We know Chip Kelly wants a 3-4 defense. We know he wants the players to use the 2-gap technique. We’re still trying to figure exactly what Kelly wants in terms of skill sets at certain positions. OLB is one of them.
Let’s look at the OLBs acquired since Kelly took over.
Chris McCoy – signed as street free agent…had played in CFL
Connor Barwin – signed as UFA
Travis Long – signed as undrafted free agent
Adrian Robinson – acquired in a trade for RB Felix Jones
Bryan Braman – signed as UFA
Marcus Smith – drafted in the 1st round
McCoy is 6-3, 261. He played DE in high school and college, as well as the CFL. Barwin is 6-4, 264. He played TE and DE while at the Univ. of Cincinnati and then moved to OLB with the Texans. Long is 6-4, 255. He played DE most of his career, but WSU moved to a 3-4 in his Senior season so he shifted to OLB. He was still primarily a pass rusher. Robinson was 6-1, 250 and a DE for Temple. Braman is 6-5, 241. He played DE in junior college and college before moving to LB with the Texans. Smith, 6-3 and 251, went to college as a QB. He moved to DE and then played LB as a Senior.
All of the players starred as DEs. Both Barwin and Smith had versatile backgrounds, but both thrived as pass rushers during their Senior seasons. Barwin led the Big East in sacks and Smith led the nation in sacks per game. The other players were disruptive pass rushers, just not as prolific. All of the players were productive playmakers in college.
We can see that the Eagles are looking for players 6-3, 250 and above. They want their OLBs to have size.
The 2 key acquisitions, Barwin and Smith, had athletic backgrounds and can both play in space. They are pass rushers first and foremost, but they can cover and play on the move.
It would help us to know what the Eagles were looking for if we had a list of some guys the team passed up. I don’t think the Eagles had interest in Dee Ford, but he was off the board when the Eagles picked. I wonder if the Eagles would have had any interest in DeMarcus Ware. He went straight to Denver so we can only speculate.
Keeping Trent Cole around does show some flexibility with the desire for all around LB skills. Cole will never be mistaken for William Thomas or Seth Joyner when you see him in coverage. He spent his college and NFL career lining up at DE and rushing the passer. He’s worked hard to adjust to LB, but you can only teach an old dog so many tricks.
In a fantasy world, the Eagles would have 2 OLBs who are adept at rushing and covering. That would give Bill Davis the flexibility to do different things on every single down. Few, if any, teams have had that luxury.
Almost every 3-4 team has one LB that can cover and one that can rush…or 2 that can rush. The 3-4 defense is built on the play of the OLBs. They must be playmakers. At least one has to be a force off the edge. You can get by with less dynamic rushers if you have a DE that is truly special (JJ Watt or Richard Seymour). There must be one pass rusher that the offense fears.
Smith is a bit of an awkward pass rusher. His sacks came in a variety of ways. That’s okay because the Eagles will use him the same way. They will loop him to the inside. They will have him line up inside and rush around the edge. The whole point of the 3-4 is to line players up creatively and let them attack creatively. It isn’t meant to be a static, predictable defense.
Smith can line up in a 3-point stance and fire off the edge, but that’s not the only way he gets to the QB. This wouldn’t have meant a thing if we still ran the Wide-9. Creativity wasn’t part of that attack. The 3-4 is at its best when the players can rush in a variety of ways. The offense then has to deal with different concepts.
Is it possible the Eagles value athleticism over pass rush ability? Sure. We just don’t have any specific evidence on that. There weren’t a bunch of pass rushers on the board at 26. That’s one reason the Eagles felt they had to take Smith at that point and not move down again. They obviously didn’t feel Kyle Van Noy or Demarcus Lawrence were guys to move back for. Jeremiah Attaochu fell all the way to 50 so teams weren’t as high on him.
Chip Kelly is an unusual coach. It is possible he prefers athletic LBs to pass rushing LBs, but Smith was a productive pass rusher in college so he’s not a good example to point to.
One thing I continue to wonder about is what would have happened last year if free agency was a bit different. Remember that the Eagles wanted DE Ricky Jean-Francois. It was only when he said no that the team decided to go after Barwin. What would this defense have looked like with no Barwin? And who would the Eagles have gotten to play that role?
Thank you Ricky.
Quick note on LBs…I still don’t know what the Eagles are doing with Josh Kaddu. Is he OLB or ILB?