Stewart Bradley tore his ACL in the summer of 2009 and MLB has been a black hole since then. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Omar Gaither would just slide over. Joe Mays was in the mix. Omar got hurt. Joe was in over his head. The team dealt for Will Witherspoon. He was great in the first game, a MNF win over the Skins. Spoon never came close to matching that level and his play faded by the end of the year.
So what? That was just one bad year. Stew was back for 2010 and looked good in the preseason. Unfortunately he was a shell of his former self during the regular season. MLB was a liability once again. He got hurt late and rookie Jamar Chaney stepped in. For a moment…one glorious moment…it appeared the Football Gods had delivered us a stud LB. Chaney played well in the game where he took over for Bradley. Chaney then had 16 tackles the following week in a win over the Giants. Hope was alive.
And then hope got run over. Repeatedly. Adrian Peterson and James Starks ran wild. We all focused on the Giants game instead of looking at the evidence of the MIN/GB games.
Coming into 2011 the plan was to go with rookie Casey Matthews. If he struggled, the team could slide Chaney back to the middle. What could go wrong? Oops. Casey did struggle. And Chaney did move back. And then he struggled.
In the last 48 regular season games, the Eagles have gotten less than 5 good games of MLB play. Think about that for a second.
So now we sit in the 2012 offseason and my fellow Eagles fans are talking about the need for “an impact MLB”. ”We must get a star.” ”I can’t live with another 2nd tier MLB.” And so on.
Uh, slow down folks. Hold your friggin’ horses. Getting 2nd tier play from MLB would be a good thing. This notion that you need Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis is crazy. I’d love to add an impact MLB, but the idea that we must have one is off base.
The reason I loved Luke Kuechly for the Eagles so much isn’t that he’s this great playmaker and run stuffer. Luke is a tackling machine. Simple as that. And that is precisely what this defense needs. Having a MLB who could “take over games” and make big plays would be great, but that simply isn’t something you need in this era of football. If that player is available, you get him. If not, you find a player who does what you need.
I re-watched part of the SEA/PHI debacle the other night. There was a play to the outside where Chaney hustled over and then made such a terrible tackle attempt that I actually laughed out loud. Luke Kuechly makes that tackle. So do any number of LBs. That’s what we need.
The front four will pressure the passer and be disruptive against the run. The secondary has the players to cover well and handle that side of things. The LBs must get to the ball and tackle. They need to be smart. Get in the right gap. They need to use their hands to fight off blockers. They need to make tackles when the ball comes to them.
At its most basic, you can say that we need a smart guy who can tackle. Simple as that. Chaney struggled with being in the right gap. He was used to the 2010 scheme which let him attack. Having to read and flow didn’t come to him quickly. And his tackling was a major issue. He missed some key tackles during the year.
Some fans will say that if you don’t get Curtis Lofton in FA, then the team is screwed. We’re just looking at more of the same. If we don’t get Luke Kuechly in the draft, the team is screwed. Wrong and wrong.
There are going to be several MLBs in FA that would be an improvement on what we have. Holding the Eagles to a standard of Lofton or else is silly. Put Curtis Lofton on the team last year and we’re not guaranteed to make the playoffs. MLB simply isn’t a position like that anymore. And he’s not a rare player that you must pursue at all costs. He’s the head of the class and a player I’d love to add, but let’s be realistic. You don’t break the bank for Lofton.
Adding David Hawthorne or London Fletcher would be good. Stephen Tulloch remains a possibility. EJ Henderson would be interesting. I’ve warmed to the idea of Dan Connor. Sounds like D’Qwell Jackson will stay in CLE, but he could have been a target. I’m still not sure what to make of Larry Grant, the Niners backup ILB.
Should the Eagles miss on MLBs in FA and be forced to wait for the draft, it isn’t Kuechly or bust. Luke is clearly the best player and fit, but there could be other targets in the 2nd or 3rd round who could step in right away and play. Mychal Kendricks from Cal interests me a lot. James-Michael Johnson of Nevada could be an interesting MLB option. We’ll see how Dont’a Hightower runs at the Combine. Maybe he’ll prove to be athletic enough to fit in the 4-3.
Bottom line…there are options. Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews could be greatly improved this year, but we can’t rely on them. They had a chance to impress, but neither did. They aren’t out of the mix, but they will have to fight with the new players for jobs and possibly even roster spots.
The Eagles know that MLB must be addressed. They’ve tried to find the answer in the last couple of years without success. That means the team must be more aggressive this year. They need to target someone in FA and/or the Top 100 picks of the draft. They need more of a sure thing. The time for projects is gone. I do expect them to get us a quality MLB. It may not be Curtis Lofton, but the new player will be an improvement on what we’ve got and should be a quality starter.
Bill Parcells old saying is “don’t let good enough be good enough”. Generally speaking, I love that mentality. This is one case where “good enough” would be just fine because it would be a significant improvement on the last 3 years.
As to the notion of the Wide-9 being super tough on MLBs…I’m not so sure that is 100 percent true. The MLB is playing behind a pair of 1-gap DTs. That’s not unusual. The DEs are out wide and that does make it easier for OTs to get upfield to block, but that should impact the OLBs more than the MLB. If a MLB can read plays, use his hands, and tackle, he should be able to play in the Wide-9.
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News of the day…Cullen Jenkins restructured his deal so he will be staying an Eagle for sure. I didn’t expect him to leave, but this is good news. The possibility of him leaving is now out the door. CuJo, as I like to call him, had a very good year and we need his presence up front, as well as in the locker room.
This doesn’t change the desire for a young player to be brought in behind him, even as early as the 1st round. Jim Washburn’s system needs at least one DT who can get after the QB, but you really want 2 in case something happens to the first guy.
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NFL Gimpy has his new MAQB column posted. Make sure you check that out.