the third round, but he has never shown a clear commitment to the position. Bradley had some measure of success during his tenure in Philadelphia, but none of the linebackers Reid has drafted have ever become Pro-Bowlers, much less defensive leaders.
You might be thinking: well, he has taken two third-round picks on linebackers and two fourth-round picks in 13 years; maybe it is just that the linebacker position has been the odd man out here. Maybe he is doing the same thing with all of his positions. Not even close.
During Reid’s tenure, six wide receivers or tight ends have been drafted in rounds one or two. One or two! Reid’s staff has also gone on to pick 13 defensive backs in rounds 1-4, 8 cornerbacks and 5 safeties. He’s also drafted 11 offensive linemen in those rounds as well. See the clear disparity?
Need more? Reid, in desperate efforts to appease his frustrated (and appropriately so) critics, has also had the audacity to pick up mediocre linebackers and hope they succeed. Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, Keenan Clayton, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou, Bryan Smith, Joe Mays, and Gocong are all perfect examples. Andy Reid has proclaimed Chaney, Gocong, and Matthews all at one time the future of the Eagles linebacker position, and, with the rather questionable exception of Chaney, none of them have panned out. None of those 8 draft picks have had 70+-tackle seasons, and have for the most part been failures.
Reid has frustrated the media by telling us that the linebacker position shouldn’t be valued. Excuse me? Not only are linebackers usually the leaders of the defense (which the Eagles lack without Pro-Bowler Brian Dawkins), but they are the ones who call plays, and having experienced, talented linebackers is a trend for Super Bowl champs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, which the Eagles administration compared itself to in the ridiculous “Gold Standard” comment, have won two Super Bowls in the last 7 years because of dominant linebackers. James Harrison, Larry Foote, James Farrior, and LaMarr Woodley made up the most fearsome foursome of linebackers ever assembled, leading the Steelers to two titles. When you look back to the multi-champion Patriot dynasty, even with the presence of Tom Brady, they had such linebackers as the future Hall of Famer Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, and Junior Seau.
The problem persists. If the season were to start tomorrow, the Eagles would be stuck with an underachieving Casey Matthews, a hard-nosed, but not talented enough Jamar Chaney, and the hard-hitting but mistake-prone Brian Rolle, all of whom are under the age of 25.
The Eagles could pick up someone like Luke Kuechly (BC) or Vontaze Burfict (ASU) in the draft, but that would only make this unit younger. However, on the flip side, using a high pick on a talented linebacker could go a long way to help Reid’s scarred linebacker image, which, at the moment, is at one of its lowest points.
As fans and analysts, all we can do is hope. However, it seems as though Andy Reid’s fear of talent at the linebacker position is here to stay. Intervention? I’d say he needs one.
Manav Khandelwal is Khandyman’s head Eagles analyst.